Why Is Play Bow Inviting?

14 Play bow

I’m currently writing a book on body language so that my model can be applied to the things we see dogs do everyday. In the meantime, and in sort of a crowd-sourcing way to flesh out my argument, I would like to pose the following question to a science-based trainer or a behaviorist. After a dog performs a play bow, play often results and so this seemingly justifies the interpretation of the above position as an invitation to play. On Patricia McConnell’s website is a comprehensive post on the latest thinking on the play bow.

A New Look at Play Bows

But an obvious question is never asked in these treatments: Why does this particular configuration of the body constitute an invitation to play? What specifically is being conveyed by a hind end held high and a front end being lowered, and with a dog curiously perched on spring loaded forelegs, that indicates as a “meta-signal” that said play-bowing dog intends to play? In other words, what specific information is the the object of a play-bow pulling from this signal so that he can be assured the sender is intending playful consequences?

Meanwhile Coppinger in “How Dogs Work” shows a sheep-killing dog play bowing before a sheep that for some reason won’t run. Bekoff in excoriating fashion has dismissed Coppinger’s argument in the overall, but has conspicuously failed to address this point.


His failure to account for this behavior is all the more curious because mainstream behaviorism has not arrived at a consensus for why there is play in the first place. One would think that in the absence of such a model the intellectually curious would be open to all kinds of possible interpretations. Bekoff may want to dismiss this as an isolated anecdote, but I’m sure there are countless examples of this among the dog owning community and after a few million anecdotes it becomes data. It’s been my experience that if we pay the most attention to the seeming incongruities rather than dismissing them, we are best able to construct a model.

Meanwhile my argument is that the play-bow is not an intentional invitation to join in play and in my model the play-bowing dog about to pounce in play on a playmate, is not inconsistent with a play-bowing dog about to prey pounce on a prey-mate. I would welcome a science based trainer or behaviorist to demonstrate what specifics of a body performing a play-bow represents a conscious intentional signal to join in a round of play so that it is received in the mind of another as a metal-signal for just that. To date I have failed to find an explanation other than the dog looks playful and play often results. But why does the dog look playful, what is it about that posture and demeanor that makes an observer “feel” something?

The best argument I can think of is the Principle of Antithesis by Darwin wherein those equal and opposite muscle patterns from one useful behavior, seem to be employed in other ways and are available simply because they are not in service to the useful behavior. But this doesn’t really address why the play bow looks playful, just that it’s the opposite of being aggressive. So if someone is not being aggressive toward me I should want to play with them? And this also presumes that the play bow is of no service in and of itself, and it also doesn’t explain why a sheep killing dog would play bow before a sheep that won’t run, perhaps it has a service in ways that have not yet been envisioned by the mainstream consensus that strives to read cognition and intention into these signals?

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Published January 24, 2017 by Kevin Behan
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67 responses to “Why Is Play Bow Inviting?”

  1. cliff says:

    Glad you’re writing this book. Very interesting. Still waiting for the one on how to raise a puppy. With pictures!

  2. I have often mimicked this pose with all my dogs. They answer me with the same posture and it does initiate a play dance between us, usually without contact. I’ve seen the same exact thing between my dogs with dogs they know well which always initiates running around their field, (not chasing), more like a joyous celebration. I find it difficult to imagine it as anything else. I have never seen this behavior evolve into aggression

  3. Kevin Behan says:

    Yes, 99% of the time a play bow results in play. However not always if the object is too fearful, sensitive, charged, and I highly doubt that with the sheep killing dog a playful session would have followed were the sheep to have begun moving. So my question is, what is it about the play bow that indicates playfulness?

