Alice Moon-Fanelli, PhD - A Real Top Dog in Canine Behavior
Are dogs really descendants of wolves? Why can alpha rolling your dog backfire? Get inside the canine mind with Alice Moon-Fanelli, PhD, a certified-applied animal behaviorist from Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University. She separates fact from fiction when it comes to the evolution of dog domestication and more on this week’s episode of “Oh Behave.” Don’t miss it!
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Man1: No, really what’s this show called?
Man: Oh behave with your shaggedelic host Arden Moore. What’s happening Arden? Yeah baby, yeah yeah, tell us.
Arden Moore: Welcome to the ‘Oh Behave’ show on Pet Life Radio. I am your host Arden Moore and I thank you all for joining us today. We’re going to be discussing domestication of dogs with a very very special guest. She is Alice Moon Fanelli. She has a Ph.D. She is a clinical assistant professor in the department of clinical sciences at Tufts University in their school of veterinary medicine.
I want everyone to please give tons of tail wags and plenty of purrs to Dr. Alice Moon Fanelli. Hey Alice, thank you for coming on the show.
Alice Moon Fanelli: Oh my pleasure Arden.
Arden Moore: I appreciate that. What we’re going to do is we’re going to talk a little bit about dogs and we have one of the topics first, probably on the planet that can help us separate fact from fiction. So what we’re going to do is we’re going to talk to Alice about that but we’re going to be right back and take a commercial break.
Arden Moore: Welcome back, you’re listening to the ‘Oh Behave’ show on Pet Life Radio. I am your host Arden Moore. As mentioned, we have a great guest Dr. Alice Moon Fanelli. She is a clinical assistant professor at the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine in Tufts University and what I’d like to talk to you about today Alice is about the dog or as you probably call it the Cannus Lupus Familia Arus, is that right? Did I say it right?
Alice Moon Fanelli: That’s the way it sounds now with all the it is coming in. But I thought it’s subject to change as we find more information.
Arden Moore: Well, talk a little bit about first of all, what got you started in trying to track down the history of dogs, if you will, what got you because you’ve got a lot of nice degrees and etiology and animal behavior genetics, you’re someone if I am on a TV show, I’ll probably have you as my lifeline because you’ve got a lot of neurons firing in your brain.
Alice Moon Fanelli: Well I started out, I grew up with an interesting dogs, because my mother bred and showed German Shepherds so I grew up in a showed out kennel and then I went to the University of Connecticut and studied to about social behavior and from there decided that watching wolves sleep for hours on end in their enclosure was not really quite stimulating enough for me because they sleep a lot more than they behave except during their breeding season.
So I began studying coyote-beagle type of crosses and their threat behavior which got me interested in aggression and the differences between domestic dogs and wild cannids and how that manifest when you mix the genetics between the two.
Arden Moore: When you say that, if I may ask, I mean here you are a student at Connecticut and you check out these wolf sleeping and occasionally getting rowdy towdy, but what led you to this whole notion of the Coyote beagle crosses, that’s kind of fascinating.
Alice Moon Fanelli: Well that’s something that my advisor had an interest in. Coyotes, when they threaten, they threaten like a cat with a wide open mouth gape sweat and they like a hissing vocalization and they arch to back similar to a cat and of course you never see that in domestic dogs.
So being interested in behavior genetics, we decided to make that cross and study the inheritance of that and any environmental and developmental factors that would influence the expression of that behavior in the various generations hybrids.
Arden Moore: Ok, and you know what, people think about beagle, the first thing they think of all, it have nose, will travel and then like Coyote, people get a little bit nervous because they seem to be quite the animal that can survive on their wilds, I mean it seems like an interesting combination.
Alice Moon Fanelli: Well, genetics, it’s always like to cross extremes because that’s the way you get the most information and then a kennel, if we crossed a Coyote say to a husky, we wouldn’t have all the differences in the physical characteristics that would be inherited and be able to settle that, also in terms of just laboratory environment beagles are nice because they’re short coated, they’re friendly so the offset a lot of the other aspects of having Coyotes and captivity that might be able to more difficult. [inaudible] John Pop Scott by harbor beagles so we knew quite a bit about their genetic legacy.
