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How Dogs Are Smarter than You Think

by Brian Hare ; Vanessa Woods

Pub Date: Feb. 5th, 2013
ISBN: 978-0-525-95319-7
Publisher: Dutton

Hare (Evolutionary Anthropology/Duke Univ.) and Woods (Bonobo Handshake: A Memoir of Love and Adventure in the Congo, 2010) delve into the rich cognitive world of dogs and how they domesticated themselves through natural selection.

Dogs are the authors’ special subjects—Hare founded Duke’s Canine Cognition Center, and Woods is a research scientist there—and they examine the scientific studies of dogs' communication skills (from visual signals to categorization), their empathy and cooperative talents, between their ability to infer, find solutions and display flexibility. But one question the authors tackle with the greatest vigor: Why the dog at all? If dogs evolved from wolves—which were threats and competitors of humans in the carnivore guild—why did domestication become an option? What forces drove it? Hare and Woods clearly reintroduce readers to the old garbage-eater-on-the-outskirts-of-camp theory of wolves and man finding common ground but from a very specific angle. It was the friendliest of the wolves, those that could coexist with humans, that benefitted from this stable food supply. A relaxed wolf, one that had come to understand the communicative intentions of human behavior, was a wolf with more offspring. It wasn’t long before wolves started to change physiologically. Their breeding cycles changed, their heads became smaller, they became distinctive to the human eye and could be ignored or encouraged. “Humans did not set out to domesticate wolves,” write the authors. “Wolves domesticated themselves. The first dog breed was not created by humans' selection or breeding but by natural selection.” Interestingly, the same anatomical signatures that differentiate dogs from wolves are seen in bonobos and chimpanzees and humans and their forebears.

A well-presented investigation into how dogs came to be.