  4. The play bow is the trough of a wave, and it invites the crest to join. The trough of the wave can receive and absorb the emotional projection of the other dog. It creates a sort of low-pressure area that will draw in the “high pressure” area (the other dog). The two parts of the wave can then join together to make movement

  5. Christina Stockinger says:

    I’ve read a lot about this, but I’m not professional and can only answer referring to the behaviors of my own 4 dogs.
    I live in a country where it is during summer extremely hot and the dogs ly somewhere like dead flys. But in the early morning and later evening they begin to be active and show almost regularly the play bow. When I observe them I have really the impression they are asking for play.
    I’ve read they prepare themselves in this body position in order to have a better chance to win. Hind legs, butt high up helps them to be ready in case the “attack” of the other dog might be too strong. The bow itself is an invitation for playing, but the high butt shows they want to be prepared to defend themselves, sounds quite logic to me, but if scientifically proven – no idea.

  6. Oh, I get it! It shows potential energy because it is a collection!

  7. Kevin Behan says:

    I get the logic but is that not a contradiction in terms, invite someone to come closer while at the same time preparing to defend oneself? That would be like feeling the need to load some guns before the dinner guests arrive.

  8. Kevin Behan says:

    So what does that mean for an observer if the other dog is in a physical position of collection?

  9. Physical collection means that the dog is able to absorb force?

  10. Shannon says:

    I am not a behaviorist or an expert, but will chime in from my outside perspective. From the end of Patricia McConnell’s post: “In general, the authors conclude that PBs do not appear to communicate that subsequent behavior should be interpreted as play, versus being mis-interpreted as an aggressive action as has been believed for decades. Rather, the data support that PBs are a visual signal that serve to continue the play bout itself.”

    I read this to say that even in the context of studying dogs at play, they did not see the PB as an invitation to play, and instead observed it as an attempt to facilitate the continuance of flow. Given that all the dogs they studied were playing (instead of preying), then saying PBs “serve to continue the play” seems accurate. But the same behavior could feasibly be studied in other contexts, such as with the sheep-killing dog who possibly was attempting to signal the sheep to run so as to serve to continue the prey(ing).

    Thinking of my own dog, who PBs all the time with me and with other dogs, a curious line of thinking for me is that I have never seen her PB to a squirrel—just the thought of her doing so seems bizarre. I’ve never had the opportunity to see her preying on a larger, more dangerous animal, but I have seen her PB to tiny, squirell-sized dogs. So maybe the PB serves the continuance of flow in circumstances where intimidation doesn’t work, didn’t work, or is counter-productive to cooperation as a desired quality of the flow.

    So it sounds to me like the evidence is pointing away from PBs being a sign of play, and that McConnell communicates this in her post. So for a trainer/behaviorist to hold the view you put forth by your question, they’d have to go against the evidence.

  11. Kevin Behan says:

    Good analysis. We could amend the question then as to why does the play bow sustain the flow? But I have to take exception with McConnell as I have seen many instances of play beginning with one if not both dogs engaging in play-bow. So again this points to my argument, how is it that these researchers are formulating theories of play bow, without breaking down the signal. What they do is formulate a theory based on what follows and we can legitimately ask is this working, are we arriving at a definitive model, one that encompasses the sheep-killing dog play bowing before a sheep?

  12. The emotional projection of the other dog? Or the physical projection? Meaning, the potential energy that the other dog could exert upon the play bower? I’m not sure. I can see the system in my head, but not sure of the right language.

  13. Kevin Behan says:

    In McConnell’s article she mentioned that all PB’s were directed at others who could see the play bower, this is what leads her to believe it is a signal of intention. However, what is the significance of looking at the object–or put another way, why is a stimulus stimulating?

  14. Ben says:

    It’s stimulating because it knocks the play bower off balance (right before said play bow). So, in this instance of dog-to-dog interaction, I would say that would be the predatory aspects of the other dog coming into play – mainly their eyes.

  15. So the play-bower is knocked off balance, and in order to regain his equilibrium, he needs to become the equal-opposite of the stimulus.

  16. Ben says:

    I was asking if it’s stimulating because it knocks the play bower of balance – not making statement! Not sure how to edit posts on here.

  17. Julie Forlizzo says:

    Kevin, just before I read your last comment, I was about to ask if the eyes (negative) play a part connecting to the positive (prey). I notice during a play bow, the dog’s eyes rarely move off of its “play” mate, and the mouth is open for ingestion.