Arden Moore: Yeah, you’d like to do your research keeping all fingers intact, right?
Alice Moon Fanelli: Yeah, really, I mean the hardest part was getting the male beagle do to breed the female Coyote because his hind legs would be off the ground and that’s sort of entertaining.
Arden Moore: Oh my gosh, I can just see the male beagle saying, please, please let’s just work this through. I mean you no harm. I want to be the father of your children. Now did you actually raise some Coyote beagle crosses or did you have some that you kind of shepherd along?
Alice Moon Fanelli: I did at the university and then I got wild life from it to raise two of them at home, yes.
Arden Moore: Oh my gosh, now folks were listening to Dr. Alice Moon Fanelli. She is a top animal behaviorist at the Cummings School at Tufts University and I am just curious because I have met you and John, your great guy husband and I can just see that you have a wonderful marriage and I can just see you know, folks sometimes wonder how it’s going to work when you have a dog in the mix but these weren’t just any other dogs so what was it that you had to talk to John about to say, hey honey, there’s some kind of an unusual dog I am bringing home, how did that work out?
Alice Moon Fanelli: Well, actually the dog came first. I had Henry VIII before John came on the scene and the core dogs were rather spooky of people that they didn’t know and I guess John found that Henry and myself fascinating enough that he was willing to sit on the floor in the living room and howl for about a month before Henry would approach him and then they were very bounded [inaudible].
Arden Moore: Is that how he started his band?
Alice Moon Fanelli: if you’ll sit on the floor and howl with my dog to make friends with my dog for me, this is the guy to marry and the man, oh I think he just got kind of hooked and every time I talked about bringing home another wild dog, he was into it and he is just fascinated with the regime.
Arden Moore: Well that’s great and folks, her husband John is a great singer in a band so I think maybe he got his vocals practiced by that howling, don’t you think?
Alice Moon Fanelli: Maybe, I haven’t gotten John and plan to do a duet yet but that’s in the making.
Arden Moore: That’s the other thing now, she is gone from coy dogs, the combination of coyotes and beagles and she has a very rare breed of dog, he is great dog named ‘Pan’. He is a New Guinea singing dog and for some of our listeners had have no clue what that means. Describe Pan both physically and some of his personality traits.
Alice Moon Fanelli: All right. First of all, they are, the New Guinea singing dogs are listed with the United Kennel Club as a second breed but in fact those of us that are working with conservation society are working very hard to try and re-enact their cannas health stromis taxonomic status indicating that they are separate sub-species of the cannas, they’re wild dogs from New Guinea that live up in the highlands, they are not scavengers that come down to the town, they aren’t like this, you know some of the town dogs that nobody really sees them, some of the natives of New Guinea do hear them but say that they don’t, they really don’t see them very much.
So they may have been domesticated at some time but we are figuring at this point looking at their DNA, they have not been in human context for at least the last 6000 years. The interesting thing about that is that they are so gentle and kind with people, they’re highly predatory, they’re probably the most skilled canine predator I’ve ever seen in my life but with people, they tend to be very gentle and it’s almost like the Darwin Galapagos effect where went to the Galapagos island, none of the animals were afraid of people because they’d never known any harm and New Guinea singing dogs live so far up in the highland that they don’t come into contact with people and they are the major predator in that area to the best of our knowledge. So they have no reason to fear people.
Arden Moore: Interesting, now how did you get Pan and then come to Connecticut and live with you and John?
Alice Moon Fanelli: I had been in contact with Jan Colomatznic at the New Guinea singing dog conservation society and she had contacted me to ask if she sends me some DVDs of New Guinea singing dog behavior, if I would look at them and say whether or not I had ever seen any of the wolves or or domestics dogs that I had for years engaged in some of these unique behaviors of the New Guinea’s singing dogs exhibit and I agreed happily to do that and when my last coyote beagle hybrid Moses dog, when he was 16, she just happened to have a literal singing dogs on the ground and assured me that she could fly me one for more of them and then that would be fine and I sell forth and that was a great deal I did, you see it’s quite fascinating.
