I walk a lot. Wherever I go I tend to be magnetically drawn to parks. I enjoy wandering around, writing, and perhaps even daring to attempt a sketch. And I’ve noticed something which really is quite remarkable. Everyone likes a little dog; the fluffier the better. They’re just soooo cute! You can pick them up and carry them like a baby, or put them in the pushchair and make the child walk. It is a dog’s life.
But here’s the thing. I was on my usual 6 am jaunt a few mornings ago, and of course, was respecting the custom of greeting owners and dogs on their welly-laden adventures. Then suddenly, I was caused to leap out of my skin as seemingly out of nowhere I was ambushed by a barrage of high pitched angry chirping. I looked around and saw the tiniest chihuahua doing voodoo at me on the other side of a back garden gate. My first reaction was, phew, it’s just a miniature dog and not a wolf. Then I quickly checked around to make sure no one had seen me fall prey to this cheeky fellow (and obviously I wasn’t scared; it was just ‘caveman instinct’ kicking in).
Over the top
Fresh in my mind after the walk, I was amazed to see this article sitting in my inbox when I returned home (see here for the original research paper – (McGuire et al. 2018)). It turns out that not only can little dogs be big barkers, but they also exhibit a fascinating behaviour to try to compete with the big dogs. They cheat! Have you ever watched a dog peeing? Well, it’s not illegal yet. Whilst on your next stroll around the block, you may indeed notice, according to the published article, that small male dogs go way, way, way over the top in trying to aim high. Sometimes, they almost topple over. They’re trying to leave a scent at a high mark in order to trick big dogs into thinking they’re one too.
You may think, well that’s silly because when the other dog sees them, they’ll realise they’ve been pulling the wool over. I can’t comment on that.
What I am especially interested in is this purposive behaviour that our fellow life forms exhibit. Is it reasonable to propose that dogs aren’t robots and that they truly have agendas and experience a qualitative world? If we can in principle agree on that, then we have to wonder, what is driving a dachshund to compete with a Doberman? One might simply say it’s in their genes. However, we know that this is a very simplistic answer that provides little evidence to explain any complex trait or behaviour. So we’re left not only with a little puddle it would seem, but a great puzzle also.
McGuire, B., B. Olsen, K. E. Bemis, and D. Orantes. 2018. “Urine Marking in Male Domestic Dogs: Honest or Dishonest?” Journal of Zoology 139 (July): S62.