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Do Dogs Think Stuffed Animals Are Real?

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Do Dogs Think Stuffed Animals Are Real?

Can we learn about dog behavior around unfamiliar dogs by using fake stuffed dogs? That's the question posed by a team of researchers in Massachusetts, who conducted a study comparing the reactions of 45 shelter dogs to live dogs and fake stuffed dogs. The real dog was given a neutered male American Staffordshire mix dog and a similarly sized fake dog that was the same size as the real dog but was described as having "the appearance of a pointing dog breed." Individual behaviors were recorded as occurring or not occurring (approaching, sniffing, barking, growling, retreating, etc.) and were subsequently also classified into three categories: "aggressive, fearful, or friendly/playful."

The results were statistically summarized, saying that the "friendly" response was the most likely to be consistent, as most "friendly" dogs are friendly to both real and false stimuli. However, they found little consistency in their responses to "aggressive" behavior from real and fake dogs. A total of 17 dogs showed some form of aggression toward real dogs or fake dogs; 8 dogs against real dogs and 12 dogs against fake dogs, but only 3 dogs showed any aggression toward either category.


On the other hand, 32 of the 45 dogs showed fear in at least one situation, 21 of them showed fear of both real and fake dogs, 8 of them showed fear of fake dogs only, and 3 of them showed fear of fake dogs only. Shows fear only of live dogs. Therefore, fearful behavior is more consistent than being labeled as aggressive behavior.

I dispute some of the details of the analysis ("Tail Wags" was rated as "friendly", although their comments in the discussion section clearly indicate that they are aware that this is not always the case), but I'm sure there will be researchers to investigate further. . This is important because some shelters use fake dogs as assessment tools to ask whether a specific dog is aggressive. If you've never seen work using "fake" stimulation, it's not as crazy as it sounds. Just as people sometimes react to statues, stuffed animals, or cartoons as if they were real, there are also many dogs that react to stuffed dogs, or even large dolls that stand in for children, as if they were real Same. A researcher in France once drew a silhouette of a dog on a wall and noted that dogs would approach it appropriately as if they considered it a dog and would most likely sniff its groin area, as if it were a dog. Like this is a real dog. I have a piece of quilted fabric that has an outline of a cat on it, and I can't tell you how many dogs have raised their heads and barked at it. So visual animals do seem to tend to respond to what behaviorists call "signal stimuli," meaning that certain stimuli are inherently meaningful to the animals that see or hear them.

So we can safely surmise that fake dogs, which are by definition stiff and motionless, are more likely to induce fear or aggression than live dogs. After all, real dogs usually respond to another dog with some kind of action, whether it's looking away, flattening their ears, or lunging forward and barking. Nothing makes me more wary than a stiff, motionless dog, so it makes sense that the dog would react more than usual before he realizes the stuffed toy is fake. Note that fear responses to fake dogs were more than twice as high as real dogs.


However, many behaviorists strongly oppose the use of fake dogs as predictors of dog-on-dog aggression in shelter settings. I agree, at least until we do more research on whether dog reactions are actually predictive. But just to muddy the waters, I can't help but add that somewhere deep in the storage room there is a video I made of three dogs approaching stuffed animals, each in the same way they would approach an unfamiliar real dog 100 % consistent. (Border Collie Luke approaches enthusiastically, tail cocked but waving loosely, Border Collie Pippi Tai grovels as usual towards the dogs, Great Pyrenees Tulip strides forward, tail, head , ears up and forward, barking what we call "her announcement bark." But this is just one set of observations, and we must be careful about the predictive value of anecdotes.

However, fake dogs also serve a very important purpose, and that is using them to train owners on how to train their own dogs while out on a leash for a walk. I often use my own fake dogs to help owners learn how to react when they and their own dog see an unfamiliar dog on the street. We all know how context-dependent learning is, and even putting a fake dog out on the sidewalk can create enough stimulation to start training people and dogs on how to respond. In this case, I found the fake dog to be priceless.

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