Arden Moore: Now how old is Pan?
Alice Moon Fanelli: He will be 5 in November.
Arden Moore: Ok, and I have met Pan listeners and this dog is great, when the dog reach you he really wants to sniff your ears and around your head and Alice has helped me realize that’s the way he does it and as long as you’re accepting the bet, I think we got quite, got along quite well, don’t you think?
Alice Moon Fanelli: Absolutely, he adores you.
Arden Moore: I love Pan, he is sweet and anybody on the, we’re going to hopefully use that photo of holding Pan in your arms on this side when your show airs so everybody can check out the adorable Pan but I got to hear him sing. How would you describe that? It’s just almost operatic.
Alice Moon Fanelli: The vocalizations vary quite a bit, I mean some times he sounds like a wolf, some times he sounds like a black whale, some times I think I have a bird in my house and the voices are very very flexible.
Arden Moore: And have you figured out the tones and the inflections means certain things?
Alice Moon Fanelli: Oh absolutely, and there he stares directly in your eyes and if he is doing a little chirp that means I want this or… he just has all kinds of, he is just always talking but not in the sense like the domestic dogs somehow in the process of domestication, partly for working ability like the hounds which selected for increased vocalization where they just go on and on and on help them barking and how you’re going to get shut up…
Arden Moore: Right.
Alice Moon Fanelli: You never see that in the wild cannas and even though the singing dogs are very vocal, every vocalization has a purpose and has a meaning and if you, they’re not the kind of dog that the average person can live with, so I don’t want people to go to website and see how cutie is the tail, everybody wants him. My short coyote looks great but they are difficult to deal with because they are so supremely intelligent, very sensitive to what they’re saying to because they’re talking to you all the time. It’s almost like living with the chimp, probably not quite as bad but it’s cool, not for the average person.
Arden Moore: No, that’s very good that you stressed out because sometimes people get hooked on looks and it’s a bad match and it’s just a recipe for disaster for everyone, the dog and the people.
Alice Moon Fanelli: Absolutely.
Arden Moore: Folks, we’re going to take a break right now. You’re listening to the ‘Oh Behave’ show on Pet Life Radio. I am your host Arden Moore and we will be back right after these messages.
Arden Moore: Welcome back. You are listening to the ‘Oh Behave’ show on Pet Life Radio. I am your host Arden Moore and we are speaking with Dr. Alice Moon Fanelli. She is a clinical assistant professor at the Cummins School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University, that’s a mouthful but we have more mouthfuls to feed you.
She has a Ph.D. in Bio-behavioral sciences specializing in etiology and animal behavior genetics, wow, and she is pretty cool person too. She knows dogs, she knows cats, she works at the animal behavior clinic at Tufts University, she handles people’s calls and questions about things going on with their cats and dogs and in their household all over the globe. In fact, I guess you even got a call as far away as Japan.
Alice Moon Fanelli: Yes, I have.
Arden Moore: Ok, how long have you been at Tufts now?
Alice Moon Fanelli: It’ll be 14 years in March.
Arden Moore: Ok, so you have seen everyday dogs and cats and people coming in with behavior issues and I think there’s some things, the reason I have you on is because I want you to help the folks understand separate fact from fiction. When people talk about the domestication of dogs, it must tear your hair out when you hear some things that just aren’t right. So I was hoping you could maybe address three or four points to set the records straight, just give us a little background about the domestication of dogs, what’s really the truth and what is something that’s been a myth?
Alice Moon Fanelli: Well, with our domestic dogs, they’ve been selected for, originally they were selected for various traits to help man and in that sense, certain aspects of their natural behavior have been exaggerated such as predatory behavior in some of the Terriers, they’re far more predatory than the wolves or Pyle lizards, theme dogs, I mean they’re obsesses with it. Territorial behavior has been enhanced in some breeds or guarding behavior.
Arden Moore: Is that like the Rottweilers or who?
