Science & History
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Alexandra Horowitz, The Canine Mindseeker


AH: Boredom in dogs looks remarkably similar, in broad strokes, to what it looks like in humans: flagging energy, reduced activity, poor attention, sleeping too much. Dogs may pace (similar to zoo animals kept in too-small enclosures with nothing to engage them) or do repetitive actions, such as licking or chewing themselves obsessively. If you come home to find your house in disarray, socks mauled, pillows disemboweled, it’s likely that your dog was bored—at least until he found those socks and pillows with which to occupy his time. Boredom can be sated by giving the dog something to do: play with him, give him plenty of social time with other dogs, or hide safe toys or treats for him to find when you’re away.

B: You said that “in many ways, dogs act as if they think about their memories as the personal story of their life.” What do you mean by this?

AH: It is an intriguing question whether dogs think about themselves—that is, whether they have a sense of their own life story, their autobiography. It is also a very difficult question to address scientifically. I am proposing, however, that much of dogs’ behavior, such as what they remember—where they buried that bone last summer, the dog who was hostile the last time they met, a shortcut home—indicates that they are in fact thinking about their life in an autobiographical way.

B: A final question. Is there a possibility that dogs co-evolved with us, especially since the dog genome dates the wolf/dog split to almost 100,000 years ago, about the same period during which Homo sapiens was developing? Also, the change “out of wolf” began so long ago that it would seem to predate human settlements. So perhaps the theory of dogs “taming” themselves as scavengers around our “settlements” might not be right.

AH: I think it is quite appropriate, based on the evidence we have, to say that dogs and humans co-evolved. As I discuss in the book, there is archeological evidence that dates the intertwining of our lives to 10,000 to 14,000 years ago, though most researchers believe that we lived together for perhaps thousands of years before that time. The interesting and more recent finding (using mitochondrial DNA)—that wolves split into two different groups, one of which was to become what we now know as the domestic dog—is suggestive that the connection between humans and dogs may have been quite long ago. It is also possible that these “proto-dogs” were well suited to later domestication, but weren’t yet associating with humans (or our forebears). The evidence simply isn’t all in yet.


To listen to an interview with Alexandra Horowitz on NPR, click here.



This article first appeared in The Bark,
Issue 56: Sept/Oct 2009
Claudia Kawczynska is The Bark's co-founder and editor in chief. thebark.com

Photo courtesy of the author.

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Submitted by Michelle Mantonya | November 12 2012 |

Good morning Professor. I am so thankful for people like you! Who bring awareness to animals' mental, emotional and physical abilities. There is so much more to them than people realize.

I am a 49 year young woman and dogs have been a part of my family all of my life.I cannot imagine my life without them in it! I have studied animal behavior and relationships of several species, but mostly dogs. I have no formal education on this subject, just hands on experience and observation over 45 years. It has always been a dream of mine to be part of a study because I have much to offer. I do know that animals' thinking and emotional ability is much like our own.

I enjoyed you and your study on the PBS show, "What Are Animals Thinking". However, I must say that I do not agree with your findings, when you did the "Guilty Look" experiment. When the dog was deceived about taking the treat, I did not see the guilty look. I saw a look of confusion. I believe the dogs were thinking "why are they talking to me in that way when I didn't do anything wrong". In my opinion, it showes that dogs know when and if they've done wrong and not understanding they're human's reaction, which, I believe, falls into the category of them knowing that they, themselves have been wronged. I also believe it shows that they are aware of what type of reaction they deserve and expect, and, when they get one that doesn't apply to the situation. I do hope that you read this and take this into consideration. Thanks again, for all your work.

Thanks for your time and have a good day.

Michelle Mantonya

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