Behavioral confirmation of “treeing”

Today I was watching Ike play with Masha. They have a very dysfunctional relationship. It seems they both want to play but have trouble communicating, which leads to frustration on both sides.

Also, Ike seems to have a major crush on Masha, so there are a lot of attempted-humpings in these Ike-Masha interactions.

Because of all this, these interactions usually lead to Masha ignoring Ike and Ike becoming frustrated at her. How does Ike respond to this frustration? By barking toward her. I wrote “toward her” because he doesn’t really bark at her, he bark above her… Like he’s barking up at an object.

Russo-European Laika "Tuli" treeing, owned by Sarah Bates

This made me realize something: he was displaying a similar behavior seen when a dog trees game.

Ike is a West Siberian Laika, which is a breed that has been used through history for treeing small game. So this type of behavior is very much “built in” for Ike – it’s a innate behavioral pattern.

This makes me wonder: is this behavior pattern the product of selecting treeing dogs to be extra sensitive to frustration and extra vocal (and loud)?

Then I started to think about all the times I have heard Ike bark. You know, he doesn’t bark all that much, but when he does it’s usually out of frustration.

For example, when I leave him in my car while I run in a store real quick – he responds by barking. When I walk out in the yard and he is on the other side of a fence, he responds by barking. When Jen or I give affection to another dog while Ike is around he responds by barking. There are many other examples, but they all seem to center around Ike being frustrated.

Basically, the behavior chain looks like this: Ike gets frustrated > Ike barks…

If the barking results in him not getting what he wants (negative punishment) > his frustration builds > Ike barks more.

If the barking results in him getting what he wants, i.e. he’s no longer frustrated (positive reinforcement) > he stops barking.

Based on that bit of logic, is treeing behavior in hunting dogs simply a negative punishment loop?…

The hunting dog chases game up a tree. The dog gets frustrated at the game in the tree and barks. The game moves further away up the tree (or stays still) due to the barking (negative punishment), which frustrates the dog more, and the barking increases.

Eventually the hunter comes and shoots the animal, which drops to the ground allowing the dog to interact with it (or at least see it), which acts as positive reinforcement for the loop.

This has to be an artificially selected behavioral loop as wolves don’t bark, and if they did, they wouldn’t bother staying at the base of a tree barking pointlessly at a small animal. That’s a horrible waste of energy, and wolves need to conserve their energy the best they can. Also, a wolf doesn’t have a human companion to come along and kill the animal in the tree for him/her, and certainly barking (you know, if wolves barked) isn’t going to get the the critter out of the tree.

Just a random thought I had tonight… 🙂

5 Replies to “Behavioral confirmation of “treeing””

  1. Right on. I noticed something similar with a black and tan coonhound i’m working with at the moment. She bays and almost scream-howls when she’s frustrated. It’s loud. It’s very loud!

    At first it was hella-annoying… but then I remembered that a.) she’s a dog, and b.) she’s a coonhound. She’s meant to make this noise and she’s doing it for the right ‘reason’ even though we aren’t out there hunting. She’s still agitated by other dogs or bikes and pulls towards them, and scream-howls. I don’t want to punish her for the noise, but redirection is hard because she is just SO focused on what bothers her.

    Is Ike this way? Uber focused?
    I still haven’t found what else can motivate Celia the B&T!

    Even when I think I know about dogs, the ones truest to their roots remind me of how little I know and how very little I can control.

  2. wolves do bark — http://vimeo.com/53969 there are others if you google “wolves barking”– but it’s used primarily as a “come and help me/ intruder alert” bark. I would think the first part “come and help me” could be morphed without much difficulty into the “treeing” behavior. Mostly wolves needn’t bark for help while hunting because the entire pack is already “there’.

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