Alice Moon Fanelli: Rottweilers, some of them ask gets and what not so we think of genetically in the past with their behavior to have them serve a purpose for us and then in the Victorian age, everyone started selecting for appearance and so the behavior has no longer been selected for but you’ve got this cluster of genes for hence ask that some normal behavior in a particular breed but you no longer select for it, it kind of go hay where for example, the Dobermans were selected for going to war and being verily protective and aggressive and then we just went to a problem where the Dobies became sharp shy, shall we say there was a little bit too much aggression so then they began to select a way from that finally realizing that they needed to pay attention to behavior, they couldn’t even pick the dog into the confirmation ring and now what they created our Dobermans that are still highly intelligent but a bit less sharp shy for the most of them speaking in generality.
Arden Moore: Right.
Alice Moon Fanelli: But they’ve increased their anxiety levels since they’ve gone away from the aggressions and now you’ve got these dobies that are sucking on blanket, they couldn’t go to war with other wolvie?
Arden Moore: Oh my gosh, you know its….
Alice Moon Fanelli: So it’s very important in terms of when you’re labeling breeds like this breed is aggressive and that breed is aggressive and you’re getting off on to your breed band, you have to think in terms of what they were originally selected for and how that’s lapsed and what the genetics tell you and whether or not these dogs are really genetically dangerous and then I mean I don’t believe that they are and I don’t believe that the situations can’t be turned around. That’s one of my things, I don’t like to breed parents, I don’t like the doggy races stuff because it’s, when you stop selecting for behavior, you get extremes and whatever you’ve originally selected for. So it’s just a matter of breeding away from that again.
Arden Moore: Well I know that at Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine one of the things that you’re involved with is every year or every other year or they, you have a major conference on genetics and breeding and you bring both the veterinary geneticists in with rapid borne responsible breeders, is that right?
Alice Moon Fanelli: Absolutely, with more that we can educate them.
Arden Moore: And I think that’s a wonderful collaboration.
Alice Moon Fanelli: And a lot of people, behavior genetics is rather new to people because people have been so obsessed with physical characteristics and there’s always, there’s also a bit of stigma associated with behavior genetics and that went back to Nazi Germany, one thing. You’re curious through with the dogs, people don’t like to think about behavior having a genetic aspect meaning that, thinking that well if it’s genetics, you can’t change that. If someone says oh I have heart disease in my family, nobody blinks an eye but it’s it. Someone says well it’s schizophrenic one runs in my family, all of a sudden you’re a bit shunned and it’s the same thing like with the tail case in the compulsive tail chasing in the Bull Terriers but I studied breeders don’t want them, that’s up to them, they’ll talk about the kidney disease because that’s a physical disease.
Alice Moon Fanelli: Well do you think having conferences like you are is starting to kind of open up the door and stop this feeling of oh my gosh, I can’t really talk about, it sounds like people years ago would never say ‘menopause’, they never even talk about getting divorced…
Alice Moon Fanelli: Absolutely.
Arden Moore: There are songs and shows and everything about those fun topic, so…
Alice Moon Fanelli: Yeah, we’re doing our best to present an open forum where more and more people can feel comfortable as they go back to their breed clubs and talk about what they learn, each year the conference grows larger. So that it’s you know, education is a slow process but it’s one that needs to be done.
Arden Moore: Another aspect about domestication I thought, maybe you could clear the error, if you would, is people say that alpha dogs and you always hear about, oh, you know you got to act like an alpha dog to your two dogs, what’s your, does that puts your hackles up? Can you tell me a little bit about that and help our listeners, folks, we’re listening to Dr. Alice moon Fanelli. She is at Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine. She knows dogs, she knows how they were domesticated. This lady is great and I am just really honored that she is on the show.
So Alice, talk a little bit about that term that people use very loosely ‘alpha’, alpha dogs…
Alice Moon Fanelli: Alpha and dominance have been so misunderstood, it’s phenomenal and again that all started really back during World War II as well as when that concept got a bit tweaked and it goes across because I mean it’s the same thing even with horses and dogs. People always have to dominate, they have to control and they don’t think at all about how an animal learns, realize that animal has emotions and they totally misconstrued to the concept of dominance.
Having watched wolves when they weren’t sleeping and they were up doing things and we had a family pack. It wasn’t a pack really, we just do a bunch of wolves together which is what a lot of your researches at the time are done and get more aggression in that situation but I was with an actual family pack.
