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post #1 of 29 (permalink) Old 11-08-2010, 01:12 PM Thread Starter
Dave T
 
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Displacement Behavior

ma2bella inspired this post with her recent post . I'm sure many of us have witnessed behavior that is "out of the blue" . Have you ever been in the middle of training your dogs or just doing something and all of a sudden they sit and lick their genitals. Or yawn. ? Here is an article that explains it well.

By: Gail T. FisherA reader writes: Dear Gail, I read your column in today’s Sunday News and noticed that you invite questions. Mine is this: We have a nine-year old female black Labrador who is just a wonderful pet, very friendly and loveable. From almost her earliest years, she has a “habit,” that I find quite interesting. If any of our family has been away from the house for, say, more than an hour or so (or if a visitor comes to the house), she will greet the person at the door, wait to be patted, and then, with unfailing regularity, go to her water dish for a drink. Do you have any explanation for this behavior? Thank you in advance.

I do. This is called “displacement behavior” – an otherwise normal behavior occurring at what seems like an inappropriate time. Displacement behaviors seem irrelevant or out of place in the circumstances in which theyoccur, just as the reader describes.

There are basically two types of displacement behaviors: those that are self-directed – something the dog does to himself, and those that are re-directed to something external. A common example of a self-directed displacement behavior in dogs is self-grooming, most often licking the genital area. Another common self-directed behavior is yawning.

Common examples of re-directed displacement behaviors are finding, picking up and carrying a toy, barking, circling, grazing grass and gulping water as the reader describes. In a multi-dog household, re-directed behavior often takes the form of one dog jumping onto and engaging in play with another dog, grabbing, wrestling and the like.

This is what displacement behaviors are; now to the bigger question of why dogs and other animals (including us) engage in them.

Displacement behavior occurs at times of emotional conflict, serving as an outlet to dissipate energy. Using the reader’s question for example, the behaviors that are in conflict have to do with excitement and expression of greeting behavior.

Let’s explore what normal greeting behavior is, and why a dog might have conflicting emotions about it:

For a dog, greeting involves two major areas and behaviors: licking the mouth of the returning pack member (or visitor), and sniffing the genital area. While both these behaviors are normal for dogs, most of us humans discourage such expressions of friendship.

Jumping up on us in greeting is because the dog is trying to lick us around the mouth. Since we are upright rather than on all fours, dogs can’t reach our mouths without jumping up. Most of us don’t want our dogs to jump on us, so we discourage this normal dog behavior. In most cases, such discouragement is a verbal reprimand or scolding, and sometimes involves some form of physical punishment such as applying a knee to the dog’s chest. Embarrassing sniffing behavior, as well, is most often strongly reproached.

Reprimanding or punishing what is normal behavior for a dog (inappropriate though we may consider it) makes the dog feel anxious and stressed. Over time, these feelings become intrinsically associated with the situation that triggers them, so even once the dog has learned to not jump up, he is conditioned to feel anxious in this situation.

Just as importantly, chastising the dog for what is normal does not provide an alternative outlet for the energy of this behavior. For example, teaching the dog to sit or get a toy and carry it around when someone comes to the door creates an alternative behavior outlet for his energy. Displacement behavior occurs in the absence of learning a positively reinforced alternative behavior to replace his normal greeting behavior.

It isn’t just dogs that operate this way. Consider how you would feel if you suddenly find yourself in an unfamiliar culture, with different, unknown greeting rituals. You offer your hand to shake hands and the person looks at you with disgust and turns away. Standing there foolishly with your hand outstretched you might laugh uncomfortably, cough and cover your mouth with your outstretched hand, or reach to pick up something, as if that’s what you intended all along: all displacement behaviors.

Now think of how much better you would feel when you have been forewarned as to proper greeting in this unfamiliar culture. Feeling no anxiety you would offer the appropriate behavior. This is just how we should approach greeting behavior, or any other “normal” dog behavior that we consider inappropriate or unacceptable in our society and culture. Rather than simply expressing our dismay or disgust, the best approach is to teach your dog an alternative, acceptable behavior so his emotions will no longer be in conflict.

While the reader’s dog doesn’t seem too terribly upset, and has found an acceptable displacement behavior, the reader could ask the dog to sit, lie down, or offer another learned behavior during greeting, and see if it doesn’t change her need to drink water.

