Status updates? There’s a species which has been posting perky self-publicising confidences in the public domain for millennia.
I speak, of course, of The Dog.
While we congratulate ourselves on having finally created Facebook, Twitter and the internet, on which we can all, democratically, leave our mark, canis lupus familiaris has the whole social media thing taped, and doesn’t even need a computer.
No: it needs a prolific bladder, a semi-decent aim, and a nose for news.
Take that scruffhound from the Berkshire Projects, Macaulay Shrewsday.
A walk with this small disheveled terrier – a dog with his own dust cloud – is an education. We mourn that luxuriant moustache as it is trawls through hedgerow and leaf mould, deer droppings and fox poo.
While we wince and shudder, making mental notes not to let Macaulay near any of the children later, he appears to be sifting and evaluating with the gravity of a master chef testing the soup which is about to make its way out to a Michelin judge.
He seems to play that snout like a virtuoso violin, with all the accompanying non-verbal language.
But just how much do a dog’s status updates really say about him?
Opinions are divided. Mainly because you can’t ask the dog to tell you. You’re stuck, obsessing and hypothesising and surmising why your dog sniffs other dogs’ bottoms with such unsettling application.
The dog’s superior sniffing-power is beyond dispute. Humans have five million scent receptors, and even the most lowly dog has 125 million. The teeming microscopic world of bacterial life is open to their noses when we can’t smell a thing.
Dogs can smell what bacteria are doing a great deal better than we can. Seattle Police Department produced a report which says we are covered in bacteria and so is everything else. As the bacteria eat things they produce bacteria-gas. Flatulent bacteria is what the dog smells through that extraordinary purpose-built nose of his.
Every dog, goes the common theory, has its own signature, much like a fingerprint. The dog leaves messages for its contemporaries, just as if it were using a bulletin board.
But Psychology Today writer Lee Charles Kelly disputes this. He says the dog’s psychological makeup just doesn’t match up to the theory. These are not status updates: they are just attempts to mask stressful smells.
“It doesn’t make sense that any dog would have the intelligence necessary to leave messages for other dogs in this manner…” he writes.
And he goes on to put words into the dog’s mouth:”If I mark this fence (propositional thinking),Spike will come along some time in the future (directed fantasy, hypothetical thinking, mental time travel), sniff it (more fantasy, more hypothetical thinking), and know he’s in my territory (theory of mind, abstract and conceptual thinking) and start to feel nervous about being here (more theory of mind).”
“That’s pretty complicated thinking for a dog, ” he adds.
Instead, he says, it could be all down to vasopressin: a hormone which controls water retention. Low levels in humans result in bed wetting; and stress hormones work hand in hand with it. Maybe, says Kelly, the dog covers a stressful smell with urine to relieve stress; and having achieved this release he repeats it as faithfully as any of Pavlov’s dogs.
But watching Macaulay Shrewsday, the maestro at his smelly work, I am not convinced. Such pleasure, he gains from trawling the world for smells that I feel sure this is more than just stress relieving.
Every gesture he makes leads me to believe that he is indulging in a time-honoured gossip exchange, in this most sophisticated form of social media.
50 thoughts on “Social Media For Dogs”
Cheers Julie 🙂
I prefer the intelligence theory to the Pavlovian option every time. However his wife, Pavlova, makes an exceedingly good meringue, fruit and cream dessert.
She does. Second only to that glorious mess from Eton.
I am always grateful I am not a dog!!! and did you know that we have more bacteria inside our bodies than cells.
I did not know that, Rosemary, thank you! Makes one think, doesn’t it?
Wonderful post. Who would ever think walking the dog would inspire such deep and thoughtful writing. Good work!
Hi Cheryl, and thank you 🙂 Some of my best stuff comes while I trot after the dog in the forest….
I’m with you Kate. Maggie is in ecstasy, when she’s out about scouting for smell messages, even rolling herself in them if given half a chance:)
I did not realise you have a dog, Wanderlust! It must be really something to share the place you live with Maggie…
Two dogs, and a cat, in fact – The Misses Kotte, I call them:)
A bit wet?
Animals have and keep the abilities we have had to invent technology to help us with.
As always a tour de’ Kate
😀 Thanks Sidey. Clever little animals, aren’t they..
