Animal Culture

I thought Animals as Domesticates was more of a scientific approach to discussing the history of domestication of animals then found in Bulliet’s excerpts. I thought he reinforced his theories by breaking down scientifically the process involved. Not being much of a science person, some of the explanations went a little over my head but overall I thought it was pretty easy to follow. I also appreciated the reference to Guns, Germs, and Steel now that we are knowledgeable on Diamond’s theory as well. Out of the entire excerpt what struck me the most was the idea of animals having their own, “culture.” This is an idea I have always only associated with humans. While this was not the point of his reference to animal’s cultures the very idea got me thinking about how different cultures raise and treat animals, specifically pets. I spent last summer in Barcelona where I noticed how pretty much no dog owner had a leash on their dog at any time. The majority of dog owners would walk around with their dog obediently following them. The dog would stay right beside the owner and wouldn’t stray even with all the distractions the big city had to offer. The dogs also listened to commands and would wait for their owners to return without needing to be tied up. For example, one woman was walking with her dog beside her until she got to a store. She continued to walk into the store but the dog knew to stop, sit, and wait outside the store until she finished.  The second the woman finished shopping and exited the store the dog was right there waiting where she left him and began walking beside her once again. The idea of animal cultures is interesting but I am also curious to find out how different cultures affect animals and pets. Does the way in which the dog was allowed to walk off leash with her owner make her more of an equal to a human? Is the use of a leash a failure in training the dog? Or is not needing a leash at all show that human is truly superior and even though the dog is “free” it is so domesticated that it won’t leave the side of the human?

10 thoughts on “Animal Culture”

  1. These questions about the cultural significance of dogs walking off-lead are fascinating. What do you think they say about human culture? Clutton-Brock talks about cultures of animals, and one of the interesting things about domesticated animals is how their cultures are implicated in and bound up with ours. I’d be curious to hear how you saw Clutton-Brock’s discussion of domestication connecting with the theories put forth by Ingold and Bulliet.

    1. What stuck out to me most in the Ingold and Bulliet excerpts was the relationships premised around the emotions of fear/being tame and trust. In the Ingold article he talks about how hunters and gatherers share a mutual trust because they depend on one another. This type of relationship can lead to companionship. Bulliet and Clutton -Brock address the ability to domesticate an animal to a variety of factors but one in particular being the absence of fear. When an animal is accustomed to human interaction it is domesticated. This relates to the leash/non least concept because Ingold could see the lack of a leash as a companionship type relationship in which both parties trust one another eliminating the need for the leash altogether. Bulliet could see the use of the leash as fear existing between the parties or not completely taming the animal.

      1. I don’t know about domestication being just when animals are accustomed to human interaction. White tailed deer in Virginia are so numerous that they have come to interact with human beings (especially in cars) so often that in essence they’re used to cars now. Deer jump across roads all the time, and if you drive past a herd of deer just feet from a highway they don’t jump away in fear, they’re used to cars. Does that make them domesticated?

        1. Deer could actually, as they are now, be analogous to pre-domesticated horses maybe. They are somewhat familiar with people, some probably keep them as pets. If we selectively bred them we probably could domesticate them. As is they are more tame than domesticated.

          1. Yeah but that’s not what my point was. Lots of animals ‘could’ be domesticated if we selectively bred them. The definition given by Kara in her response was that animals that “accustomed to human interaction [are] domesticated.” That’s where I was going with my comment and I think that the definition is a bit too broad.

          2. Right – domestication (vs. tameness) involves artificial selection of some sort. But the deer example is a good one in terms of how animal cultures develop. In Northern VA, for example, deer have learned how to use culverts to cross roads to get to browse which means that fewer of them end up in traffic. They’ve also learned to recognize the human behaviors that precede a cull in an urban area and plan their movements accordingly (i.e. they stop coming to the place where the cull is going to be executed.)
            But as their population has mushroomed and their range has encroached even more on urban areas, popular opinion about how to deal with them has also shifted:

      2. Leashes aren’t just to protect people though, they can also be used to protect the animal. Some people would fear for their dog’s safety if they let it walk without a leash as it could hurt itself or get lost running off. I am playing devil’s advocate though. By and large the leash is a sign of a fear/control.

  2. Interesting discussion here! I think everyone agrees that tractability (tameness) is an important component of domestication, but there is more it than that. As Clutton-Brock and many others argue, some measure of artificial selection must factor into the equation as well.
    As for leashes – well that’s a whole interesting topic in its own right! Tool of protection, control, yes, but also mode of communication. Check out one of the best books ever written about cultures of humans, cultures of dogs, and cross-species communication here:

  3. I think it’s very possible that animals have the potential to develop their own culture. In a class I took on animal behavior, we studied the research of a group of scientists who observed behaviors in natural populations of chimpanzees across Africa. They found that certain behaviors had developed in some groups, while not in others, and vice-versa. For example, some populations participated in extensive communal grooming, while in other populations grooming only occured in small family groups. I was skeptical while reading this and thought perhaps there were more substantial reasons to different behaviors developing in different groups, such as different benefits depending on habitat and resources, however the article we read went on to describe many specific behaviors which had the same probability of being equally useful to two different groups of chimps, and yet only developing in one. It would be interesting to learn what would happen if the scientists “taught” one group of chimps the behaviors of another; would they reject the new culture, even though it might be useful, or accept it? It might yield new insights into the psychology behind historical dissensions in human society based solely on cultural differences.

  4. I felt the exact same way as you about Animals as Domesticates. I really appreciated getting some scientific background that was easy for me to digest as a person who has no understanding of domestication. I think your discussion of culture is very interesting. As you mentioned your time in Barcelona, I began to think about when I visited Nicaragua last year. Almost totally contrary to your experience, there were stray dogs absolutely everywhere. Most people just ignored them, and they seemed to understand that they should go unnoticed. Stray dogs are a huge problem in Nicaragua, and most have diseases, fleas, ticks, and are very malnourished. It makes me wonder about the history of the culture as compared to your example. Was the dog introduced and then forgotten when the people realized they had no use for it? Does the poverty level contribute to a difference in the domestication of the dog? I’m sure there must be some kind of correlation here.

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