Canine science is hot right now. After decades of neglect when behaviorists focused their attention on lab rats and pigeons, according to Goggle Scholar, the number of scientific publications on dogs published each years has jumped ten-fold**,and dog research centers are popping up worldwide. This explosion of knowledge makes it hard to keep up with the latest discoveries on dog behavior and biology. That’s why the new long awaited edition of The Domestic Dog: Its Evolution, Behavior, and Interactions with People is an invaluable resource for dog enthusiasts and researchers. Edited by James Serpell, a pioneer in the field of anthrozoology, The Domestic Dog is a compendium of 20 chapters written by a who’s who of canine researchers. I concur with dog guru Marc Bekoff who in this Psychology Today review described the book as “inarguably, the go-to reference on dogs.”
But rather than repeat Marc’s rave review, here are 25 new things I learned about dogs while reading this book.
Biology and Genetics
Development and Sensory Capacities
Behavior and Cognition
Human – Dog Interactions
Dogs as Constant Moral Reminders
Finally, as befitting one of the most innovative minds in anthrozoology, the editor of The Domestic Dog, James Serpell really delivers in his chapter on our conflicted attitudes towards dogs. Serpell points out the moral implications of bringing dogs into our lives as companions and family members. He argues that our close relationships with dogs undermine the convenient barrier humans erect between man and beast. Bonding with dogs, he suggests, is the first step along a moral slippery slope as they are constant reminders that animals are creatures that deserve moral consideration. He writes, “Seen in this light, our ambivalence towards the dog is ultimately an expression of the profound uncertainty we humans feel concerning our assumed ‘right’ to live at the expense of other sentient beings.”
I wish I had said that.
(***Thanks to Marc Bekoff for pointing out that the original version of the graph with the number of articles on dog behavior contained a error. This is the corrected version.)
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Hal Herzog is professor emeritus of psychology at Western Carolina University and author of Some We Love, Some We Hate, Some We Eat: Why It's So Hard To Think Straight About Animals.
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Serpell, J. (2017) The domestic dog: Its evolution, behavior and interactions with people. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press (2nd edition).