Species Interactions 1

Interaction between a particular Homo sapiens sapiens and a Canis lupus familiaris

I was on a walk with my one year old puppy the other day, when I meet with a fellow dog-walker and her dog. We’ve chatted before but mostly small talk about weather and our dogs. Today she asked what it was I did in life. I guess she was expecting an average/ ‘normal’ answer, so when I told her I was a Grad student in the Biology Department at Carleton University, she was very intrigued and kept asking more questions. I started explaining about my scientific interests of understanding species interactions and my thesis research of host-parasite association and interactions between damselflies and water mites. She said she thought it fascinating and it made me happy. Then she asked a question that caught me off guard; she asked me whether my interests in species interactions were the reason I have a dog. It got me thinking about why I got a dog and why other people would get a dog. Here’s my story (so far).

Beginning of the first full day of interactions between Maya and me (March 13, 2012)

Beginning of the first full day of interactions between Maya and me (March 13, 2012)

When I passed my PhD qualifying exam last February, I decided I needed a new challenge, other than my thesis. I decided to get a puppy. Some may think I was crazy, and you are probably right. In that moment of insanity my life changed drastically. I do not regret it one bit. She has been an excellent companion and opportunity to observe the development of an animal has been excellent. I picked up Maya (that’s what I called her, Pic 1) from a farm where the mother (a border collie) had an “accident” (with the neighbors’ black Labrador retriever) and a few months later, a litter of 8 puppies arrived. When I went to that farm, all eight puppies and the mother came running out of the barn to greet me. Maya, then still unnamed, was one of the first to reach me and when the others lost interest and started milling around the barn, she stuck by me and did not go away. I took this as a sign that she chose me and decided to take her home with me. She was 2 months old and tiny, but already had spunk (Pic 1). The first human-dog interaction had occurred.

Of course puppy-hood did not progress without any problems but I think we complement each other nicely. We make each other happy and definitely enjoy sharing the bean bag chair while I watch a movie and she chews some rawhide.

She’s an extremely intelligent puppy. We have been working on proper manner and dog-human etiquette. She passed her basic obedience at the top of her class! She passed but it was team work and trust that has been developing between us for the past 10 months. I find a dog trains the human as much as the human trains the dog (notice I do not use the word ‘owner’). You can see in her eyes that she knows that she depends on me for food and shelter and I rely on her for the joy of a companion. I guess it’s very mutualistic relationship.

Proper physical activity is important for the both of us; we spend a lot of time outside on walks or practising fetch (fetch is taken very seriously by Maya, Pic 2). We go, daily, to the dog park where she can interact with dogs. I notice straight away that she acts differently with them. She and the other dogs of the park know the limits dogs have compared to those of humans. The intra-specific interaction between two dogs is very different than the interspecific human-dog interaction and is great to watch.

Waiting patiently for the frisbee to fly

Waiting patiently for the frisbee to fly

We also go hiking together. She takes that pretty seriously as well. She’s by far in better shape than I am but she patiently waits for me to scrabble to the top before leaving (Pic 3). Clearly we’re a pack.

Maya at the Hurricane Mt summit (November 2012)

Maya at the Hurricane Mt summit (November 2012)

I have also noticed that interactions between a different human and her are also different. She has learned who is who and attributed actions to each person. However, she clearly prefers when the pack is bigger than 2. For example, when I stay at a friends’ place, he’s part of the pack. Since they don’t see each other often, it is clear to her that she has to keep a close eye on him so that he doesn’t stray.

I picked Maya to have a companion and almost a best friend, but it has become an excellent venue to observe the interaction between two closely linked species. Our bond is only becoming stronger as we spend more time together.


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