Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Do Nice Dogs Live Longer?

I've just read an article in Smart Planet Daily about a baboon researcher named Susan Cheney and her husband, Robert Seyfarth. Over 20 years of research they have found considerable evidence that "nice" female baboons are more successful and live longer, healthier lives than those who are antisocial.

Their study was limited to relationships of female baboons with other females. They now plan to extend the research to include relationships among males and among males and females. They think their conclusions probably apply to humans (and to many other social animals) as well as to baboons.

It should also apply to dogs and their kin, and in the case of wolves and other wild canids, the research should be fairly straightforward, but what about domestic dogs, for whom their closest bond is in most cases with members of another species--us?

I'm guessing (pretty sure, actually) that dogs who have a warm and close relationship with their humans do much better than those who don't. Does it also matter whether or not they have close social relationhips with other dogs?

I'm sure that they do form such relationships, especially (maybe) if circumstances allow them to choose their own friends. When I was a child, living in Greeley, Colorado, my first dog, Tramp, had a dog friend who lived nearby and used to come over to our house to play with him. There were no leash laws in those days. Dogs used to run free all over our neighborhood, and I can remember being frightened on my way to school if a dog fight was going on nearby.

When I was 6, Tramp got killed by a motorcycle he was chasing. For several months afterward, his friend would come to our house every day, whining and whimpering at the door.

Another time that I saw dogs making friends on their own was when Rob and I and the three dogs we owned at the time drove to Sisters, Oregon, to stay for a couple of nights in a house we had just bought there before we rented it out. The house was on a 2 1/2 acre lot with no fences. Within 20 minutes of our arrival, 6 or 7 dogs arrived and began racing around the property with our 3 dogs, all having a wonderful time. Faun, who was the oldest of the 3 dogs, was so stiff she couldn't walk the next morning. Since we didn't stay long, the dog friendships had no time to develop--but in retrospect, I would love to know what would have happened if we had stayed in an environment where the dogs could interact freely.

The research on free-roaming, non-feral, dogs is probably impossible to do now, at least here. The last time I actually saw dogs regularly running free was in the mid-1960's when my family had recently moved from Colorado to La Mesa. Lake Murray Blvd. was a 2 lane winding road, and the wild country around the lake was much larger and less accessible than now. I would often see a pack of 3, probably feral, dogs hunting jack-rabbits around the lake.

Most domesticated dogs these days are taken to dog parks or play dates to make friends with their own kind. For Caitlin at least, the dog park is one of the most important things in her life. She is highly social with other dogs, and, I think, much happier than she would be if she had no canine companionship. I'm of the opinion that all dogs need the companionship of other dogs, preferably other compatible dogs. Are dogs who are more social happier? healthier? Do they live longer? Impossible to answer for sure.

Another question that Cheney & Seyfarth's research raises for me is whether the socializing as an end in itself (like partying) has the same beneficial effects as more purposeful socializing. Wolves and lions work together to hunt and rear young. Herding dogs work together to manage the flock. In most animals, socialization during play is preparation for their adult jobs. For most domestic dogs, socialization has no purpose other than play for the life of the dog.  Does that kind of socialization have the same beneficial effects for the dog as more purposeful interactions? Does anyone know? Is there any evidence one way or another?

Sunday, October 28, 2012

How Will Your Dog Vote?

Since the current political campaign seems to have gone to the dogs, I thought I'd try to find out what the dogs' opinions might be.

They seem to be pretty solidly in the Obama camp. I found websites for Dogs For Obama and Dogs Against Romney. Pets in favor of Obama have a Facebook page, too, which I didn't look at because I don't have a Facebook account and am too lazy to ask Rob to check it out on his Facebook account.

If you click on Dogs for Obama, you get to a commercial website for liberals that explains how Romney drove his car with his dog in a crate on the roof in 1983 and offers to sell you a t-shirt with this logo:

Dogs Against Romney sends you to another commercial website with a much wider selection of dog-themed goods for sale, such as this particularly tasteful one:

Politically motivated dogs can also buy campaign buttons targeted for their breed:
I found a website on which Jim Coniglione, a professional poop-scooper, predicts a win for Romney based on the characteristics of the dog poop that he has been scooping.

On the same website, a non-partisan company, fittingly named Therapoo, will sell you poop bags with a picture of the candidate of your non-choice:

The Republicans don't seem to have cottoned on to the commercial potential of the dog vote.. They do offer a few posters for dogs who are concerned about being served up at a White House dinner (since Obama has admitted to having once consumed dog meat).

Maybe the Republicans have decided not to target the canine vote because they know that practically all the dogs who have registered to vote are Democrats. Republicans in Texas (and 25 other states) have gone to considerable lengths to disenfranchise canine voters by passing laws requiring a government-issued photo i.d. in order to vote--but the Department of Justice is trying to get these laws overturned, claiming that such a requirement amounts to a "poll tax" that would disenfranchise poor people as well as dogs. To prove this allegation they published a long list naming the Texans who would be unable to cast a ballot under the new law. The list included 50,000 dead people as well as former President George W. Bush and Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, but (I am happy to report) no dogs were found on the list.

There are a couple of other (hopefully minor) challenges for prospective canine voters. Some of the dogs that received filled-out registration cards were dead. Hopefully they can still vote by absentee ballot.

Another difficulty is raised by dogs who plan to vote for Obama's dog, Bo, rather than for Obama himself. That would require a write-in vote on the ballot. Do you suppose they could give power of attorney to a human proxy who could then represent them at the ballot box? We are challenging the limits of the voting laws here.

To be on the safe side, I think we should start pushing for a photo i.d. on all dog licenses, so that if it should be required in California, our dogs will still be able to vote for the candidate of their choice.