  18. Julie Forlizzo says:

    Also, Kevin, just wondering about the play bower huffing, puffing, even barking…..loading up energetically?

  19. Kevin Behan says:

    Yes, a stimulus is stimulating because the subject feels knocked off balance and it feels this way because it feels compelled to move. So we should always in our minds add in force-of-stimulation when talking of a stimulus. When moving, an animal must project its center-of-gravity to a forward point and then occupy it in order to return to equilibrium. So a play bowing dog looks at another dog and this knocks it off balance. Notice that the play bowing dog is perched on its forequarters with a super degree of muscle tension, as if it is teetering on top of a pile of blocks that is going to collapse into a rush. This increases the force of stimulation on the object. Why then isn’t this scary to the object of a play bowing dog?

  20. Kevin Behan says:

    Why does he need to become the equal/opposite and how does he know how to do this?

  21. Ben says:

    I think it isn’t scary because the play bower is absorbing the force of projected momentum from the observer? This is shown because the weight of the play bower is in their hind-end, which means they are able to move back or side-to-side to absorb that momentum given off by the observer.

  22. Kevin Behan says:

    Exactly right. By accentuating the hind end, which is the preyful polarity, he can absorb the projected c-o-g of the other dog. Why has the other dog projected his p-cog? Because he is stimulated. Why does stimulation require projection of p-cog? Because the dog wants to move and the first act of movement is to project a feeling for one’s physical center-of-gravity onto a forward point. When dealing with other living beings, the forward point becomes invested in the source of force, the stimulus, the other dog. The play bow indicates that the other dog is absorbing that forward point (maximizing preyful aspect over predatory aspect) and it can therefore be re-connected with. Once a dog is knocked off balance, he must move in relationship to this forward point. If this forward point is invested in a stimulus with a mind of its own, then he will move in mirroring fashion, in simpatico with the other dog. We call this playing.

  23. Sheri Miller says:

    I got confused in this thread. So the play bow is a response to a projected p-cog of another animal, instead of the initiator of the interaction?

    And as for “a stimulus is stimulating because the subject feels knocked off balance and it feels this way because it feels compelled to move”, why does it feel compelled to move? I thought it was because it was knocked off balance. Please help.

  24. Kevin Behan says:

    Sorry about the confusion. The play bower has projected his p-cog into the form of the prospective playmate because he is stimulated and must move. It’s impossible to be stimulated and not move without acquiring stress. Dogs aren’t always in motion because not every stimulus can breach a state of emotional equilibrium. However a stimulus is only stimulating if it can disturb a state of emotional equilibrium. (So pigeons for the city puppy are stimulating when he’s young, but then as he matures they are no longer stimulating and fade into the background of the perceptual field. They can’t disturb his emotional equilibrium.) My theory is that a dog doesn’t distinguish between physical and emotional equilibrium because in either case he must move, and in order to move he must project a feeling for his p-cog to a forward point. If a stimulus is stimulating, then it becomes invested with said forward point and now the projector feels compelled to occupy that point with its body. A play bowing dog is pro social because it has already projected and integrated that point into its mechanics of locomotion, just as if he had come upon a blowdown over a trail and is gathering himself to launch over it. It is a mistake to presume that there are two separate modules for the dog to deal with inanimate versus animate objects of resistance. They both are addressed via the same locomotive module. Now this process is happening in reverse with the object of the play bow. And the reason the play bower is looking at the eyes of the other dog, is because this gives him access to his own p-cog (triggering physical memories of puppyhood) in tandem with the object’s p-cog (or e-cog from the bower’s point-of-view). The bower feels that these two points are connected because he feels he can move well relative to the object of his attraction. When the other dog makes eye contact with the bower, this knocks him off balance and he likewise projects p-cog into his prospective partner in play. He must move and the bower is the source of force knocking him off balance so he must move toward him. The body position is inviting because it offers the potential for that forward point to be occupied by the other dog. (So they must be looking at each other but McConnell is wrong that this verifies play bow as intentional signal). Meanwhile the play bower is focusing a lot of muscle tension in his forelegs and this determines the force of acceleration that both will feel when they “collapse” into a new frame of reference together. This tension is related to the breath as well and the metered, clear bark indicates that integration has taken place. And so because the play bower already feels grounded into the other dog, and because the other dog is attracted to the hind end (prey polarity) of the bower, with the front end (predatory aspect) minimized, the other dog feels grounded as well so that they collapse into play rather than fight or flight. This all sounds complicated but it’s because we have to discuss it back and further given that it is a mutually reciprocating and recursive process. The same universal fundamental code is guiding both dogs. Two bodies end up rapidly exchanging the same point in space through vigorous mirroring movements. We call this play but it is coupling two bodies into one wave mechanics of locomotion, and this is the same process that is happening in starling murmurations, which we don’t happen to call play. It would be more accurate to call all complex collectivizing behaviors, even advanced problem solving in animals, wave making by way of wave coupling.
    (It’s very easy to mistake all of this as a back and forth of intentional states, but that ultimately doesn’t make sense and in order to incorporate the incongruities, the psychology attributed to each dog becomes vast. Since this is an emotional interaction, and since emotion is pre-verbal, by definition it is wrong to articulate the dynamics through a human like narrative, in other words to articulate the body states in complete human sentences. Only a systems logic can account for the complexities of this behavior without using human verbal concepts.)

