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In 2004 I was given the responsibility of a national project for the rehabilitation and rehoming of a group of ex fighting pit bulls.

I was lucky enough to have a scientific background (including an exam in Ethology and a research on the eco-ethology of a group of free ranging horses), so my first choice was to find and study as many papers as I could, to define my own project. The initial idea was: “I know nothing about ex-fighting pit bulls”, so I decided to run behavioral tests, with all the pit bulls, and a “control group” (non pit bulls that at that time were hosted in the same two shelters).

The doll test - "Control group" (2004)

the doll test for aggressive dogs

Me, a camera, one undergraduate collecting data for the thesis, a trainer, and here we go: behavioral testing! Testing the dogs was not easy nor free from dangers, but the worse part of it, for me, was the behavioral analysis frame by frame. I felt like the life of our pit bulls depended on my skills in the analysis, and I was certainly trying to do my best, but, at the same time, I lacked the knowhow to do it.

I had spent three years studying the eco-ethology of a group of free ranging horses, so I was familiar with the observation and analysis of the social behavior. I was given a horse Ethogram, and had to study it, to learn to recognize a list of behaviors, and to keep record of the behaviors displayed by the 8 horses of the herd.

The problem was not about data, we were filming all the tests, it was about the decoding, the categorization and interpretation of data.

One of the slides of my talk at the CSF, Vienna, 2010

dog behavior poster

I started looking for a dog’s Ethogram, and I found three main sources: Barbara Shoening’s phD thesis, a New Guinea Singing Dog Ethogram, and a wolf Ethogram. I also started to collect all the Ethograms that I could find in papers and scientific publications (e.g. Michael Fox “Wolves, Dogs and Related Canids”).  

I also decided to start my own research about social communication, filming the interactions during communication classes, and analysing the agonistic encounters.

In 2008 my whole world collapsed. I underwent a painful surgery on my left shoulder, and I had to spent 4 months at home, mainly in bed. I could only use my right hand, but having plenty of time, I started to write the first part of the dog Ethogram of agonistic behaviors of the dog.

In the previous years I had filmed hours of social interaction during communication classes, and throughout all my practice, I also had thousands of pictures of Daniele Robotti. What was meant to be my own tool for the analysis, became a work I was happy to share with others.
In 2010 I had a second surgery... Second part of the Ethogram of imposing behaviors of the dog.
In 2012 I had a third surgery... Third part of the Ethogram of stress behaviors of the dog.

I am now selecting videos and pictures for the fourth part of the Ethogram: Affiliative behaviors (2019)

When finished, the Ethogram will include a list of approximately 350 behaviors. Most of them from existing Ethograms (papers, books), some of them from my own studies and observations.

No one else has contributed to the opera.
I am open to inputs and feedbacks.

Text and article photos Alexa Capra 9 september 2018

Main photo Daniele Robotti

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