animal navigation bandura behaviorism dogs ethology evolutionary psychology skinner social learning theory trains vicarious learning

Ranger the Beagle Takes The A Train

If you love dogs than you are sure to have stories, like the one of my Shih Tsu, Buster, that would jump onto my daughter’s bed when I left for work and at about the time my wife or I would return home, gaze out the window, and jump down from the bed so that we could not punish him for violating the rule of the house. My friend, Andrew, had Beagles Honey and Ranger that were smarter than Buster because they would travel throughout our neighborhood looking for food, swimming in the golf course pond, and then return home to rest. Then Andrew told me about the dogs in Russia who travel the subway and prefer the first and last cars which are the most quiet so they their sleep is uninterrupted.

According to Russian psychologist, Dr Andrei Poiarkov of the Moscow Ecology and Evolution Institute, these dogs had to move to the suburbs when after the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s the industrial complexes that were the dogs’ shelters went to the suburbs. The dogs had to figure out how to get back to the city’s center where the food was plentiful. There are reports that the dogs will startle pedestrians to drop their shwarma, a meat snack on a stick, with a bark from behind. They time the trip to get off at the most desired stop, and they walk when the light is green (dogs have no cones in their retina so they do not see color so they probably time their curb crossing to correspond to the picture of the walker or to the crossing of people).How are we to explain the bizarre behavior of the subway riding dogs? Russian scientists have a history of studying dogs. The most notable is Noble prize winner, Ivan Pavlov, who discovered classical conditioned learning. However, the train traveling dogs are best explained by American Psychologists Edward Thorndike and B.F. Skinner who discovered operant conditioning. According to Thorndike, behavior followed by a positive consequence or reinforcement is more likely to occur (The Law of Effect). Learning is incremental and trial and error. All mammals learn in the same way, by doing. Doing strengthens the learning (Law of Use) and not doing weakens the connection between the stimulus and the response (Law of Disuse). Extending these laws, Skinner “taught’ pigeons to read and guide missiles to their target.

In addition, Albert Bandura described vicarious learning when an organism learns by watching another organism (modeling). The organism’s expectancy to be able to do what another organism does is self-efficacy.

So the dogs moved to the suburbs, but the center of the city was where their food was most plentiful. By linking their travels outside their suburban home with the finding and eating of food they learned to get back to the city center where food was most plentiful. According to the principles of evolutionary psychology the healthiest dogs that could most efficiently use their innate ability to navigate were most likely to survive, and it is this inborn will to survive which cues other dogs to do what they see their fittest brethren doing. The dogs watch other organisms, humans, getting on trains and going where they want to go or by accident discover that they can go towards the city on a train (a mode preferred to hoofing it) and ride in quiet (the front and rear cars) and conserve the energy that will be needed to forage for food. Crossing with others in the crosswalk with the green symbol avoids getting struck by a car or bus (and those that don’t learn, aren’t around so the lesson is obvious). There you have it! Dogs learning to ride the rails become an illustration of the principles of evolutionary, operant, and social cognitive learning and are no more bizarre than missile guiding pigeons.

Further Links:

animal human translation animal psychology bowlingual dog translator dogs japan meow lingual meowlingual

Bowlingual Dog Translator

I have owned a variety of dogs since I was five years old, and some seemed to be talking to me. My standard poodle, Lady, was the smartest, but she understood what I told her, but was not very expressively communicative. Buster, my most recent pet, a Shih Tsu, who sadly left me almost two years ago at 17 years of age, seemed to have the most to say, but I didn’t understand him.

Gayle Ehlman has described how to interpret your pets growls and body language but Takara Tomy, a Japanese toymaker, has made a device that can translate what a dog “says” into human language and emotions in real time. Go to their website and read “how they developed with an acoustics research laboratory and a veterinarian, the Bowlingual” which works wirelessly (your dog must wear a wireless mic around the neck). Let the device catch noises made by your dog (transmission range: 10m) and it will analyze the “animal language” with a special algorithm before telling you on the LCD screen what was being “said. (Cat lovers should know that Takara Tomy has also released the Meowlingual Cat Translator.)

Since Buster was always with us, whether in the bath room or bedroom, I might insist that he sign a non disclosure agreement before fitting him with the Bowlingual. However, the Bowlingual device is probably more of a novelty than an accurate translator and reviews of the device showed that it didn’t work too well….at least with non-Japanese speaking dogs. It does seems to work OK with dogs and British men in Japan. The Bowlingual device is difficult to find in retail stores int he U.S., but there seem to be a lot of units for sale on Ebay.

bestiality dogs dolphins fetish horses

Sex with a Horse….Again

Stories like this one pop up every once in a while. Bestiality seems to remain popular with a small number of people.

Research has shown that there may be some relationship between bestiality in childhood and adolescence and interpersonal violence (Hensley, Tallichet, & Singer, 2006) and there seems to be a higher rate of bestiality in mental patients when compared to the normal population (Alvarez & Freinhar, 1991). Haverlock Ellis, writing in 1906, elucidated three pre-conditions for bestiality: 1. Seeing animal procreation as similar in mechanism to human procreation; 2. living closely with animals; 3. Belief that sex with animals would confer power or cure venereal disease.

Even in modern times some White Supremacists believe that Jews and other non-white people are descended from Eve’s congress with the snake in the garden of Eden. In the middle ages women in parts of Europe thought to be witches were charged with having sex with the devil in animal form (usually a goat or ram). Psychologists usually see bestiality as a paraphilia, or in common parlance, a fetish. Paraphilias can be learned, usually through seeing someone else perform the behavor, or by associating some aspect of an animal (like the fuzziness of its fur) with pleasure at a young age. People who have trouble establishing and maintaining human relationships may be more likely to engage in bestiality and other paraphilias.

Here are some examples of people who enage in bestiality:

Interview with a couple who engage in bestiality

Man who died having sex with a horse and the farm he frequented

Dolphins are known to be turned on by humans

Alleged dog rapist

At least some of these examples support the psychological view of bestiality. Beirne (2000) asserts that bestiality is a form of sexual assault which should be seen similarly to child sexual abuse. In his view animals are not able to consent to sex and are harmed by sexual activity with humans. Nevertheless, bestiality is not yet illegal throughout the United States. And judging by the number of websites devoted to bestiality there must be a sizable number of people interested in watching human-animal sexual interaction.


Beirne, P. (2000). Rethinking bestiality: Towards a concept of interspecies sexual assault. In Podberscek, AL. (Ed.); Paul, ES. (Ed.); & Serpell, JA. (Ed.). Companion animals and us: Exploring the relationships between people and pets., 313-331. New York, NY, US: Cambridge University Press.

Ellis, H. (1906). Animals as Sources of Erotic Symbolism. Erotic symbolism, the mechanism of detumescence, the psychic state in pregnancy., Studies in the psychology of sex, 71-88. London: F.A. Davis Co.

Alvarez, WA, & Freinha,r JP. (1991). A prevalence study of bestiality (zoophilia) in psychiatric in-patients, medical in-patients, and psychiatric staff. International Journal of Psychosomatics. 38(1-4):45-7.

Hensley, C., Tallichet, SE., & Singer, SD. (2006). Exploring the Possible Link Between Childhood and Adolescent Bestiality and Interpersonal Violence. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 21(7), 910-923.