  25. Shannon says:

    Kevin – I’m curious what an experiment to verify your mechanism might look like. Maybe we could crowd source it and make it happen.

  26. Kevin Behan says:

    This has proven frustrating for me because it seems to be impossible to devise an experiment that can only be interpreted one way. What really matters is how an experiment is interpreted, either by way of intention or through attraction, a high cognition approach or an immediate-moment manner of analysis. There’s not really an experiment I can think of which would isolate one interpretation to the exclusion of the other one. Basically I’m making a geometry proof, so that if this thing is true then that thing must be true. And if this and that are true, then this other thing must be true. I do hold hope that an experiment could be devised to explore the notion of emotional projection wherein the subject comes to view the object of attraction as an extension of its own body. One can see when they bait a dog with a treat or move a toy about that a dog is clearly feeling a pull on his body by the movement of such inducements. One experiment might be to duplicate the rubber tail experiment that was conducted on mice wherein the mouse was tricked into feeling that a prosthetic tail was his real one rather than his actual tail.

  27. Willem Larsen says:

    I think it is perfectly reasonable to consider the model that accounts for all phenomena the better model, rather than a more “obvious” but less comprehensive model that fails to cover all behavior. There are many, many models in science whose sole purpose is to provide structure for what we observe, without being observable in and of themselves.. The atomic model is just one example.

    Really I think the current state of animal behavior is the “sunk cost fallacy” – so many careers and research are invested in the older less comprehensive model it’s just difficult to reverse momentum.

    I actually I am sure we could effectively model this challenge using constructal law and immediate moment theory.

  28. Lacey says:

    This explains why Rudy would play bow at me and then run back and forth between the kitchen and car if I needed to make repeated trips to haul groceries in from the car. I always snacked and shared food with him as I put groceries away, and Rudy was the most food-loving dog I’ve ever known.

  29. Kevin Behan says:

    Yes, in Rudy’s mind he was willing you to move from car to kitchen, he was able to connect you, his p-cog and the forward point (car–>kitchen) into one wave. Therefore he was play bowing, integrating you as obstacle-of-resistance into his locomotive rhythm. From his point of view, he was willing you to move just as he wills his own body to move, by focusing on his breath, your eyes as access to his p-cog, in one frame, he willed the food into his mouth. He has no “idea” you give him the treat just as he has no idea you go to work to make money to buy the treat you bring home in the car. The treat arrived in his mouth because through his will, all the objects in the frame of reference fit into the wave form of locomotive rhythm, running. The entire array of points fit into one wave that he propelled through intensifying his concentration on his breath. This is why dogs bark in a rhythmic clear way in affiliation with the play bow when physically the wave is not yet rolling. That rhythmic bark indicates the dog is feeling movement nonetheless which is why such a dog is prosocial.

