Home
Studies & Research
Print|Email|Text Size: ||
Great Thinkers on Dogs
Alexandra Horowitz & Cindy Otto
Alexandra Horowitz & Cindy Otto

Horowitz: My consideration of the dog is for his umwelt—his perspective. I’m interested in the way the story of domestication and selective breeding combines with the dog’s particular sensory and cognitive abilities to produce the behaviors we see. I’m particularly interested in how we easily interpret those behaviors from an anthropocentric standpoint. Behaviors almost always look different when interpreted from an evolutionary and cognitive standpoint.

Miklósi: When thinking about any species other than ourselves—whether dog, fish or mice—we always have a third-person view. With this in mind, we view the animal based on how it fits into its niche. In our case, the dog’s niche isn’t a rain forest or an ocean but rather, the environment offered by humans. Even if dogs are feral, they are not in the middle of the forest; dogs remain close to humans.

From there, we think about how dogs achieve and maintain relationships with humans. I think this is what makes dogs unique compared to other animals—their relationship with humans is very special.

Bradshaw: I first think about the dog as an emotional animal for whom the primary motivation is to attach to humans. Somehow, through the course of domestication, we have built this into the vast majority of dogs.

The second framework is the dog’s olfactory sense, which we make use of and often take for granted. Dogs’ subjective world is defined, to a large extent, by smell rather than by what something looks like, which is how we define our world. Everybody knows that there are so many uses for the dog’s nose—that when you put your luggage on the conveyer belt in the airport, a dog might sniff it before it’s loaded on the plane—but we don’t readily incorporate their olfaction into our everyday lives with them.

McGreevy: I think of the normal dog as a social athlete and a fun-loving opportunist.

McConnell: Instead of talking about the dog, I find myself wanting to talk about a dog. Dogs are enormously variable, and I see so much frustration and so much suffering because people expect their dog to be one way and the dog behaves in another way.

Just as people are individuals, dogs are individuals. I think it’s critical we understand that we’re not looking at a Golden Retriever or a Border Collie— although I don’t want to dismiss breedrelated traits—but that we’re looking at Frank or Willie or Spot or Martha.

What contributions to the field of dog science are you most proud of?

Bradshaw: When my colleagues and I at Bristol first started exploring separation disorders in dogs, they were thought to be rare—some kind of pathology. All the work we’ve done finds that separation disorders in dogs are not pathologies; they can be a reflection of something normal in dog behavior, which is attachment to people.

Also, my colleagues and I have done a lot of work for sniffer-dog welfare, improving not only the way that detection dogs operate in the field but also the way they are looked after, so they are not just efficient dogs but are happy dogs as well.

McGreevy: My contributions primarily relate to my team’s discoveries in dog behavior, physiology and welfare. We’ve shown how left- and righthandedness in dogs affect a dog’s ability to guide the visually impaired, how dogs’ retinae and brains depend on their skull shapes, and how many breeds’ body shapes predispose them to hip dysplasia. We’ve also developed and validated a scoring system for doggy dementia. On an international level, I helped tackle inherited disorders in dogs—the most preventable form of cruelty—by establishing national surveillance systems, such as VetCompass in the UK and Australia, for veterinarians to report inherited disorders.

Otto: I’m most proud of the Penn Vet Working Dog Center and the research to come. The center evolved out of my work following the health and behavior of the dogs who assisted after 9/11. It’s quite a landmark study; we are now in the 12th year of monitoring and evaluating the health and behavior of these dogs, and we are also working with a human psychologist to explore the ongoing relationship between the dogs and their handlers. This is the foundation for so much more research in the future.

Print|Email
CommentsPost a Comment
Please note comments are moderated. After being approved your comment will appear below.
Submitted by Anonymous | January 15 2014 |

I'd like to add to the great thinkers list the following snippet of Dog genome sequence and analysis published in Nature [2] by Broad Institute Communications [1], December 7th, 2005:

An international research team led by scientists at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard […]

Similarities to humans
Dogs not only occupy a special place in human hearts, they also sit at a key branch point in the evolutionary tree relative to humans. By tracking evolution's genetic footprints through the dog, human and mouse genomes, the scientists found that humans share more of their ancestral DNA with dogs than with mice, confirming the utility of dog genetics for understanding human disease.
[…]
###

1. http://www.broadinstitute.org/news/253

2. http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v438/n7069/full/nature04338.html

Submitted by Anonymous | February 5 2014 |

I'd like to share and continue on with another group of great thinkers!:)
January 16, 2014 -PLOS Genetics published a new research article on "Genome Sequencing Highlights the Dynamic Early History of Dogs" by Adam H. Freedman et al:
http://www.plosgenetics.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pgen....

UC Hospitals reviewed the above mentioned article [1]. Here is an excerpt:
"Domestication apparently occurred with significant bottlenecks in the historical population sizes of both early dogs and wolves. Freedman and his colleagues were able to infer historical sizes of dog and wolf populations by analyzing genome-wide patterns of variation, and show that dogs suffered a 16-fold reduction in population size as they diverged from wolves. Wolves also experienced a sharp drop in population size soon after their divergence from dogs, implying that diversity among both animals' common ancestors was larger than represented by modern wolves."

1. http://www.uchospitals.edu/news/2014/20140116-domesticated-dogs.html

Submitted by Anonymous | February 13 2014 |

Celebrating Darwin Day with the greatest thinker of all time evolutionary biologist Charles Darwin when he wrote in The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals, “Man himself cannot express love and humility by external signs, so plainly as does a dog, when with drooping ears, hanging lips, flexuous body, and wagging tail, he meets his beloved master.”

He definitely knew about a gleeful attitude in a dog. My sweet and healthy female hound dog that is a little over three years old fits the bill and loves her mommy (me). Anyone who takes on a two week old sick puppy becomes the official MOM!lol

A happy birthday anniversary to our dearly beloved Charles.

More From The Bark

By
Karen B. London
By
Janis Bradley
By
Kathy Davieds