You never saw the alphas, which was a mother and father, shown much aggression to anybody. Everything was communicated, it’s much like parenting. They just were good leaders, they had good rules, they communicated through their body language and this whole concept of owners having to oust the role of their dog, I’ve never seen an alpha wolf actually really alpha rule another wolf. It’s a submissive animal, it comes out up and throws himself down him or herself down to the feet of the dominant animal.
Arden Moore: It’s sort of like the people in the old days that would kneel for the queen to show respect.
Alice Moon Fanelli: Yeah, exactly.
Arden Moore: Ok, ok.
Alice Moon Fanelli: Exactly, when you get into what people are thinking doing alpha roles and spare downs and scrubbed grasping, when you have that occurring between two dogs or two wolves, that’s aggression. That’s not dominance. They are at an aggressive state where they’re going to try and establish who is going to be the top dog. So when owners start first of all, owners make terrible dogs and the dogs know how to just, you got to get the owners to realize it, they make terrible dogs but far better if humans acted like humans and the dogs acted like dogs, I mean we domestically done on to domestication process as with them to select and to live with us and so they’re, and the dogs are fairly in the outness and there’s only to study out suggesting that they learned who sort of evolved along with humans and learned to live with us so why treat them like a wolf? They haven’t been a wolf for thousands of years.
Arden Moore: Good point.
Alice Moon Fanelli: They’re completely different animals than the wolf even though they retained some of the special behaviors and postures but when you’re grasping the dog and you’re starring at it and you’re rolling it over and holding it upside down, you are being aggressive to your dog and aggression begets aggression. So when you start engaging in these techniques because you saw something on television then it look like it written really well in a three minute clip and you try this at home and your dog bites you, you deserve it. You shouldn’t believe everything you see on TV or you read on the internet, some common sense has to be involved.
Arden Moore: I think the other thing that’s very important here at this point is that you know, it is not, there are ways to be a leader with your dog…
Alice Moon Fanelli: Exactly.
Arden Moore: …fear and consistent and I had this bullying of the dog, it’s going to backfire and you know what I am sad about is that not only is the person injured but doesn’t it take an awful lot for a dog to bite a person and then the effects of that dog and that dog may end up being at a shelter or worse, you know..?
Alice Moon Fanelli: Most dogs that bite have been taught to bite by people and the way people teach dogs to bite is people are so egocentric and so unsettled in their communicative skills and their understanding of body language that they don’t see what the dog is trying to tell them from the get go that maybe at a body stiffening to looking away, inverting the gaze, any lip licking, yawning… all indicates an animal was sort of anxious, it’s a bit of displaceable behavior like could you just back off from me? But people don’t see that and they got this primate urge to come and grab this dog around the neck and stomp it on top of the head, you do the ‘hoo ooo hoo ooo’ thing, and for dogs, that’s a challenge. Anything up and over the head, up or around the neck, direct close eye contact is a challenge.
Patricia McConnell wrote about it, this was actually her observation she wrote about and begin, I think it’s the book ‘who is at the other end of the leash’. She was a prime etiologist and now works with dogs and it’s just fabulous observation because it explains why you can’t, people to get to stop starring dogs closely into their eyes and patting them on top of their head and what happens is when people don’t pay any attention, the dog sort of backslap and looks away, it’s doing its best to say, the dog body language is very solid. It was doing it’s best to say please back off, this is very rude and the people keep coming forward and the dog learns to snarl and people would say but all dogs like me and love or conquer all and then the dog growls, oh but all dogs love me and love or conquer all and they keep cornering and cornering dog. Finally the dog bites and over time with this, very few repetitions, they learn to dispense with all the preliminary body sick language signals and just go straight for the bike.
There are no dogs that I have ever encountered that weren’t like just completely wired wrong that byte right from the get go. They are taught that because people don’t pay attention to what the dog is telling them.
Arden Moore: Yeah, what kind of advice could you give people when their dog ‘needs to have a little bit doggy parenting done’. I know we have a few minutes left so if you could talk a little bit about maybe then nothing in life is free program or just how to be more clear and consistent with being sort of the benevolent leader.