  30. Dan Harkless says:

    Kevin Behan wrote:
    > That would be like feeling the need to load some guns before the dinner guests arrive.

    Oh… So I’m the only one that does that? ? BTW, Kevin, something appears to be wrong with the site, wherein (in Firefox, at least), the image at the top of the article appears briefly, but then some JavaScript kicks in and it gets replaced by a broken image placeholder and some literal HTML.

    Like Shannon, I am also just an interested layman, but her post and the bit about the sheep-killing dog started a train of thought that made me wonder whether the play-bow is simply an imitation of an “I’m about to pounce on you” body position, and the fact that only a play fight (or by extension, other types of play) is intended is conveyed by other cues common to play-fight behavior, like tail-wagging and lack of snarling and growling.

    Shannon’s comment about not seeing dogs play-bow to squirrels, which does sound intuitively correct, might argue against this, but perhaps it’s simply that developed instinct has stopped most canines from using a foreshadowed pounce on rodents and the like because it allows them to get away too easily. I say “most canines” because I’m thinking of foxes’ behavior where they do a crouch very similar to a play-bow just before springing headfirst into the snow to catch a rodent. Makes me wonder whether that’s a behavior that foxes have evolved independently, or whether it might have started with common ancestors and lost in other lineages besides foxes.

  31. Dan Harkless says:

    Hmm, another oddment on the site — that winking emoji was supposed to appear in between “that?” and “BTW”, but in my browser, at least, it shows up off to the left in the margin, and causes the “Oh” to be indented. Weird; don’t see anything obvious in the HTML to cause that.

  32. Dan Harkless says:

    (Sorry, was looking at the static HTML rather than looking at the post-JavaScript dynamic HTML using Firefox’s Inspector. Now that I look at the latter, I see that the emoji gets converted to an img tag that doesn’t have its flow specified properly.)

  33. Kevin Behan says:

    There is one common denominator to all these phenomena of behavior. The motive underlying any action (no matter context, species, end result) is the desire to move well. To move well, the body must function as a wave (because of bilateral symmetry which evolved either before or in tandem with the centralization of the nervous system. So consciousness and wave making are inextricably linked.). Objects that are emotionally relevant, arise in the mind as a function of resistance to being able to perform said wave. If the energy of attraction can be performed as a wave, such as dog chasing squirrel, then we don’t see the play bow. But if the object can reflect energy of attraction back to the subject, such as another dog or a person or even a sheep that won’t run, then in order to make a wave the body/mind must couple with the object-of-resistance so as to make a common wave. This is the intrinsic architecture to all behavior because wave-making is adaptive, and wave-coupling is even more adaptive since forces can thereby be combined. This is a simple systems formula that can account for all complex behavior, most especially the phenomenon of sociability.

  34. Dan Harkless says:

    Kevin, sounds plausible. I also had a couple of other thoughts after commenting. One is that the play bow seems to come across as playful behavior even to the human mind, without having to be trained. Of course dogs are a special case because of their coevolution with humans, but nonetheless, it seems like some semi-universal cross-species body language communication is going on there. Another possibility is that the lowered front part of the body could like submissive signaling, while the back part of the body remains raised, as if to say, “Yes, I’d kind of like to be aggressive with you, but you need not worry about me injuring you.” Certainly dogs (and to a lesser extent, cats) seem to be happier to engage with me if I crouch down to their level, rather than towering over them, even though I’m not imitating a play bow per se.

  35. Dan Harkless says:

    (Sorry, “like submissive” -> “be like submissive”.)

