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Bedside foraging in the domestic dog. Bedside foraging in the domestic dog.

By Drummond, A.E.
Vancouver Institute of Obscure Veterinary studies, Canada.

The relationship between the domestic dog and their human companions is a delicate balancing act. Too much evidence of intelligence and ability on the part of the dog may result in having to contribute to the economic base of the pack. Such activities may severely detract from mouse hunting and sun bathing. On the other hand too much dominance on the part of the human will lead to the droopy tail syndrome in the dog and the consequent unbearable guilt which humans seek to avoid.

The relationship that develops is established and maintained by the performance of a number of rituals and conditioned behaviours. The humans initiate some of these but most are instigated by the dogs. Perhaps the most important of these rituals are those associated with the people bed - the pack nest in the eyes of the dog. Studies have shown that dogs that are banned from the pack nest tend to develop undesirable behaviours. Growl and Growl (1928) present a review of the tickle abhorrence, sofa biting, food avoidance and underwear stealing behaviours shown by dogs so treated. Dogs that feel that they have a rightful place in the pack nest, but are denied it, have been shown to be energetic, odd, and prone to excessive leg humping, crow chasing and fence barking (Howl & Nosh 1889).
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This array of correlates with pack nest rituals has stimulated considerable interest and a number of authors have detailed various aspects of pack nest rituals eg Bone 1995, Stink & Pong 1999, Poop et al. 2001. One area to date that has not seen any research is that of bedside foraging behaviour. As feeding behaviour is an important part of a dog’s response to its world and also a useful manipulative tool for the human, it was deemed important to investigate this here-to-fore-neglected area.

Food type and location of the food being the most important parameters involved, we hypothesised that there was a direct relationship between food type and location where the food was consumed.

In order to test this hypothesis we chose the already established ritual where the dog consumed oats porridge on the left hand side of the bed. Typically the dog would readily accept porridge offered by the occupant of the left side of the bed. In order to test our hypothesis the occupant of the right side of the bed repeatedly offered porridge to the dog. On ten consecutive occasions the dog refused the porridge offered to him on the right side of the bed. The dog would briefly sniff the porridge then narrow his eyes, turn his head away and step backwards. He would then go around to the left side of the bed and eagerly accept and consume with evident enjoyment, the same porridge he had previously refused. It is important to note that the dog would happily consume buttered toast soldiers and energy bars on the right side of the bed.

These results are strongly suggestive of a relationship between type of food and location consumed, specifically that oats porridge will only be consumed on the left side of the bed.

These results are somewhat intriguing and hint at a degree of cognitive complexity unexpected in our furry friends. Furthermore, these results add weight to Roll & Ruff’s (1915) postulation that dogs have an advanced ability to maintain a rigidity of purpose.

As with all studies of foraging behaviour it behoves us to consider the possible adaptive significance of the behaviour demonstrated by our experimental dog. One of the fundamental premises of foraging behaviour is that an animal will maximise its returns for effort expended before moving on to another food source (Eet & Moore 1956). Refusing the porridge on the right side of the bed appears, at first glance, to be maladaptive. However, it is likely that the dog was aware that the person offering him porridge on the right side had always finished their food and had only a small portion to offer him. While at the same time the person on the left side always had a nearly full bowl. So if he stayed and accepted the small portion he might not get as much on the other side, but by refusing the small portion he ensured that he would get more once he had moved - in effect maximising his foraging effort.

An alternative explanation may be that the milk mixed with the porridge may have triggered an association with his puppy suckling behaviour. It is possible that his mother preferred her puppies to suckle from the nipples on the left side of her body and so the dog is responding to this conditioning.

We believe that these results are of considerable significance in elucidating foraging behaviour associated with the pack nest. Furthermore these results have clinical value, particularly with regard to interventions such as Bonding Therapy and NMS (Nutritional Manipulation Strategy).


Bone, G.H. 1995. Pyjama-phobia and the dominant dog. J. of Human Submission 48, 23-30.

Eet, J. and Moore, L.K. 1956. How to eat like a wolf and live like a dog. Annals of Effective Foraging 78, 21-101.

Growl, G. and Growl, R. 1928. The people-bed: playground or war zone? Journal of Canine Family Life 31, 98-116.

Howl, A.A. and Nosh, T. 1889. Freedom and happiness: the dog’s perspective. In: The Zen of a Dog’s Life. Pg. 32-47.

Poop, F., Pounce, S. and Prowl, Z. 2001. “Off the bed” - a review of maladaption in humans and the effect on their canine companions. Canine Neuroscience 26, 90-133.

Roll, W. and Ruff, Q. 1915. Focus, purpose and the pursuit of pleasure; an exploration of addiction in the domestic dog. Journal of Canine Psychiatry 10, 103-123.

Stink, U. and Pong, B.A.D. 1999. Found objects and the pack nest. Dead Fish Reviews 21, 1-56.

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