Some people get divorced. Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin ‘consciously uncouple.’ Fine. I don’t know exactly what that means (and neither do you), but here’s my take on how dogs have been ‘consciously uncoupling’ way before Gwyneth and Chris even met:
1) Butt Sniffing
Humans greet with handshakes and hugs, while dogs greet with head-to-head and head-to-tail sniffing. Head-to-head usually precedes head-to-tail, and for good reason. Many dogs (particularly older ones) aren’t overjoyed for their anogenital region to get a thorough once-over, and one study found that when two dogs meet, the dog receiving the butt sniff is more likely to retreat, or break off the interaction, than the one doing the sniffing. Thus, ‘consciously uncoupling.’
2) Keeping Things Separate
While the stereotype is that dogs are ready for more food, always, that’s not entirely accurate. A recent study found that dogs tended to prefer string cheese over baby carrots. The researchers then asked whether the dogs would prefer cheese alone, or the cheese accompanied by a piece of carrot. The dogs chose a singular piece of cheese over cheese plus carrot. Like Gwyneth and Chris assessing their marriage, dogs figured the two were better off separated. When dogs saw cheese plus carrot, they ‘consciously uncoupled’ the two, preferring that the cheese stand alone.
Heartbroken. Devastated. Distraught. These words describe many of us after losing a companion animal, and some dogs are right there with us. Two separate owner surveys—one by the ASPCA in the mid-1990s and the other more recently from the RSPCA—found that some dogs show notable behavior changes when another animal in the home dies, such as “a reduction in food consumption, an increase in sleeping, [and] a decrease in vocalizations.” Other dogs did not show these changes, reminding us that, like Gwyneth and Chris, even dogs differ in how they ‘consciously uncouple’ following a death.
The next thing we need are studies on how dogs deal when owners call it quits, throw a divorce party, or like Gwyneth and Chris, ‘consciously uncouple.’
Image: Party Animals, Wendy via Flickr. Used with permission.
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Walker, J., Phillips, C. and Waran, N. (2013). Companion animal owners’ perceptions of their animal’s behavioural response to the loss of an animal companion. In: Proceedings, International Society for Anthrozoology, Chicago, IL.
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