  36. Kevin Behan says:

    Outside of a wave dynamic, the challenge of any other system of interpretation is to explain why the body posture is inviting, why a playful dog looks like it is playful, and do so without using any human conceptualization (such as submissiveness) about what’s going on in the animal mind as all of this predates the evolution of verbal language as Panksepp makes clear. So if one is explaining body language via complete human sentences, by definition that is wrong. My point is that one will never be able to do so by positing one individual animal with a self-contained intelligence relative to the other as a self-contained intelligence. My theory is that there is a systems logic to the architecture of the animal mind and that a wave dynamic is said systems’ logic and specifies why the play bow appears playful and can go on to explain why animals play in the first place. At the moment, behaviorism is completely divided on why dogs play and then claim to know that the play bow is an intentional communication of the desire to play. No, the play bowing dog is trying to move well vis a vis an object-of-resistance into which he feels “grounded” (projection of e-cog) and is reliving therefore early letterhead memories when his emotional projection threshold was at its lowest, and his emotional capacity to feel grounded was at its highest.

  37. Dan Harkless says:

    Kevin, I’m more of a trees guy than a forest guy, so I can’t really comment further on your wave dynamic hypergeneralization theory. As for using human language to discuss animal behavior being by definition wrong, well, sorry, but WordPress’ interface doesn’t pick up my gestural language very well. I think it’s absurd to not acknowledge that the human concepts of submission and dominance do a good job of labeling hierarchical behavior in animals like dogs. And to your point about wanting to focus on the very specific question of why the play bow appears inviting, my point was that perhaps it doesn’t appear inviting per se, but challenging, while simultaneously “winking” that “I’m not going to hurt you if you accept my challenge.” And yes, I realize that you could respond to that with, “Well, why does that combination of gestures appear challenging or reassuring?”. There may be no real underlying logic to some of this; some of it may be arbitrary signaling that’s simply distinctive enough to have become neurologically linked with communication of certain concepts, à la aposematism.

  38. Personally, I don’t feel that nature evolved to express “arbitrary signals” with “no underlying logic.” Kevin is proposing that animal behavior is energy in motion (emotion) that follows simple thermodynamic rules of running from hot to cold, predator to prey, and, if you like, dominant to submissmive. It’s a way of looking at nature and seeing that everything is a transfer of force, and that transfer follows certain rules.

    The reference Dan made to a play bow being recognized even by humans further points to the fact that there is an underlying architecture to all behavior. And that’s why animals of different species can speak the same “language” (body). And also why the deer and dog are able to dance and play together. Of course you could say that the dog is being submissive and the deer aggressive, but you can also see that they are playing with their roles of prey/predator. And we don’t usually say that predators “dominate” their prey.

  39. My bad, the dog/deer video is in the next post. Here’s the link: https://youtu.be/IgVVKoX8eIc.

    Also there’s a typo in my last comment *submissive.

  40. Kevin Behan says:

    I recommend the language of Thermodynamics, especially the newly discovered Constructal Law, as a perfectly apt way to write and speak about animal behavior. In Constructal Law we find that the hierarchy by which inanimate things are organized, is the same hierarchy by which animate beings are organized. Since we wouldn’t use dominance and submission to explain the relationship between inanimate things, why would that be accurate with dogs? Recent research has shown that a person’s understanding of a word related to a movement, requires participation of the motor system affiliated with that movement in order to recognize the meaning of the word. A popular but old writing book (Zinn?) recommends that to improve readability use language related to the body such as “could’t get my hands around the idea” in order to relate abstract concepts. Likewise, if a dog were to come upon an obstacle in the path that he could surmount, we would see a motor pattern of collecting his weight onto his hind end and springing off his forelegs in order to surmount the obstacle. In other words, he would integrate the object-of-resistance into the wave form of his locomotive rhythm. The play bow is an elaboration upon this only being applied to animate objects-of-resistance, i.e. other living beings. The advantage to this interpretation is that it is consistent with Thermodynamics, can be expressed in pre-verbal terms, shows a clear evolutionary path, is consistent with the universality of emotion across the species divide, and leads us to a precise definition of why dogs play (emotional synchronizing for wave coupling so as to form emotional bonds so as to incorporate even greater objects-of-resistance into the locomotive rhythm, i.e. put a large, dangerous prey to flight. The alternative is to put human thoughts in their minds or to say that it could mean anything, sometimes being submissive is controlling, sometimes being dominant is controlling and so on.

