Canine science is hot right now. After decades when behaviorists focused their attention on lab rats and pigeons, the number of scientific publications on dogs published each year has jumped ten-fold*, according to Google Scholar, and new 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 makes the new, long-awaited edition of The Domestic Dog: Its Evolution, Behavior, and Interactions with People an invaluable resource for researchers and enthusiasts. Edited by James Serpell, a pioneer in the field of anthrozoology, The Domestic Dog is a compendium written by a who’s who of canine researchers. I concur with dog guru Marc Bekoff, who wrote in his Psychology Today review that the book was “inarguably, the go-to reference on dogs.”
Here are 25 new things I learned about dogs from the book:
Behavior and Cognition
Development and Sensory Capacities
Biology and Genetics
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. He points out the moral implications of bringing dogs into our lives as companions and family members and 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 morally 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.
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).