Domestic Dog Cognition and Behavior

pp 221-240


A Dog’s-Eye View of Canine Cognition

  • Monique A. R. UdellAffiliated withDepartment of Animal Sciences, Oregon State University
  • , Kathryn LordAffiliated withDepartment of Biology, Gettysburg College
  • , Erica N. FeuerbacherAffiliated withDepartment of Psychology, University of Florida
  • , Clive D. L. WynneAffiliated withDepartment of Psychology, Arizona State University Email author 

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In this chapter we attempt to put the dog back at the heart of dog cognition studies. We identify that the majority of dogs are not first-world pets, dependent on their owners for the fulfillment of all essential needs, and acting as their “best friends.” Rather most dogs are scavengers on the periphery of people’s lives. These dogs are more likely to avoid human contact than seek it. The sensitivity of pet dogs to human actions and intentions that has been a major focus of recent research is unlikely to be a special adaptation or case of co-evolution, but rather is the expression of basic processes of conditioning as well as social and biological traits that domesticated and wild canids share. In individuals that have been socialized to humans and rendered completely dependent on them these processes lead to high levels of sensitivity to human actions. The fundamental differences between dog and wolf behavior lie at more basic levels: in the processes of socialization, in foraging, and in reproduction. Small but crucial intertwined changes led to an animal that is (1) more promiscuous than any other canid, (2) can reproduce more rapidly, and (3) is a much less effective hunter but (4) more efficient scavenger than other canids. The indirect consequences of these changes include the fact that we have dogs and not wolves resting at our feet. Though it may be a little less flattering to the human species, we believe this perspective on dogs is at least as fascinating and closer to the historical truth than the story that humans created dogs.