The founding director at the Canine Science Collaboratory at Arizona State University probes the bonds of affection between humans and dogs.
For 15,000 years, humans and dogs have been living side by side. However, as Wynne makes clear in this pleasingly garrulous and jocular report from the front lines of canine research, we are only beginning to understand how our minds have intertwined over that duration. “Dogs have an exaggerated, ebullient, perhaps even excessive capacity to form affectionate relationships with members of other species,” writes the author. “This capacity is so great that, if we saw it in one of our own kind, we would consider it quite strange—pathological, even. In my scientific writing, where I am obliged to use technical language, I call this abnormal behavior hypersociability. But as a dog lover who cares deeply about animals and their welfare, I see absolutely no reason we shouldn’t just call it love.” This may seem imprecise, and borders on anthropomorphism, but Wynne has found that evidence coming from labs—evidence in the forms of genes that code for loving behavior, brain states that register and direct affection, and hormones that match the activity found in our own species when we feel love—and animal sanctuaries suggests that dogs feel affection much the way that humans do. This love doesn’t require special cognitive abilities. It is innate in the creatures and then is shaped by the environment to be expressed, hopefully, as a warm bond—though if the dog is ill-treated, it will manifest in antisocial behavior. Of particular importance to Wynne is what this means in terms of how we interact and care for dogs. It is our responsibility to treat them with respect because they deserve it, and both of us will be greater creatures for it.
A good mix of science and emotion, recommended for dog lovers