Canine Confidential: Why Dogs Do What They Do

By Marc Bekoff, July 2018
Canine Confidential: Why Dogs Do What They Do

Marc Bekoff is both a renowned ethologist and a lifelong observer of and advocate for non-human animals (as he likes to call everyone but us). In his new book, Canine Confidential, he displays his depth of knowledge and involvement on both those fronts, gathering up the latest research from canine cognitive/behavioral fields (as well as his own) and presenting it to us would-be citizen scientists.

Bekoff uses an inviting conversational mode that makes complicated topics much easier to grasp. It is as if we had run into him at the local dog park and could ask those questions that pop up as we watch our dogs cavort with others of their species.

This rather slim volume covers quite a lot of ground, from canine cognition and their rich emotional lives and behavioral proclivities to, of course, their relationships with us. He does caution that since the study of dogs is all the rage these days, sometimes findings can be a little premature, or based on small sample sizes. He’s also quite willing to admit that he doesn’t know the answers to some questions and is waiting to see what future research reveals. In the appendix we are exhorted to become citizen ethologists, and we are given a “Cliff Notes” guide to show us how it’s done (see the excerpt below for a glimpse).

Bekoff knows just about everyone in non-human-animal field, and enthusiastically shares their work with us in this volume and via his popular blog on This informative and accessible book  is an invaluable resource that deserves an appreciative audience.


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Developing an ethogram, or a menu of what animals do, is the most important part of a behavioral study. To me, it really is fun and a great experience in learning how animals act. There are numerous dog ethograms available, and two I use are offered by ethologists Roger Abrantes (Dog Language) and Michael W. Fox (Behavior of Wolves, Dogs, and Related Canids). Barbara Handelman’s Canine Behavior: A Photo Illustrated Handbook is also an excellent resource, as are the numerous illustrations at “Learning to Speak Dog Part 4: Reading a Dog’s Body.” Some behavior patterns that people score include a dog’s approach to other dogs (speed and orientation); biting directed toward different parts of the body; biting intensity (inhibited and soft, or hard and accompanied by either shaking of the head or not); rolling over; standing over; chin resting, play soliciting; self-play; peeing and the posture used; pooping; growling; barking; whining; approaching and withdrawing; pawing directed toward different parts of the body; ear position; tail position; gait; and so on. Over the years, I have found that I can account for the behavior of most dogs by scoring around fifty different behavior patterns.

Excerpted from Canine Confidential by Marc Bekoff, copyright © 2018 by  Marc Bekoff. Published by The University of Chicago Press. Used with permission.

Article first appeared in The Bark, Issue 94: Summer 2018

Marc Bekoff is a professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Colorado, Boulder.