Dogs Can’t Help Falling in Love


TEMPE, Ariz. — Xephos just isn’t the writer of “Dog Is Love: Why and How Your Dog Loves You,” one of many newest books to plumb the character of canines, however she helped encourage it. And as I scratched behind her ears, it was straightforward to see why.

First, she mounted on me with imploring doggy eyes, asking for my consideration. Then, each time I ended scratching she nudged her nostril underneath my hand and flipped it up. I converse a bit of canine, however the message would have been clear even when I didn’t: Don’t cease.

We have been in the house workplace of Clive Wynne, a psychologist at Arizona State University who specializes in canine conduct. He belongs to Xephos, a combined breed that the Wynne household discovered in a shelter in 2012.

Dr. Wynne’s e-book is an prolonged argument about what makes canines particular — not how sensible they’re, however how pleasant they’re. Xephos’ shameless and undiscriminating affection affected each his coronary heart and his considering.

As Xephos nose-nudged me once more, Dr. Wynne was describing genetic adjustments that occurred sooner or later in canine evolution that he says clarify why canines are so sociable with members of different species.

“Hey,” Dr. Wynne mentioned to her as she tilted her head to get the utmost payoff from my efforts, “how long have you had these genes?”

No one disputes the sociability of canines. But Dr. Wynne doesn’t agree with the scientific standpoint that canines have a singular capability to know and talk with people. He thinks they’ve a singular capability for interspecies love, a phrase that he has determined to make use of, throwing apart a long time of immersion in scientific jargon.

“Dog Is Love” is considered one of a number of new books on canines out this 12 months, and considered one of a flood of such books during the last decade or so. Brian Hare, an evolutionary anthropologist and researcher of canine conduct at Duke University, who based the Duke Canine Cognition Center, recently wrote that there are 70,000 dog books listed on Amazon.

Since 2000, around the time dog research had a resurgence, a small but significant number of those books are written by scientists for a general audience. Like Dr. Hare’s “The Genius of Dogs,” published in 2013, the books address what is going on in a dog’s heart and mind. Most emphasize the mind.

Dr. Hare and his colleagues responded by questioning whether the experiments were really comparable, maintaining that dogs have an innate ability to follow human pointing without the special attention the wolves were given. The debate continues.

The second part of Dr. Wynne’s argument has to do with how social dogs are. There is no question that they bond with people in a way that other canines do not. Dr. Wynne recounted an experiment showing that as long as puppies spend 90 minutes a day, for one week, with a human any time before they are 14 weeks old, they will become socialized and comfortable with humans.

Interestingly, the experiment found no genetic absolutism about the connection between dogs and humans. Without contact with humans when they are young, dogs can become as wary of humans as wild animals. Wolves are not so easily socialized. They require 24-hour-a-day involvement with humans for many weeks when they are puppies to become more tolerant of human beings. They never turn into Xephos.

Admittedly, Xephos is at the tail-wagging, face-licking, cozy-cuddling end of dog friendliness. Anyone who knows dogs can call to mind some that are not friendly at all, or are friendly to only one person. But in general there is no comparison in friendliness between dogs and wolves.

“O.K., she’s not every dog, but she’s not radically atypical,” Dr. Wynne said of Xephos as she snuggled up to me. “Are you sweetie — you’re not completely untypical of your kind?”

The evidence of dog affection for humans goes beyond the observable actions of Xephos and those like her. Gregory Berns, a neuroeconomist at Emory University, who himself was drawn into animal study by wanting to understand what his own dog, Callie, was thinking, used magnetic resonance imaging machines to watch what was going on in their brains.

Among his findings is that the part of dogs’ brains that light up when they hear their owners’ voices is the same part of the human brain that lights up when we are fond of someone or something. His first book was “How Dogs Love Us.”

By looking at the lemon-sized dog brain, he has shown, for instance, that, based on how the reward center lights up, a dog likes praise as much as it likes hot dogs. In testing outside of the M.R.I., Dr. Berns has also found that, given a choice, some dogs prefer their owners to food.

He agreed that the hypersociality of dogs is what makes them special rather than particular cognitive abilities. “It’s hard to demonstrate any cognitive task that dogs are superior in,” he said. But he pointed out that “ultimately the difficulty is in saying what is a cognitive function and an emotional function.”

Alexandra Horowitz, head of the Dog Cognition Lab at Barnard College, and a prolific writer on dogs, also addressed the question of love briefly in her new book, “Our Dogs, Ourselves.”

Without doubt, dogs have feelings, she wrote, but she cautioned that just as certainly, those feelings were not the same as human feelings. Nor, she argued, should we assume that dogs are in between robot and homo sapiens on an emotional spectrum. She wrote in her book, “For all we know, dogs’ emotional experience is far more elaborate than ours.”

Central to that experience, although unknown in its complexity, is the pleasure a dog experiences in the presence of humans. The intensity of that pleasure and the ease of triggering it, Dr. Wynne said, is built into the dog genome.

Humans, they suggested, may have selected friendly dogs over thousands of years of domestication and the Williams-Beuren genes may be one of the results. Other scientists have been cautious about the results, seeing the work as presenting an intriguing hypothesis that requires more research.

Whether these are the genes involved, humans appear to have molded dogs to be friendly to other species beyond humans. Apparently, puppies introduced to any other species when they are young enough, form a strong bond with that species.

This hasn’t been tested with all species, of course. But consider the sheep and goats. Ray Coppinger of Hampshire College, who died in 2017, had documented that puppies of certain breeds kept with sheep bond to the sheep. They stay with the flock and guard it. The same thing happens when puppies are kept with goats and other less likely creatures, like penguins.

Dogs have “an abnormal willingness to form strong emotional bonds with almost anything that crosses their path,” Dr. Wynne said. “And they maintain this throughout life. Above and beyond that they have a willingness and an interest to interact with strangers.”

How and when this free love, or hypersociality evolved in dogs is up for debate. Dr. Wynne is betting that after some ancient wolves began to associate with humans 15,000 or more years ago and became dogs, and humans began to live in settlements and farming took off about 8,000 years ago, humans began to breed dogs for friendliness, causing the genetic differences that Dr. vonHoldt found. With luck, future research on modern and ancient dog DNA will show if he is right.

For now, we humans can at least enjoy the amiability of dogs. Looking at Xephos as we wrapped up our conversation, he said, “It’s not strange that she wants to interact with me. What’s strange is that she wants to be friends with you. Right?”

Well, I don’t know about that. I’m a pretty good ear scratcher. “Right, Xephos?”



Source link Nytimes.com

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *