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Are Dogs Capable of Melodrama?


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So, Buddy split a toenail right to the base Monday afternoon, and had to wait until Tuesday at 2:45 to see the vet and have it cut down.

 

Well, in the 24 hours he suffered, you would have thought he was mortally wounded. The only time he's ever acted this way before was when he impaled himself on a stick while playing in the woods. He would not leave my side, and more or less insisted that I be in physical contact with him, preferably giving him high-pressure rub-downs. Settling down in bed Monday night, he kept acting like his leg was broken - it would actually collapse under him when he went to put weight on it.

 

Given that I've only seen Buddy act this way twice, and the first time was when he actually had a serious wound, I assumed that he was in great agony - that the nail felt pretty much the way a human nail would feel if it snagged on something and got yanked halfway off. But my vet said, "Oh, yes, they can be so melodramatic, can't they?"

 

Which got me thinking about the human/dog comparison again. To me, 'melodrama' implies a deliberate manipulation - the exaggeration of physical or mental pain to convince others to give you sympathy or attention. One would assume that melodramatic people learn the behavior early on, and practice it until they have skill at the manipulation. It seems to imply an understanding of the emotional state of others: "When I am hurt, other people feel sorry for me, and treat me in pleasing ways."

 

I've never been one to dismiss dogs as lower than humans, or to utterly resist anthropomorphism. I figure that social mammals share some traits of empathy, fear, and frustration, and that reading those traits into dogs isn't silly, but logical. However, I find myself reluctant to buy into the "melodrama" label, because it seems a little too tricky for my dog to pull off. "Hmm... there's a wound on my paw, and if I act really sad, she'll give me attention." It seems more likely to me that in a position of discomfort, the dog seeks something that lends him comfort. (And maybe this is just a less sophisticated version of what melodramatic humans do!?)

 

So... Melodrama: yes or no, from our dogs?

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Well, my dog Asa had the same thing happen just recently, only instead of the nail splitting, she knocked it off the nail bed. The drama in our house didn't start until after she went to the vet, and had to have a compression bandage on for 5 days. She carried that paw up in the air like a boxer. Talk about pitiful! Oh, then having to miss agility for a broken toenail!! Well, in their defense, it is extremely painful. My vet told me to imagine having one of your nails ripped off--I cut her some slack after that!

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I think this situation was probably not a case of melodrama - from what I've seen, dogs have all different degrees of pain tolerance and breaking a nail to the quick hurts. When my bagel broke his nail completely off, he screamed like he'd been hit by a car and acted much like you describe until it healed.

 

But to your original question, I have no doubt that some dogs are melodramatic. I witnessed an example that I'd never have believed unless I saw it with my own eyes. Quite a while back, one of my dogs, Grendel, was playing with a toy that PeeWee (another border collie) wanted and couldn't get. My husband was in the same room reading or otherwise distracted. PeeWee looked back and forth from my huband to Grendel, and then threw himself on his back, yelping, at Grendel's face. My husband, thinking that Grendel had "gone after" PeeWee, reprimanded Grendel,took his toy away and gave it to PeeWee who ran away with the toy :-) Now that's melodrama!

 

Both dogs are deceased now . . . I miss them dearly.

 

Kim

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My sons would say yes to this. Jody does this thing we call "the owie paw" and has since he was tiny. Right after he came home one of the kids stepped on his front paw by accident. Jody reaped lots of hugs and attention because he was carrying his poor little paw. He carried his paw for a full day but it wasn't always the same one!

 

Since then (& he is 20 months old now) if someone takes a toy from him or ignores him or is too rough when they play

he will tell on them. He comes running to me holding up the owie paw. Usually there is a kid behind him saying "Mom, I didn't do anything to him". LOL

 

I don't think it is manipulative except in the way we characterize it. I think it is a learned way to get affection that always works for him. Jody is all about the love!!

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I wonder if dogs react differently based on how their owners respond. If you ignored Buddy's "act" (not suggesting you do this) would it continue? I doubt it. Sure he might cry out or be quieter than normal cuz he feels bad. But his routine got you to give him massages, etc. So why not repeat?...it seemed to work, right?

 

Dogs don't tend to feel sorry for themselves so I'd guess their reaction to pain like that is based on what they get in response from the environment. Wild and prey animals will tend to hide their pain or suffer silently because it draws the wrong kind of attention.

 

Of course I don't know but that is my best guess.

 

Quick story- we teach owners to give injections at home and we had a nervous little pug. I preach about the fact that the dogs don't really mind the shots & they base their response on the owner's reactions. Well mom was a nervous wreck, hands shaking, etc. So we decided to try an oral glycerin based allergy drop instead of the shot. I kept encouraging her & she finally squirted the 2 drops into the dog's mouth & the dog was traumatized, tail down trying to hide under the bench etc...until I reminded her we were supposed to praise profusely- I literally have them clap & cheer their dogs for being so brave (normally they are giving an injection!). I feel like it eases the owners tension & it definitely helps the dogs. OMG, the pug jumped from under the bench & was leaping & dancing around try to get more of the allergy drops! I wish I had a video because the difference was that dramatic when mom calmed down & praised him.

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Melodrama? Absolutely. Cody - my big border collie is the funniest dog. If he thinks he has hurt his paw - he stops and holds it up- frozen. He will stay fixed in place until I walk over and examine it. If no thorns, cuts, nail breaks exist I tell him he is okay and he bounces off happily. I have always wondered what he would do if he had a herd of sheep to work - would he stand out in the field with his paw up?

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Well, see, having been accused of being Sarah Heartburn when I was younger, (and unjustly, I might add), I gotta say, Dogs do what works. If they're wanting attention, they'll do what ever has worked in the past for attention. My Tillie dog did the same limping with different paws when she wanted a little love, I never thought of it as manipulative, just funny and effective.

 

And, with border collies especially, if they're focused on something, (like working or playing hard) then they're ignoring everything else. I'm sure everyone on this BB has a story or two about how they didn't know their dog was injured until they stopped or fell over.

 

So, unless you can get Buddy interested in a video game or some knitting, he's probably going to keep on seeking affection. And owies do feel better if you're getting petted, stands to reason.

 

Tell Buddy I'm sending some long distance petting, poor baby.

 

Ruth

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There is a tiger at the local zoo/big cat rescue that learned from a young age that limping gets her attention. Initially when she was young she had a reason for limping of course (something to do with a tendon if I recall). She had the vets and caretakers stumped for a while as to why she continued to limp until they finally noticed she only did it when people were watching and after a while she started switching paws.

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It's really not that difficult to teach a dog to limp on purpose (as a trick), so I imagine an intelligent dog could certainly figure this one out on their own and start to offer the behavior if it nets them what they seek (attention/affection).

 

I don't know if I would label it "melodramatic" or not, but I'm quite certain that my dogs actually do think they are going to die when they perceive themselves to be injured. *I* would call it melodrama, but they are quite serious, :D I've learned to ignore most of it -- Just as a child will scream bloody murder if they know you saw them fall down, but would otherwise get up and keep running if they are alone, I think the dogs are more likely to be giant babies in my presence. So I just don't feed off it. Unless I think there might actually be reason for them to be hurt....

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I think yes, but in a different meaning than we might say when, for example, describing a manipulative teenager. In an actual melodrama, emotions are displayed in an exaggerated manner. I absolutely believe dogs and even some cats will do this in an attempt to communicate non verbally. Heck, my 6 month old has learned the value of this!

 

Odin is very stoic with pain but he is melodramatic about other things, like about grooming.

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Generally speaking, I approach what most people consider to be "melodrama" as a way for the dog to communicate something. Many of Tessa's reactions to things right now are very exaggerated and it is very clear, given the circumstances from which she came, that she is showing me that she is not yet comfortable with certain things. As she gains comfort level, the exaggerated reactions are decreasing without attribution of motive to her responses on my part.

 

I tend to err on the side of caution with this. Many things that people thought were "melodrama" on Speedy's part when he was younger were actually very clear attempts at communication and I paid the price many times over for not listening to him. I learned to take his responses to things seriously and provide for his needs instead of attributing manipulative motives to him. That has worked very well for us.

 

It has been my experience that when my dog is acting fearful, he or she is afraid of something. When he or she is acting hurt, there is something wrong. When he or she is acting hungry, it's usually time to eat. When he or she is teasing for attention, the dog wants attention.

 

So, basically, no, I don't go in for the melodrama classification, generally speaking.

 

As an aside that has nothing to do with the topic at hand, I flatly refuse to teach that limping trick. After spending a lot of money on supplements, medications, and chiropractic care so Speedy doesn't limp, I simply don't find it cute. Tangent over!