  41. Dan Harkless says:

    Well, the evolvedog, aposematic signaling of an animal being toxic to predators by being brightly colored and/or having high-contrast patterns is pretty arbitrary. Fruits, for instance, are typically brightly colored yet are not toxic. Nature using bright colors to signal something that’s bad for carnivores to eat and simultaneously something that’s good for herbivores and omnivores to eat seems to indicate the signalling is by its nature arbitrary, and the attached meaning only comes with instinct that gets associated with recognition of that cue, in the animals that are more successful.

    Kevin, I don’t see your comparison between dogs and inanimate objects being valid. I think what’s going on in dominance hierarchies of species that use them is pretty inescapably clear. I don’t think that’s an example of ascribing human thoughts to dogs’ minds; merely using the human label for a concept that’s universal across a very wide range of species.

  42. Berries are brightly colored because they want to be eaten, frogs are brightly colored because they don’t want to be eaten. I don’t see how that’s arbitrary. Both have specific meaning and evolved to perform a certain function.

  43. Interesting article! For me these discussions are not to definitively say what the meaning of life is, but rather get a glimpse into the meaning of movement to better help animals who have behavioral issues. As to why we’re all here, who knows!? ?❤

  44. And btw this article calls humans physically feeble, but if you consider our endurance and dexterity, I would have to say we’re not really that feeble.

  45. Kevin Behan says:

    You find it incongruent that in a dog, a motor pattern for dealing with an inanimate object-of-resistance invoking the same posture that we see when the dog dealing with an animate object-of-resistance, could be involved in play bow signal, when in the human mind, it has been shown that a motor pattern for dealing with an inanimate object is responsible for the mind being able to recognize an abstract symbol for said object at the very highest level of cognitive development, i.e. language. And to repeat my point, no one has offered a reasonable scenario for how the play bow signal has evolved, and I don’t expect one soon because behaviorism remains divided as to what if any purpose play serves. If the field of behaviorism is so indeterminate on these most basic questions, how can one speak definitively about any behavior, such as there being no question there is a dominant thought in the minds of dogs? There are many incongruities with the dominance model I could list, but consider that if scent marking is about declaring status and delineating territory, how is it that when dogs mark a post one after the other, they don’t fight? If one is declaring its status and then the other reciprocates and declares its status, which supposedly is said to convey very real social consequences, how can they then go on about their business as if nothing has happened— how can that behavior possibly be signaling anything to do with the delineation of status? For example, if two people encounter each other and one declares supremacy over the other, we would expect pushback and an increase in the chances of violence. But in dogs with scent marking the exact opposite occurs.

  46. Dan Harkless says:

    leahtwitchell, you misunderstand. It’s not the meaning that is artbirary — it’s the signal (possibly akin to a play bow, in my postulate). The fact that an omnivore can let itself be attracted to brightly-colored fruits, yet must resist brightly-colored animals shows that the signal itself is arbitrary, not based on some underlying wave function or something, and the meaning, again, gets attached purely through evolved instinct.

    Shannon, thanks for the link. A long article that eventually goes nowhere, but though I’d read a lot about the debate over the function of dimetrodons’ sails, I had not yet read about the parallel discussion of stegosaurs’ plates.

    Kevin, I think my suggestions are plausible / “reasonable”. Again, sorry, I think you’re way off-base with the comparison to inanimate objects, which dogs of course don’t play-bow to. Scent-marking a post, one dog after another, is none too mysterious. The latter dog is trying to assert its dominance by marking over the scent of the original dog, which is not present to make such an action a dangerous fight risk. As with squirrels stealing each others’ buried nuts (and similar behaviors in other species which exhibit behaviors of stealing, and counter-intelligence pretend hiding of food in fake locations while intentionally observed by thieves), if the offending party is not caught in the act, there are no significant consequences for it.

