Mitzi's photo was taken during a romp in the snow, on the same occasion as Villain's (see post 29 May). She seems to be looking for Mum - but how?
On this week's visit to the supermarket, there was a dog secured to a leash hook in the entrance, in the exactly the same stance as Mitzi in the photo looking out for her owner. I noticed how the dog's nostrils were twitching independently of each other.
Sniffing Mum out I realised, thanks to a clearer grasp of a dog’s view of the world after re-reading Chapters 4 to 7 of Stanley Coren’s How Dogs Think for the next chapter of A Police Dog in the Family, that the dog was indeed looking out for her owner – but primarily using her nose. A dog not only has its owner's unique 'scent barcode' filed in its brain but it can gauge the direction the scent is coming from by comparing the scent strengths received through each nostril. It might sound far-fetched put like this, but I am certain that if the supermarket dog had jumped her lead, she would have found the person she sought far more quickly than a human whose dominant sense, like other primates, is vision.
Dogs can smell scurf For skin to function like home-made cling-film, dead cells, scurf, are constantly being shed into the air from the skin surface and replaced by younger cells from the deeper layers. The rate is sufficient for scurf to be a major component of house dust and sufficient for dogs to pick up the trail by air scenting. Amazing.
Source: How Dogs Think, Stanley Coren 2004. London: Simon & Schuster UK Ltd
- line from Longfellow's 1874 poem, The Hanging of the Crane - a ceremony in which a newly married couple's new cooking pot was suspended over a fire in their new home - referring to babies the couple would have 'speaking' with their eyes before they learn to talk.
While making myself finish a chapter on PD Villain (see post 29 May A police dog in the family) after yet another of my approach-avoidance conflicts, I read Tom Whipple's newspaper report, Puppy dog eyes show who's master, on a scientific study attributing the dog's imploring look to a facial muscle that dogs have but wolves, their ancestors, don't.
On the left you can see Tandy with her ball looking expectantly at the person coming towards her to play ball, ready to upgrade the look to imploring if the person doesn't immediately oblige. The photo on the right shows them having a break together afterwards.
In their study, Kaminski et al state that 'mutual gaze between dogs and humans seems to trigger an increase of oxytocin [the love hormone] in both species' - analogous to the effect of the mutual gaze between human mothers and their newborn.
Puppy dog eyes
For expressive eyes, spaniels like my dog Gipsy (see my post of 29 May) with big, wide-set eyes possibly have the edge on German Shepherd dogs like Villain and Tandy with near-set eyes in wolf-like faces - but all dogs are hard-wired for these 'puppy dog eyes', the result of selection during domestication based on humans' preferences (Kaminski et al). I once had a bookmark with a spaniel and the Longfellow quote although his poem refers not to a dog but to the children to come of a marriage being celebrated in a crane hanging ceremony.
Sources: Maine Historical Society https://www.hwlongfellow.org/poems_poem.php?pid=155; Tom Whipple, The Times, Tuesday June 18, 2019; Juliane Kaminski and colleagues, June 17 2019 Evolution of facial muscle anatomy in dogs https://www.pnas.org/content/early/2019/06/11/1820653116
It's almost two years since I published In Our Fathers' Footsteps (see under BOOKS). My latest book, One Dog and His Cop, about my cousin's police dog,was published 30 November this year (see under BOOKS).