Stories & Lit
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Studying the Dog


Barbara Smuts, a world-renowned behavioral ecologist at the University of Michigan, was a keynote speaker at that seminal conference in Milwaukee a few years ago. Smuts began her research on primate societies, but in recent years, has devoted most of her attention to dog interaction and socialization. Her particular interest is in how dogs play, their signals and rules invented on the spot. With the assistance of her fellow researchers, she has developed an “ethogram,” or written description of each body movement and vocalization dogs use to initiate play with one another. In this complex version of game theory, the way the rules are drawn and how they change are based on complexities of canine dominance. Smuts has also found parallels between dogs and primates, which she explored in “Gestural Communication in Olive Baboons and Domestic Dogs,” published earlier this year in The Cognitive Animal (MIT Press).

Thus, the dialogue about dogs going on in academic circles is making its way into the mainstream in all sorts of ways, from courses attended and books written to extensive discussions, policy changes, traveling exhibitions and international conferences. We are abandoning old cultural prejudices and coming to a new understanding of dogs on their own terms, drawing on abstract literary stars in the sky and the waggy ones barking nearby. It is a welcome blend of theory and reality.

More to come! See Part Two, “Literary Dogs,” in the January/February 2008 issue.

Seeing Is Believing
Pets in America: Exploring the Connection Between People and Their Pets
November 19, 2007—January 21, 2008
Winterthur Museum and Gardens
Winterthur, Del.

June 16, 2008—August 18, 2008
Museum of Florida History
Tallahassee, Fla.

The Animals Among Us
Online photo exhibits and portable exhibition for loan to museums and exhibition spaces from University of Iowa

© 2007 D.L. Pughe



D. L. Pughe divides her time between IowaCity, Iowa, and Berkeley, Calif., in the company of her husband, Jon Winet, and Mr. E. Dog. Her essays have appeared in books by MIT Press, University of Minnesota Press and Thames and Hudson, as well as in Nest and Five Fingers Review. She is also the author of "Being in Dog Time," which appeared in Bark Fall 2005.

Illustration by Jen Renninger

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