  47. Kevin Behan says:

    I agree that we’re not going to answer the meaning of life here, but we can better understand how life evolves and therefore behavior. The author of this article is unaware of Constructal Law:

    “On the other hand, no natural selection lies behind mountains and rivers and whole planets. They are not design-like”

    Bejan has demonstrated that all natural systems do evolve in a specific direction, i.e. to improve the flow. Evolution is purposive but not intentional. Furthermore there is a universal design pattern that arises from the flow of any current, no matter what that current is, magna, dirt, force, fluids, air, ideas, words, political power, monetary currencies, etc., etc.. Mountains, rivers, trees, circulatory systems, air traffic patterns, highway systems, sports, universities, military organizations, all manifest this same design. So the entire forest evolves not with its constituents in conflict with each other, but with each part working together to create a flow system that best conducts heat, water, air and mass from the environment to the atmosphere and back again. Bejan believes that if we replayed the evolutionary tape, Darwin would be proved wrong, the very same species and organisms and systems would emerge due to the overarching role that physics plays in the movement of things and the universal design pattern which dictates the forms of things. So Darwin is wrong that things vary at random, or that natural selection is the prime driver of evolution (See “Arrival of the Fittest”) if we look at the behavior of dogs we see that they always vary one from the other according to precise principles of flow that proceeds according to an architecture of the mind running deeper than instincts or learning by reinforcements. The problem for mainstream biology and behaviorism is that it is materialistically reductionist and the notion of flow, the very thing that confers life, slips through their fingers as they strip things down to their nuts and bolts. What’s missing, IS what’s missing from the current paradigm.

  48. Dan Harkless says:

    “Evolution is purposive but not intentional” — yes, exactly — this supports my points about bright coloration having opposite meanings in fruits vs. prey animals, and omnivores having to evolve to deal with that rather than being able to intuitively understand the meaning of the coloration through some inherent property / wave function.

    “Bejan believes that if we replayed the evolutionary tape, Darwin would be proved wrong, the very same species and organisms and systems would emerge due to the overarching role that physics plays in the movement of things and the universal design pattern which dictates the forms of things. So Darwin is wrong that things vary at random, or that natural selection is the prime driver of evolution…” Wow, sorry, but it sounds like Bejan is some apologist for the principles of intelligent design, and is simply trying to adapt the argument to modern understandings of science. Yes, I used to think that sci-fi movies/shows that have completely Earth-like species on alien worlds were just being cheap and implausible, but now I understand how much the power of convergent evolution and niche-adaptation would lead to extremely similar lifeforms, even on alien worlds. I don’t see any reason whatsoever to believe that evolution is somehow “directed by the code” rather than being based on random variation. Yes, there are universal laws at work, but they presumably apply when it comes to which animals are successful and propagate their genes, not purposefully at the level of gene variation mechanics. I think at most, the gene mechanics only would get involved in meta functionality like the difference between functional and “junk” DNA.

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Books about Natural Dog Training by Kevin Behan

In Your Dog Is Your Mirror, dog trainer Kevin Behan proposes a radical new model for understanding canine behavior: a dog’s behavior and emotion, indeed its very cognition, are driven by our emotion. The dog doesn’t respond to what the owner thinks, says, or does; it responds to what the owner feels. And in this way, dogs can actually put people back in touch with their own emotions. Behan demonstrates that dogs and humans are connected more profoundly than has ever been imagined — by heart — and that this approach to dog cognition can help us understand many of dogs’ most inscrutable behaviors. This groundbreaking, provocative book opens the door to a whole new understanding between species, and perhaps a whole new understanding of ourselves.
  Natural Dog Training is about how dogs see the world and what this means in regards to training. The first part of this book presents a new theory for the social behavior of canines, featuring the drive to hunt, not the pack instincts, as seminal to canine behavior. The second part reinterprets how dogs actually learn. The third section presents exercises and handling techniques to put this theory into practice with a puppy. The final section sets forth a training program with a special emphasis on coming when called.
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