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Put me firmly in the "I believe dogs can be melodramatic" camp. Mainly because of my last Border collie, Molly.

 

Now, Molly and I would often visit my parents. And she fully appreciated the one firm rule in the house: "No dogs in the living room". It didn't bother her when we were in there. Except...

 

Several years in a row, she managed a minor injury on Christmas morning. Maybe it was a slight cut on her mouth from a frisbee, perhaps it was a torn pad. This was the ONLY day of the year when she seemed bothered by the "no dogs in the living room" rule. She'd sit juuust outside the room, in a position where she was plainly visible, holding up that injured paw, looking pathetic. It always worked. One of my parents would invariably say, "oh, poor baby, we should allow her in Just This Once because she was hurt." Molly would come in the living room, turn and look at their dog, Katie, and give her the canine equivalent of a sneer. The whole time she was in there she was too sore to move. It didn't matter if I changed my chair, she'd just stay in a pathetic little heap.

 

But the instant the party decamped to another room... well, she was a different dog then, injury completely forgotten, fully mobile.

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My favorite melodrama in the "flop 'n sigh" when the dog is bored and you're ignoring them and they throw themselves onto the ground with a huge "SIGH!" and then eyeball you to make sure you saw exactly how neglected and bored they are.

 

I do also think that dogs learn to have exaggerated responses to things (that look like melodrama) because previous, smaller attempts at communication have failed. Soda hates having her paws touched and throws a HUGE, level 10 fit when I handle them. Part of it was she had an injury with her previous owner when she was a pup and probably associates having her paw handled with that painful injury but also that simply pulling her paw away wouldn't work so she escalated into this huge drama-rama.

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Put me firmly in the "I believe dogs can be melodramatic" camp.

 

Me, too. I've calling Quinn a drama queen since he was a few months old. At his first play date, one of the dogs nipped him and my friends about had heart attacks, thinking he was horribly injured. I knew from the tone of his shrieks, he was fine. :lol: As an adult, his drama is mainly to convey angst over being unappreciated or mistreated rather than suffering physical pain.

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This thread has good timing...this morning Tobey wanted breakfast so put his head next to mine on my pillow and kept sighing every minute or two to make sure I heard him :rolleyes:

 

He does sigh when he falls asleep so I keep sneaking a peak, and he was wide awake...he was pulling the 'poor me, I'm starving over here' routine very well :lol:

 

Tim

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This is a delightful thread. I'm still not convinced Buddy was conning me (he generally doesn't love excess attention, and has only ever sought it when he's hurt)... but you all have me LOL.

 

My father's last dog was a husky/shepherd we got from a shelter. Early on, my father was shoveling snow with the dog, and he accidentally touched her with the shovel. You would have thought he was beating her with a chain, the way she screamed and screamed and screamed. She was melodramatic like that for a while, until (I guess) she learned to trust her new home. Then she got a lot more stoic.

 

(Or... alternately... she had learned to yelp in her old home to get attention from an owner who didn't give her much, and then figured out that in my father's house, she got all the attention she wanted and didn't have to put on an act?)

 

Mary

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My favorite melodrama in the "flop 'n sigh" when the dog is bored and you're ignoring them and they throw themselves onto the ground with a huge "SIGH!" and then eyeball you to make sure you saw exactly how neglected and bored they are.

Oh yeah...Scooter has that one down pat! :rolleyes:

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Oh, this thread just has me grinning! :D I've often accused various of my dogs of being melodramatic, for one reason or another. Though nothing so dramatic as throwing themselves on their backs and screeching to get the human to retrieve the toy from the older dog! :P

 

I think, though, it's both "melodrama" and an attempt to communicate. As stories here illustrate, dogs are smart enough to learn what works with us. So, I figure it's no real stretch for them to elaborate on a behavior if it gets results. Even if it's just over-reacting to an injury to get hugs - I know my Nick will act pathetic as possible for me, if he really wants comfort for an injury or upset. The thing is, he genuinely wants the comfort, but if I weren't there, he wouldn't offer the behavior. Since I am there, he knows "pathetic" gets hugs and pets from Mom.

 

In other words, we let them get away with melodrama, they learn melodrama gets us to respond the way they want, therefore we have melodramatic dogs. Dogumentary of the Year, lol! ;)

Cheers ~

 

Gloria

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