Dave and Molly
Ian Dunbar was awarded the Outstanding Achievement Award from I.P.D.T.A. Here's a picture of me accepting the award on his behalf.
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Last edited by davetgabby; 11-08-2010 at 02:19 PM.
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post #2 of 29 (permalink) Old 11-08-2010, 04:55 PM
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Thanks Dave, good article!
Now I know why Chico grabs a toy and brings it to me when I come home!

Nan
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post #3 of 29 (permalink) Old 11-08-2010, 05:46 PM
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I see quite a few similarities in displacement behavior reasoning between canine and human..

not so much the 'behavior' part, I'd hate to see my dh lick himself... But humans are more likely to twirl their hair or fiddle with their tie...or bite their nails, etc..

Interesting read.

THanks for posting, Dave!
Kara
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post #4 of 29 (permalink) Old 11-08-2010, 05:59 PM
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Oh, Kara!
Yes, very interesting read. Many times, when I pick Augie up and go sit in a chair with him, he will immediately lick his 'business'. Is this because I have told him 'enough lickies' when he goes after my ears and face? And when meeting other dogs on our walks, and he is held back and not allowed to go up and sniff, etc the other dog, but I am talking with the owner, he will run around in circles like he is trying to show off. Makes me think of little kids, when you talk about them or compliment them in their presence, and they get embarrassed and start acting inappropriately. Thanks for posting the article Dave. You always have good stuff to present.

Linda, Augie & Finn's Mom
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post #5 of 29 (permalink) Old 11-08-2010, 06:20 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Thumper View Post

not so much the 'behavior' part, I'd hate to see my dh lick himself...
Kara
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post #6 of 29 (permalink) Old 11-08-2010, 06:23 PM Thread Starter
Dave T
 
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Thumper View Post
I see quite a few similarities in displacement behavior reasoning between canine and human..

not so much the 'behavior' part, I'd hate to see my dh lick himself... But humans are more likely to twirl their hair or fiddle with their tie...or bite their nails, etc..

Interesting read.

THanks for posting, Dave!
Kara

Dave and Molly
Ian Dunbar was awarded the Outstanding Achievement Award from I.P.D.T.A. Here's a picture of me accepting the award on his behalf.
Member of IAABC ,International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants , Member of Pet Professional Guild
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post #7 of 29 (permalink) Old 11-08-2010, 06:32 PM
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Dave, that makes so much sense! Thanks!

Kathie, Abby & McGee's Mom
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post #8 of 29 (permalink) Old 11-08-2010, 06:33 PM
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This should not come as a surprise, but fearful Fred does this!! For people who have read about Fred, he is my OCD, grumpy, always getting picked on dog! Fred has conflict when meeting people. He is so happy to meet new people, he runs up to them, but if they reach out to touch him, he runs away. It doesn't take him long to warm up, but it's on his terms When I get home from work, he will greet me and then run away. He gobbles down tons of water and then has the need to find a toy and carry it over to me, but not give it to me. He is a complicated dog, but I love his crazy ways!





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post #9 of 29 (permalink) Old 11-08-2010, 06:40 PM Thread Starter
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Originally Posted by lfung5 View Post
This should not come as a surprise, but fearful Fred does this!! For people who have read about Fred, he is my OCD, grumpy, always getting picked on dog! Fred has conflict when meeting people. He is so happy to meet new people, he runs up to them, but if they reach out to touch him, he runs away. It doesn't take him long to warm up, but it's on his terms When I get home from work, he will greet me and then run away. He gobbles down tons of water and then has the need to find a toy and carry it over to me, but not give it to me. He is a complicated dog, but I love his crazy ways!
Yeah Linda, I hear you. Fred is still your best friend and that's all that matters.

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post #10 of 29 (permalink) Old 11-08-2010, 06:47 PM Thread Starter
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Originally Posted by Kathie View Post
Dave, that makes so much sense! Thanks!
Yeah, it's good to be able to recognize it. They can do all kinds of displacement things. If you see it in a training session it's a good indicator that it's time to take a break. Molly will scratch herself sometimes and that's when we quit. How's that cheeky Abby doing.?

Dave and Molly
Ian Dunbar was awarded the Outstanding Achievement Award from I.P.D.T.A. Here's a picture of me accepting the award on his behalf.
Member of IAABC ,International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants , Member of Pet Professional Guild
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