Posts Tagged ‘animal behavior’

The book My Cat Likes to Hide in Boxes was a hit with John and Suzanne — and later, their children.

Animal behavior can be fascinating. Some readers may recall my posts about foxes stealing shoes. You may also know the popular author Sy Montgomery, who interprets for the rest of us the mysterious activities of critters from the octopus to the tarantula. Meanwhile at the Washington Post, Marlene Cimons has an interesting look at household pets.

“Bella the beagle loves boxes from Amazon. She tears into them, while ignoring other deliveries. … Little Bit, a recently departed tortoiseshell cat, was similarly obsessed — but with socks. She would raid the laundry basket in the middle of the night and paw through the open suitcases of houseguests, who invariably found themselves one sock short in the morning.

“Pets do quirky things. At least it may seem that way to their humans. But these traits often make perfect sense to the pets, say scientists who study animal behavior. …

“ ‘These behaviors are not invented on the spot,’ says Carlo Siracusa, associate professor of clinical behavior medicine at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine. ‘[Their ancestors’ behavior has been] adapted to their new lives as domesticated animals now that they are living with humans.’ …

“Dogs, for example, often ‘make their beds’ — as humans describe it — by scrabbling on blankets, sheets or doggy beds, then turning a few times before settling down, a habit that probably comes from an age-old instinct to create a safe, warm place to sleep.

” ‘Think about where animals sleep in nature,’ says Evan MacLean, director of the Arizona Canine Cognition Center at the University of Arizona. ‘They mat down an area before they lay in it.’ …

“Sometimes dogs will paw the ground after pooping. (Advice: Wait a few seconds before bending down to pick up their waste to avoid being hit by flying debris.) They are not burying their feces.

“ ‘They are depositing scent in those areas,’ MacLean says, which may explain their pickiness about a pooping spot. ‘They’re looking for the best part of town to put up a billboard. They want a good place to advertise. Scratching creates a ground disturbance, to catch attention. It’s almost like drawing a picture with a big red marker around it.’

“The signpost is meant for other dogs, another quirk they inherited from wolves, he says. ‘Territory marking is very likely one function of this communication, but there is a lot of other information that might be encoded in odors that we don’t understand well as humans,’ he says. …

“Cats, on the other hand, almost always bury their waste. ‘They are covering their tracks,’ says Monique Udell, director of the Oregon State University Human-Animal Interaction Lab. …

“Mikel Delgado, founder of Feline Minds, a Sacramento cat behavior consulting service, says that some of these traits derive from cats’ wild origins.

“ ‘Cats are highly predatory, they are naturally active at dawn and dusk, they are in the middle of the food chain — both hunters and hunted — with some behaviors that are natural, like scratching, and we can’t train that out of them,’ she says.

“Experts also insist that the reputation of cats as socially aloof is undeserved. They have facial scent glands, and when head-butting their human, they are probably depositing secretions to mark their social partners, says Kristyn Vitale, assistant professor of animal health and behavior at Unity College.

“ ‘Kneading’ is what kittens do to their mothers when nursing to stimulate milk production. Adult cats may ‘knead’ humans when they are feeling relaxed or are trying to calm themselves. … ‘It’s like thumb-sucking in toddlers,’ Udell says.

“While dogs share many behaviors inherited from wolves, they’ve also developed a few of their own, for example, ‘puppy dog eyes,’ the innocent look that humans are helpless to resist.

“ ‘They want to be connected to us,’ says Jeffrey Stevens, director of the Canine Cognition and Human Interaction Lab at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. … ‘They look at us this way, and it changes our behavior.’

“Like wolves, dogs also like to lick faces. Humans think their pet is kissing them. Sorry, they are not.

“ ‘It’s how wolf puppies get food from their parents’ mouths,’ MacLean says. ‘It also can be a sign of submission. When a lower-ranking individual approaches a higher-ranking one, it gets down real low and licks the dominant one to say: “I’m not a threat to you.” ‘

“There are some behaviors researchers can’t explain, such as ‘Zoomies,’ the term often used to describe frenetic and seemingly random movement by a dog, likely an energy release.

“ ‘My dog runs around in crazy manic circles with her mouth open, her tongue out, ears back and butt tucked in, and if I mess with her while she’s doing it, she gets even more hyper,” [Sarah-Elizabeth Byosiere, director of the Thinking Dog Center at CUNY Hunter College] says. ‘She’s getting something out of her system and can’t focus until she does this. But we have zero science on this.’ “

Angie Johnston, director of the Canine Cognition Center and Social Learning Laboratory at Boston College, says that one of her dogs tap dances. ” ‘When he gets excited, he taps with his front paws, then he jumps up on all four feet and spins around in a circle in midair,’ she says. ‘He does this when he is excited or happy. I don’t know where it comes from.’

“As for Bella, the dog who preferred Amazon boxes over all others, the explanation seems to be her great success in sniffing out the snacks they contained: She smelled protein bars in the Amazon packages. After ripping her way in, she ate almost all of them, except for the few she stuffed behind the sofa cushions for emergencies.

“ ‘She was very fastidious about it,’ says Jeffrey Levi, professor of health management and policy at the Milken Institute School of Public Health at George Washington University, one of Bella’s people. ‘She never eats the wrappers.’

“Little Bit, the sock-addicted cat, was also apparently motivated by smell.

“ ‘Many animals carry around socks and shoes,’ Udell says. ‘Humans produce smells on the bottoms of their feet, so if you want to get closer to your human, there’s nothing like a good smelly sock.’ “

More at the Post, here.

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John’s web surfing has been turning up topics he knows I’d like, too, and he takes the time to send a link. An article he sent from Modern Farmer describes why scientists are studying cows’ hairstyles.

Anne O’Brien writes, “While a bovine couldn’t care less about a hair whorl gone awry, it may be prudent for the farmer to take note. Turns out there is some serious science behind hair whorl behavior and brain development.”

Hair whorls on cows’ foreheads, O’Brien reports, “may be more than an aesthetic quirk. About two decades ago, animal behaviorists began to notice a connection between crazy hair whorls and crazy animals.

“Dr. Temple Grandin, professor of animal science at Colorado State University and author of the best-selling book Animals in Translation, first noticed a connection between the location of a bull’s hair whorl and whether the animal was excitable when handled by humans. Studies showed that location — meaning above, between, or below the eyes — as well as shape of the whorl could be, to some extent, a predictor of excitable behavior in cattle. …

“How, then, are hair growth patterns and temperament related? It all has to do with brain development, says Dr. Amar Klar, head of the Developmental Genetics Section within the National Cancer Institute in Frederick, Maryland.

“ ‘Our skin and the nervous system come from the same layer of cells in embryonic development, the ectoderm,’ Klar says.

“As embryonic cells migrate to form a developing fetus, skin and brain cells are closely intertwined, particularly at the scalp. …

” ‘When we were looking at brain laterality and the location of internal organs, hair whorls also came up,’ Klar says. His research has shown that within the human population, the majority is right-handed and demonstrates a clockwise hair whorl.

“Livestock seem to mimic this handedness. A study from the University of Limerick in Ireland in 2008 demonstrated that horses with clockwise hair whorls were significantly more likely to move toward the right, or begin a gait with the right-sided hooves — in essence, these horses were right-handed.” More here.

Photo: Temple Grandin
Scientists have been exploring the connection between the cow’s hair whorl and its behavior.

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