Alice Moon Fanelli: Right, the animal who is in charge of the group, the animal who is the leader and they want a less priority access to our resources and with that nothing in life is free program, what we ask donors to do is to request that their dog follow a command, settling once, the dog should respond within three seconds, this is assuring the dog really knows this command in order to receive any resource it needs it once. He only think it gets for free water and air. This includes with attention from the owners which is the hardest thing for owners to do, not just to lavish praise on their dogs.
Arden Moore: And that’s my lavish dog Chipper because there’s a delivery person that she loves, go ahead.
Alice Moon Fanelli: I mean it establishes it’s leadership in the sense the dog has to learn to say ‘please’ but also what happens is if the owners are working with the dogs throughout the day, oh there goes Pan…
Arden Moore: Oh listen guys, listen Pan is howling. Wow.
Alice Moon Fanelli: That means, what he is saying to me is the show is up, where’s my lunch.
Arden Moore: Yeah, you have everybody laugh so let’s go ahead and…
Alice Moon Fanelli: So many owners don’t communicate with their dogs, they take them through obedience class and then they never use those commands at home. So by asking them to follow a command they’re actually increasing their communication to dog as focusing on them more, listening… please Pan.
Arden Moore: Listen to him, folks we are very fortunate with Pan.
Alice Moon Fanelli: He is done. I am a lot of talking on phone for half an hour but that’s a far better way to be a leader with your dog, to enhance your communication, to get the dog mentally stimulated during the date, learning new tricks, you don’t want to stick with just obedience commands because then you feel like a General and you don’t want to interact with your dog like that so you like to teach your dog a lots of tricks and various commands so that you have all kinds of different things you should ask them to do and tricks are very good because we like seeing our dogs to pull tricks, so you’re more active all along with nothing like this free program that you’ve got, something you can ask them to do.
Arden Moore: Well folks we’re listening to Alice Moon Fanelli and she is a animal behaviorist at Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine. We can go to the Tufts.edu site, right? Alice, if people want to learn more about you and do want to talk about the animal behavior clinic, how people can get in touch if they want to contact you?
Alice Moon Fanelli: They can contact us and our information is on our website. We do see in-clinic appointments and I operate a remote consultation service called Pet Facts where if you don’t live close enough to come in to the clinic, you can fill out one of our standardized behavior questionnaires, fax that back to us, I will review it and determine what sort of behavior modification program you might need to improve your dog’s behavior or your cat’s behavior for that matter or your horse’s behavior too and we send that back to you and then you get six months follow up included in the price with the initial consult.
Arden Moore: So if they go to Tufts.edu then they can go to the vet school and get on to finding about the animal behavior clinic information?
Alice Moon Fanelli: Yeah, right on the home page of the veterinary school’s home page, there’s a, under hospitals I believe that there’s behavior clinic and you go straight into there and then look for either in-clinic appointments or Pet Facts.
Arden Moore: Well I appreciate that Alice. We are speaking with Alice Moon Fanelli. Thank you very much for being our guest on the show. It’s been a pleasure…
Alice Moon Fanelli: You’re very welcome Arden.
Arden Moore: You always fascinate me and teach me new things and I am just tickled that Pan decided to do a little back up vocals in the background, the New Guinea dog, singing dog, we want to let you know that if you’d like to know any more information about today’s show or get a transcript of this show or any other show on Pet Life Radio Network, just go to petliferadio.com and click on the ‘Oh Behave’ show. If you have any questions, comments or ideas for show, I welcome them. You can email me at email@example.com.
So until next time, this is your host Arden Moore and I have just two words for all of you two, three and four leggers out there – ‘Oh Behave’.
Man: There’s nothing like a shaggy dog baby, they’re shaggedelic and this is the place to find out how to have harmony in the household with your pets. Oh yeah, so stop by our pet every week and get switched on baby, switched on to the show that’s all about attitude, ‘Oh Behave’ with your privy host, pet edu-tainer Arden Moore. Yeah baby yeah, every week on demand on PetLifeRadio.com.