And now for something a little different – a post from the other key member of our behaviour research team, Elana, as she starts her research of wolf and dog facial expressions…….
So, no doubt like me, you will have been reading all the wonderful posts my team members have been making up on the wee Isle of May, as they battle the elements to conduct fieldwork and investigate the ‘ins and outs’ of breeding grey seals (she says with tongue in cheek!). And just like the rest of my team I too have been conducting fieldwork recently, which is where I happened upon a rather funky individual! That individual being a tall, dark, sleek lad going by the peculiar name of ‘Jim Bean’ – let me tell you about his curious case…….
It was a drizzly morn as I marched down to Coxhoe kennels in Durham, with tripod slung over my shoulder, raising eyebrows as I trudged through a side street in mud coated wellies to reach my destination (no fieldwork is glamourous….). Once arriving at said destination I proceeded to start conducting my preliminary research on a myriad marvellous mutts! Now, being a team newbie, one with a rebellious streak who decided to research grey wolf behaviour instead of grey seal behaviour, means I have to work out the best methods of collecting my data on canids. What makes the best video to collect the data I need to answer the behavioural questions that have evolved in the far reaches of my somewhat warped psychedelic mind? How do I smooth out the kinks that may arise? What do I do if a dog or wolf decides to eat me!? These are all research questions I must contemplate and experiment around to make my research a success – after all, no animal does what you want it to, and so I started my journey wandering around kennel grounds to suss some strategies.
After deliberations with a small foxy fella named ‘Gibbs’ (and a few of his compardres) I determined the best angles and height for which I needed to get close-ups of the faces of my canine customers….that is after he got off my lap! Gibbs was adamant that he was to sit on my lap while he waited for his close up from Mr DeMille! One thing I will warn about researching canid behaviour is that you cannot always resist the urge to ruffle fur, scratch behind ears or rub bellies (of the canids I mean!)……just as well this was prelim!
Outside I then nestled my camera in some grass so it focused upon some pertinent pooches to see if I could get the video footage needed (determined with the help of Gibbs and co) from behind kennel fencing (an attempt to make life easier when recording kennel dog behaviour). However, I was met with sideways pelting rain and the realisation that my camera was not entirely waterproof. Luckily, being in a kennel environment surrounded by dogs, the perfect camera protection was readily available…..poop bags! Yep, that’s right I resorted to the use of (clean) poop bags wrapped around my camera to keep it dry in the rain, just the lens peering out from beneath its black-green plastic cloak, like some cyclops super hero here to rid the world of doggie doodie! However, as suspected a double layer of kennel fencing obscured the finer details of any faces I was able to record, so, off for a more personal approach…..
Camera in hand I attempted to lure willing participants to the front of their kennels, and at first it worked with quite a few dogs like happy ‘Hector’, the ol’ collie boy, charming me with big brown eyes and fancy footwork, but, not every dog was pleased with my intuitive move. ‘Bonnie’ a bonnie (!) young pup took great defence in my advances, and she promptly let me know with some swift barking, growling and baring of teeth! So to avoid stressing her out any further, I retreated and found myself face to face with yet another fierce-looking dog, baring his teeth, flashing his piercing white canines, his nose wrinkled, his ears back……..his head tilting? His tail and hind quarters elaborately wagging laterally to his body? Whining like a playful pup? Wait…..that ain’t agonistic behaviour……but his face says he wants to rip my face off!!…….Over and over, again and again, he bared his teeth with submissive body language towards me and various visitors; I was fascinated by this strange, slender lad. I docked my camera and tripod in front of his kennel and hid myself from view to get some footage of him alone to see if maybe he had some sort of neurological problem, maybe he just always did this strange teeth baring behaviour? Camera rolling, I thought, could he have been trained to do it? Unlikely, as he was a young stray, recently abandoned by previous owners, so the probability of someone investing many hours to train him to behave in this way was slim. I checked the footage, nothing, he just wandered about his kennel, approached the front, looked about, no teeth baring…….so, there was only one explanation, he was performing quite an elaborate variation of a submissive grin!! He let visitors stroke him and he was fine with my cargoe trousered self in front him! Huzzah!! That strange, slender lad? Yep, Jim Bean and a curious case he was!
Well, that’s all for now folks, I’ll be continuing with prelim (slash fun and games!) over the next couple of month, and then in the New Year we’ll be rolling with the big dawgs! So stay subscribed!