Why Do Dogs Stot?

Why Do Dogs Stot?
January 12, 2012 by Kevin Behan

Sometimes when gazelles spot a lion or cheetah on the Savannah, rather than running away at full speed, they stot wherein they punch the ground with their forelimbs, stiff-legged, and with a hunched back, propel themselves high in the air in a series of bounds. For a moment between leaps, they float, suspended in mid air.  



According to mainstream biology the stot is an ostentatious display of fitness that indicates such a state of physical robustness that a predator would be discouraged from giving chase, saving all a useless waste of energy. Once however a pack of wild dogs was observed to almost take down a stotting gazelle since it was basically bounding in place rather than putting distance between it and the dogs. But the most interesting question is; if gazelles stot to discourage being chased, why do dogs stot?




Physics teaches that nature conserves energy, it can never be destroyed. Biology similarly teaches that successful adaptations are likewise conserved as they tend to radiate throughout a genome and evolve into further functionality. I would take the principle of conservation one step further, just like energy, information is never destroyed, it is always conserved, and a case in point is the dog stot. 

One of the dogs of my children's childhood years, was "Barley," the worlds' cutest tricolor Corgi. Barley was the only dog welcome in the garden as he could meander amongst the flowers and sit slumped onto the side of his little tush without bending a stem or crinkling a petal. He was a comedic genius, a talent amplified by the inventive games mutually arrived at with my children, such as snatch-the-scrunchie-off-the-pony-tail game. But we would often say "poor Barley" because everything about him was a study in self-defeating contradictions. He had a big head with German Shepherd chiseled features but then his ears were so large that instead of looking sharp and alert when he cocked his head, he looked like an antennae array swiveling across the horizon. He had a powerful build, but it was atop stubby little bowed legs on an impossibly long torso so that his front and hind ends had separate agendas. Going down the steep set of stairs from his perch at the top of the landing, was a controlled crash. He sounded like a runaway slinky as his front end raced to get to the ground floor before his accelerating rear end overtook him. Fortunately Barley knew his limits so when he saw a dangerous dog on the property, of which there were many given the nature of my work, his hackles would raise and he'd approach with a distinctive bounding stomp going more up and down and bounding in place rather than actually covering any ground. In other words, he was attracted to this dog, as he was with all dogs, but he could divine at a distance that this dog was too charged to safely make contact. Was Barley exhibiting his robustness, or was he dissipating the energy of attraction through a subsidiary avenue, i.e. emotion being channeled from his jaws to his fore limbs?  

In other words dogs stot for the same reason that gazelles stot, because they are attracted to something, but feel insecure about making contact. They release this tension by hitting the ground primarily with their fore limbs, and this reduces their internal emotional charge. (This is also why horses stomp the ground when agitated.) It's an indirect manner of making contact with an object of attraction. 

Which returns me to the matter of conservation. There were other occasions when Barley's manner of locomotion made him look exactly like a bunny rabbit with his bouncy rear end trying to keep up with his stubby front end. So while Barley was a humorous study in contrasts, he was broadcasting not genetic fitness, but a fundamental principle of the conservation of information in genes. The prey remains within the predator. Carnivores of course evolved from herbivores and so the familiar maxim that you-are-what-you-eat can be tweaked into you-eat-what-you-are. Things are not the way they seem as everything in nature reflects something else. 

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