That psychologist surely never had the responsibility of walking a beloved canine. Imagine! I’d like to link him to a CBC interview “The Intelligence of Bees”. It may trigger a realization that he needs to re-calculate the coefficient of correlation of his research!
Your proposition sounds much more plausible, Kate.
You say it so well, Amy 🙂 Must look up the interview!
Here is the link – there’s a “listen” button since it’s radio. The Ideas program hosts mostly scientific findings…highly fascinating facts.
Thank you, Tilly 😀 Now go and rest that shoulder!
It makes sense to me, Kate.
And to Macaulay, Tom….
I always thought the canine thought process was more along the lines of,
pee, pee, “This is mine!” Pee pee, “And that.” Pee pee, “I’m the boss here.” Sniff sniff, “Can I eat that?” sniff sniff . “or roll in it?” Sniff sniff, ” I’m hungry.”
😀 A down to earth perspective which has much to recommend it. Ever read the cats and dogs diaries? http://www.goodeatsfanpage.com/humor/otherhumor/dog_cat_diary.htm
Since dogs are sophisticated enough to be eyes for the blind; to be ears for the deaf; and to communicate with an entirely separate species on such an intimate level, I have no doubt they have a very sophisticated social network!
Extremely good point! They are so intuitive, aren’t they…
Loved this today! What I fail to understand is if their snouts are so fine-tuned.. why they insist on sticking it right into that which they sniff?? Ewww!! xoxo Smidge
*Shudder* indeed, Smidge….I have absolutely no idea….
The ages old “marking territory” behavior, common in many species, has always been explanation enough for me. But who can say whether such a message simply says “Mine” or says something more along the lines of “I know you were here but I’m here now and everything within a hundred yards of this spot is mine, mine, mine, so you best not come around here again or else!” After all, there can’t be that many dogs in the world with bladder problems!
Nope: the ink is prolific, that’s for sure, PT 😀 I’m off right now to do some action research in the forest with Macaulay 🙂
Dear Kate, how you can take anything from your day–bread maker, cat, Al at four, terrier and make a post is amazing to me. AMAZING! Peace.
Thanks Dee 🙂 The average household has plenty to fill a blog…
awesome.. maybe we should pay more attention! c
I’m sure Ton Ton’s status updates are worth the follow, Celi!
Absolutely with you Kate! That ecstatic snuffling cannot just be a way of stress relieving. HAS to be canine networking 🙂 What stories they could tell!
If we could only get them to tell them, Madhu 🙂
Obviously the research wasn’t conducted by a dog owner. A dog owner knows!
Quite. the evidence is overwhelming, Myfanwy.
That guy from Psychology Today needs a good kick up the butt 😉 What about marking your territory and finding out who has been in your territory – all great fun things most of the time. ‘his own cloud of dust’ – hahahaha
A good kick up the butt: you put it so succinctly, Gabrielle 😀 And I couldn’t put it better myself 🙂
I read somewhere that dogs smell like we see. I cannot imagine what that must be like.
A smellscape, Andra. Imagine…
Have you read The Art of Dancing in the Rain? You must. Or listen to it on audio. It’s wonderful story told through the perspective of a dog and is about the world of car racing – and life.
Loved this post, Kate.
Sounds great, Penny, I’ll put it on my list 🙂 Glad you enjoyed it, Penny!
My small dog also approaches smells with a sense of glee, the nastier the better. I’m fairly certain he’s not fussed, just expressing himself.
A sort of canine Jackson Pollock, Cameron….
I do believe these canine matters are more intelligently placed than we probably understand, but after spending the day yesterday with my son’s dog I would say we are well-marked! I hope it works against raccoons getting into the fish pond! Otherwise it really was more of a nuisance! I loved the idea of trying to keep Mac out of the childrens’ faces after a forage in the forest or “close encounter” with another canine friend! Isn’t that the truth! And it’s nearly impossible! 🙂 Debra
Oh what a silly man is Lee Charles Kelly – thinking doesn’t come into it, as Macaulay will no doubt confirm 🙂
Fascinating perspective. 🙂
Great theme twist, Kate. I can’t help but read it almost entirely as metaphor. And I love it…
Thanks Brett 🙂 I think in metaphors, can’t help it…glad you read it that way.