Cuteness Peak and Other Puppy Science Revelations


Neanderthals did not live with puppies. But Homo sapiens have done so for thousands of years. The guard wolves and dogs provided to early humans may have contributed to why we thrived and Neanderthals ultimately did not. In “Animals in translation”, from 2005, the scientist Temple Grandin presents this argument, and also points out that many of the ways in which Homo sapiens differ from other primates are oddly doggish. Like dogs, we came to hunt in packs and form same-sex friendships. Grandin explains that when dogs became domesticated, their brains shrank. But it wasn’t just the dog’s brain that was altered. Around the time the fossil record shows Homo sapiens give official burials to dogs (or possibly wolves), our brains were shrinking. Was it because the dogs could do the sniffing and surveillance work for us? And we could plan for them? While there’s a lot of debate about how, when, and why all of this happened, of all the ways we domesticated dogs, they may have domesticated us too.

Alexandra Horowitz, chief scientist of the Canine Cognition Laboratory at Barnard College, conducted a longitudinal observational study on the first year of life of a member of Canis lupus familiaris. In other words, like many others, Horowitz had a pandemic puppy. And she paid a lot of attention to this pup, which she and her family named Quiddity, or Quid, which means “essence of.” She chronicles it in “The year of the puppy», a book with an adorable cover without surprise.

As Horowitz already had two dogs, a cat and a son, his motivation for having a puppy is presented quite convincingly as being in the service of science. Horowitz wrote several popular books on dogs and canine science:Our dogs, ourselves,” “be a dog,” and “Inside a Dog: What Dogs See, Smell and Know.” In his new book, Horowitz’s goal is to think and write about dogs in a way that’s different from the usual pet-related fare on how to teach a puppy not to rush. on children and not increasing your household’s paper towel budget. Instead, it aims to try to better understand a young dog, from day one to day three hundred and sixty-five, as a being in transformation. She wants to write about puppies developmental.

Horowitz comes into contact with a woman raising a pregnant rescue dog. She meets the mother dog. She visits the puppies shortly after they are born. And she continues to visit, seeing the puppies transform from blind creatures piling up for warmth – dogpiling – into walking, playing, individualized beings. Along the way, she loops the reader on the search. Did you know that, according to the evaluation of a study, the cuteness of a puppy peaks around the age of eight weeks? Did you know that around this time mothers, who have been adoring since birth, can start to find their puppies irritating? This is when puppies can best learn the skills of other dogs, or even humans, just about any dog ​​other than their mother. Even loose dogs tend to stray from their mothers. Puppies form longer lasting bonds with their siblings.

All of this makes a human feel pretty good about taking a puppy from its mother. I myself took a puppy – two, actually – from his mother during the pandemic. I tweeted a series of reassuring passages from Horowitz’s book to my partner.

“Mm-hmm. Are you sure this isn’t all nonsense?” He asked.

“She runs a canine cognition lab!”

He sighed. But then he showed me a Twitter Publish in which a dog is offered a treat cut into unequal parts: the dog tears off most of it; we then see her bring it to a baby creature that was previously off-screen. Cute! I can confirm that living with a puppy seems to shrink the brain.

There are many weird and fun facts about the first weeks of a puppy’s life that could interest brains of all sizes. Puppies whose mothers lay down more regularly to let them suckle may become less successful dogs in guide dog training than their peers who have had to settle for the more laborious vertical nursing style. Puppies that have more maternal contact early in life become more “exploratory” dogs, Horowitz writes, and “are more engaged with people and objects.” Somewhere, the ghost of Donald Winnicott nods in assent.

The most compelling research on puppies in the book comes from work done by the US military, in what is commonly known as the Super Dog program. It involved some kind of puppy calisthenics program. From the third to the sixteenth day of a puppy’s life, humans held puppies in five different poses, for three to five seconds at a time. These were positions beyond what a dog mother could offer. The hope was to make better working dogs: dogs that would be less easily frightened. It is now an accepted way of raising puppies that can grow into more relaxed dogs.

Equally early intervention in a puppy’s life is what makes some “natural” herding dogs. Dogs that herd sheep, cattle, or other animals are not necessarily born with this skill. Instead, they are moved, at around nine weeks of age, from their birth litter into a living space with their future companion species. A puppy raised among sheep will consider the sheep as his normal social companions and will protect those sheep. He won’t think he’s a sheep himself, but will “act like a dog whose friends are all shaped like sheep,” Horowitz writes. She shares an example of Chihuahuas raised among cats; eventually, they demonstrated seemingly cat-like behaviors.

In all the ways we have domesticated dogs, they may have domesticated us too.

This apparent exchange of alliances is less artificial than it seems. A study of free-range mother dogs showed that puppies often have allom mothers – females who provide care but who are not their biological mothers. In this way, puppies aren’t like the ducks and geese that famously imprint on who or what they see first, even on a bushy-bearded future Nobel laureate named Konrad Lorenz.

A side effect of reading Horowitz’s Puppy Book is that you may start looking for opportunities to use some of the Puppy Science vocabulary in casual conversation. Maybe you already knew that the hairs on a dog’s beard, eyebrows, ears, and tail are called “furniture.” But did you know that the adorable way very young puppies blindly find their way by hugging themselves against any surface is called “thigmotaxis”? (This is how they find a place, among their brothers and sisters, close to their mother’s body.) Or that human babies and puppies share the quality of being “altricial,” that is, say that they are unable to take care of themselves when they are very young? I have never witnessed “flehmening” (“the dramatic and often grotesque facial expression that animals use to deliver hormones – pheromones – to the specialized vomeronasal organ under their nose and above the roof of their mouth to sniff”), but I feel like I was pushed back in a way that might have felt like a flehmen.

Once puppies enter their teenage years, the amount of scientific research that reveals cute facts about them decreases. We don’t really have a good word for the teenage years of puppies. From the “puppy” cliff, we come directly to “dog”. There is not much research on the adolescent stage of dogs. Although we know that there is a big increase in the number of abandoned dogs when they become teenagers. And a study concluded that dogs who spent more time in kennels early in life tend to fail guide dog training more often than those who spent less time there, and that the more the stay in a kennel, the higher the incidence of failures. These dogs fail because they are more afraid of new situations and new people.

Horowitz describes moments from Quid’s teenage rebellion. She calls out Quid’s name, and Quid looks her in the eye and then walks in the opposite direction, seemingly in protest. She picks up sticks too big for her. These apparent acts of rebellion – as opposed to the innocent annihilation of a Sharpie pen when she was just a puppy – are touching. The realm of power for young dogs is so small. For the most part, Horowitz avoids giving puppy training or other advice. She argues that we should be thinking about how to be better pet parents rather than just how to make our pets better. Puppies and young dogs need a rich environment: they need to run, they need to walk, they need to play. To get an idea of ​​how far our pets travel, given their druthers, consider a study of Italian wolves that showed they traveled up to thirty-eight miles per night. Another study showed that Cape Cod coyotes traveled up to thirty-one kilometers in one night.

A minor subplot of Horowitz’s book is how she and her other pets and humans react to Quid’s presence. A few times, she makes reference to feeling like she still isn’t in love with Quid. At first I read this as a writer’s need to find an angle. But, in the end, I started to see it as more sincere. During the year, one of his dogs, Finnegan, grew weaker. A postscript notes that the two dogs she had when she adopted Quid, Finnegan and Upton, have since died, just four weeks apart. The idea that “The Year of the Puppy” was primarily a science project was a psychological screen; it was about the need to be domesticated from the start. ♦


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