Dr. Wynne has a dog named Xephos that he loves very much; he's also the founding director of the Canine Science Collaboratory at Arizona State University. Since he loves dogs, and loves researching dogs, he decided to write a book about Animal Behavior Science, with a dash of Evolutionary Biology, as it pertains to dogs, to answer the question: Why do dogs love us?
If you're unfamiliar with the study of Animal Behavior, it's basically Psychology for animals. We can't really know for sure what's on an animal's mind because they can't talk to us, so we study observable behaviors in natural and experimental settings in order to get a glimpse inside that furry black box. Many Psychological studies have roots in data gleaned from Animal Behavior, perhaps the most famous being Pavlov's dogs.
The book is divided up into several sections:
Chapter One: Xephos. This is all about the author's dog, but also serves as an overview to some of the other subjects being covered later on. Lest you fear that this is an insipid reprise of MARLEY AND ME, fear not-- the author also talks about many other fascinating research expeditions, including a boarder-collie that knows several thousand words (as proved by "fetching" experiments), and his foray into a wolf enclosure.
Chapter Two: What Makes Dogs Special? This is a chapter about how dogs came to be the way they are, and details some cognition experiments people have done with dogs. The author goes into more detail into his wolf enclosure adventure, and talks about some of the difference between dogs and wolves, especially with regard to tameness and their interest in humans. I really enjoyed this chapter, and it spurred me on to watch some absolutely adorable wolf videos on YouTube.
Chapter Three: Dogs Care. This is a chapter about the helping nature of dogs and their empathy. The author was semi-inspired to write this chapter after watching a hilarious video a researcher had done of an experiment to study humanitarian behaviors in dogs after their handlers pretended to be hurt. The experiment was a failure, which might lead some to think that dogs have no more interest in our welfare than the meanest of cats, but he goes on to talk about other experiments that put dogs in a much more flattering light, and some of the ways they display sympathy to their humans.
Chapter Four: Body and Soul. This was honestly one of my favorite chapters given my Psychology background, as the body vs. soul debate was one of the early conundrums in the very earliest stages of Psychology, and how brain influences body and vice-versa continues to be an interesting source of research to this day. This chapter is all about behavior and cognition, citing studies about cognition, and some of the genes that may mark the hallmark differences between dogs and wolves.
Chapter Five: Origins. This chapter is about some of the author's travels to look for early dogs, as well as his visits to fox and wolf shelters, and he talks about the differences between the Family Canidae. This chapter made me go on YouTube to watch some adorable fox videos.
Chapter Six: How Dogs Fall in Love. This is about dogs' attachment to humans and the bonds they form with people. I liked the study about how many dogs actually came to prefer affection from people over food, since it shows what a powerful dopamine release dogs get from being around people. They did a recent study with cats that actually ended up showing similar results (just Google "cats prefer people to food" and you should find the article). This may sound surprising, but the fact that animals get so happy from being around us proves why they stick around in the first place.
Chapter Seven: Dogs Deserve Better. This is the saddest chapter, and it warns against cruel punishment or training that involves excessive force, as well as going into some of the abysmal conditions in kennels/adoption centers. The author also talks about the pit-bull myth, and how "pit-bull" isn't actually a recognized breed of dog but a loose term used to describe a group of dogs (some of whom may not even come to mind, when you think "pit-bull"). He and his associates were actually able to raise adoption rates in a shelter by having the facility remove the breed information from the placards over the cages; 1) dogs weren't being misclassified as pit-bulls or other unfavorable dogs, 2) people couldn't go in with a single breed in mind and only look at those dogs, which was especially harmful if it was a vague and uncommon breed, 3) it forced people to see the dogs as individuals and not just a breed on a card, meaning they were judging them by looks and personality.
This is a cozy science book that is perfect for people who love dogs, but also for people who aren't. I'm Team Cat all the way, and was a bit surprised to be offered a copy of this ARC, but I also really love animals of all kinds and have grown to appreciate dogs over the years as an adult, despite being deathly afraid of them when I was younger. As a Psychology major, I loved seeing some of the studies about behaviorism, conditioning, and attachment that I learned about in university, and as an animal lover and all-around science fan, it was cool to learn about fluffy science with a wagging tail.
Thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy in exchange for an honest review!
4 out of 5 stars