Sunday, 20 April 2014

Science Suggests 'The Dog' Doesn't Exist (Op-Ed)

Marc Bekoff, emeritus professor at the University of Colorado, Boulder, is one of the world's pioneering cognitive ethologists, a Guggenheim Fellow, and co-founder with Jane Goodall of Ethologists for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. Bekoff's latest book is Why Dogs Hump and Bees Get Depressed (New World Library, 2013). This Op-Ed is adapted fromone that appeared in Bekoff's column Animal Emotions in Psychology Today. He contributed this article to Live Science's Expert Voices: Op-Ed & Insights.

Many people, researchers included, like to think broadly about species-typical characteristics. It's easy to do when considering anatomical traits — for example, all dogs have a tail (even if they differ greatly in length and fluffiness), a muzzle (long, short, narrow, or broad), and a nose. However, when it comes to behavior, much research, including citizen science, has shown that dogs and many other animals vary greatly in cognitive skills, emotional reactivity, personality and temperament. Thus, it's difficult to accurately talk about "the dog," "the coyote," "the chimpanzee ," or even "the eagle " or "the goldfish."

Later this month, I'm traveling to Italy to lecture on the emotional lives of dogs and other animals. In preparation, I've been revisiting an excellent new book edited by a fellow Psychology Today writer, Alexandra Horowitz, called "Domestic Dog Cognition and Behavior."

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