Monday, March 30, 2009

Stranger Danger

Animals (much like people) never cease to amaze me with their individual personalities. Within our dog pack Tilley and Titan are always wary of strangers where Willow and Watson greet everyone with guileless enthusiasm. The cats are similar -- Hazel is bold and ubiquitous when new people come into the house, but Spike prefers to disappear until they leave. The horses are similar too -- Tonka wanders over to the fence to investigate passersby on the road, but Raven avoids anyone she deosn't know. Although animals with a history of abuse are more prone to be reserved with strangers, I think that individual response is more a function of nature than of nurture. What do you think?


Grey Horse Matters said...

We've have a few horses that were abuse cases and mostly they stay away from strangers and prefer to interact with those of us they know and trust.

Then there is Blue who was never abused but spoiled rotten and he simply ignores everyone except for my 4 yr. old granddaughter who he loves. She also brings out the best in Mellon and they seem to have a special bond. So the nature nurture thing for me is up in the air.

Nuzzling Muzzles said...

Bombay's dam was a grumpy old grey mare who turned her nose up to everyone. Bombay, on the other hand, was friendly and outgoing from birth. Everyone who has every boarded him placed him in the first pen by the driveway, so that he could greet all the visitors. His breeder thought he was so outgoing, because he had to spend the first week of his life in a vet hospital surround by people who thought he was incredibly cute. He learned to love attention.

He once bit a drunk man who tried to restrain his head by grabbing his halter in order to pet him. Because the man was drunk, he was more like slapping rather than petting. Bombay stood up for himself, and I stood up for Bombay when the man complained about the bite. He seems to be able to differentiate between who he can approach and who to avoid.

I haven't dealt with any abused horses, though I've always wondered about Lostine. She was head shy for many years, as if someone had been slapping or hitting her in the face. However, now she lets me pet her on the head and even allows me to scratch her face and ears with my riding crop.

It probably is more nature. I was very shy as a kid, and no one abused me.

Carole said...

Both matter, in my experience. My cat Nigel was found on the road as a tiny kitten; he was starved and weak, but completely feral. His first response after a meal and a nap was to hiss at me in a way that would have been quite scary in in an animal that wasn't the size of a coffee cup. Today, six years later, he's still essentially a feral cat - territorial and predatory by nature - but nurtured into a really really sociable one.

The Border Collies said...

That's an interesting one. Briggs hated strangers until he was getting well on in years, and Tweed was terrified of them until recently. Piper loves ALL PEOPLE EVERYWHERE ALL THE TIME. Mr. Woo has no fear and likes people because they might have cookies. All of them, but Woo, I had from pups.

Donut hates everyone. Including me.

Jean said...

As a sociologist, I probably should fall on the "nurture" side, but I think it is a toss up, especially among animals other than human. (Humans, I think, have lost touch with the ability to be receptive to some of the "higher level" innate perceptions and nonverbal communications).
Among the ten potbellied pigs that I've raised since birth, there are those who have been friendly and trusting of me from the get-go, and those that still, at 18 months, are very, very timid. However, one of the most timid ones has recently become very trusting after being sick for a week and requiring one-on-one personal attention. Now he doesn't hesitate to run up to me and beg for treats!
I do trust my dogs' instincts when it comes to strangers. If they don't like someone, then I am very, very cautious. They seem to be good judges of character. I'm guessing they "smell" something that signals the type of person they are. I've no scientific evidence for this, of course. It would make an interesting study.

Anonymous said...

My observation is that animals are like people when it comes to temperaments. Some are extroverted, some are introverted. Personality plays a big part in how an animal handles a new situation or person.

Casey is shy. He rarely seeks out affection even with people he trusts. I'm sure his shyness was there before he was ever abused. The abuse I'm sure he's suffered just added to his natural inclinations.

My Freya is shy. It's her nature. She wasn't abused, but wasn't overly socialized. She likes kids and tolerates most people. While a boxer we had a while back, Eddie, was very outgoing, loved everybody and wanted to be right in the thick of things.

Nature can be affected by nurturing and socialization. But, a shy dog is always a shy dog. You just have to work harder and keep at the socialization. An outgoing dog without proper socialization will jump on people and be a pest.

In both dogs and horses, the outgoing ones seem to recover from abuse much more readily. They just seem to bounce back so much better. It's the introverted ones that abuse does the most damage to.

And personally, as Jean says, I listen to my dogs (or cats, or horse) about someone. They just seem to have a way of knowing what's in the heart of people. If my dogs don't trust someone, I don't trust them.

Black Jack's Carol said...

I read your post last night, and slept on it:) As with the others who have commented, I base my opinion on animals and people I have known. My feeling is that nature is number one, with socialization during a crucial early stage, second. After that, nurture may temper the original mindset, but a more adaptable personality will respond to this influence more readily. Finally, age tends to mellow out some paranoid behaviors. I've noticed two dogs become calmer in later years, and after they both became deaf. So physical attributes such as very, very sensitive hearing, I think, can cause/mimic personality disturbances, especially if bred for a country lifestyle, but living with city sounds and stimulation. Examples? Scott, my last dog, adopted around four years of age, feared all males, and especially those with darker complexions and even more especially those with alcohol on their breath (at first, I thought he was prejudiced against all friendly, homeless types). Jean Donaldson credited his fear mostly to a lack of socialization, with some possible negative experiences as well. I made friends with a fellow who regularly pan handled on a Montreal street corner, giving him a good supply of cookies which at first, he threw to Scott. It took a few months, but Scott eventually rushed up, tail wagging whenever he saw that fellow. I also approached strange men on the street, asking them to feed Scott. (Talk about pick-up lines:) It took about a year, but Scott had no fear of men after that. Another dog I have known was kept in a breeder's kennel for three years before finally being adopted by the most patient couple you could ever imagine. She is now 12, and only in the last couple of years, has begun to enjoy a few people other than her own humans. She still fears traffic, and melts down at larger truck noises, although as her hearing as faded, that has improved somewhat. I think she is an example of a less adaptable personality, with all the external forces against her, except for her eventual fotunate choice of humans. Finally, I know of two human babies, adopted at birth, given enormous love and every advantage, who later exhibited the same personality traits of their birth parents. Again, as they became older, the nurture aspect seemed to kick in, and they were able to turn their lives around for the better.

allhorsestuff said...

I too am leaning more towards nature...
Wa mare was abused and is a fearful/social type mare.
She has a need to be near...have not seen her act acording to the abuse save one time, before I left the tyranical barn, she reared up suddenly,as the owner came around