Yep, it's officially snuggle season. pic.twitter.com/t8xmAJgymc
— Mig Greengard (@chessninja) October 13, 2019
Seems like a lot of people are taking the holiday-for-some weekend as a vacation from politics, not that I blame them. We’re debating whether to spend some time at the Topsfield Fair, or to start planting out the big box of spring bulbs that just arrived.
But speaking of companion animals, here’s a fun story from the Washington Post, which you should definitely click just for the absolutely perfect stock photo illustrating it. “What makes dogs so special and successful? Love”
… Clive Wynne, a psychologist and founder of the Canine Science Collaboratory at Arizona State University, has a new book that walks readers through the growing body of dog science. In it, he argues that what makes dogs remarkable is not their smarts, but their capacity to form affectionate relationships with other species — in short, to love.
Wynne spoke recently with The Washington Post about his book, “Dog Is Love: Why and How Your Dog Loves You.” This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
The Washington Post: Many dog owners will think, “Of course my dog loves me.” Why study this?
Wynne: It’s at least worth thinking about that what on the surface appears to be something in our dogs that people are happy to call love might — might — not have deserved that name. It could have been that our dogs were in some sense just faking it to get better treats. Ultimately, this is, to me, about trying to understand the secret of dogs’ success and what makes dogs unique.
Scientists in the first decade of the 21st century were mainly concerned with the idea that dogs have special forms of intelligence and social cognition that were unique in the animal kingdom. From the point of view of those of us that are in the science of studying dogs, the idea that it’s affection and not intelligence that’s the secret ingredient that makes dogs successful is quite a radical idea.
You and I have had conversations in the past where I got the impression you would be on the more skeptical end of the dogs-love-us spectrum.
I’m a reluctant convert. I was somebody who was resistant to the idea that what appeared to be affection radiating from our dogs could really be that. But ultimately, a combination of getting this dog into my life — who’s lying down next to me now, Xephos — and the overwhelming evidence of the studies that my students and I did, and the studies that so many other people have done, it really all adds up to an irresistible picture. I know that sometimes Xephos just wants dinner. But I’m pretty convinced that that’s not the whole picture. She really does feel a bond, a connection toward me that’s as real as any other connection that any other individual in my life might feel toward me…
You also write about how biological research backs up the idea that dogs can love.
If it’s there, it’s got to be in their biology. Their biology has to underwrite their behavior.
A Japanese research group analyzed dogs’ and people’s urine for levels of this hormone oxytocin, which gets called the love hormone because it spikes when two people are in loving contact with each other. They had people and dogs come into the lab and look at each other lovingly. Sure enough, the oxytocin levels went up on both sides of the relationship…
The more biological side that I’ve been involved in is digging right down to the genetic code. In part of the genome of the dog that shows evidence of recent changes, the equivalent part of the human genome is responsible for this syndrome called Williams-Beuren. The most peculiar symptom is what they call exaggerated gregariousness. People who have this syndrome have no notion of stranger, they treat everybody as a friend, they’re extremely outgoing. When I read this, I thought: They’re much like our dogs!
So some people got together and did these very simple behavioral tests for what you could call gregariousness or sociability on dogs and on wolves. And we got DNA samples from those dogs and wolves, and we identified three genes that show the mutation in those genes [is] responsible for a big difference between dogs and wolves in their gregariousness. Dogs are much more outgoing, and this correlates in three genes that independently have been shown to be responsible for the gregariousness aspect of Williams syndrome. So deep into the deepest level of biology, into the genetic code that underlies everything that dogs become, you can find it all the way through.
(Note: Wynne writes in his book of his relief that advocates for children with Williams syndrome weren’t offended by this finding. “If they had tails, they would wag them,” one told a reporter.)…
Before we humans get all smug about our lovableness, you should probably explain that dogs don’t reserve their affection for people.
It’s not the case that dogs have special genes or special capacities to form relationship with humans. Dogs just have special capacities to form relationships with anything. Whatever they meet early on in life, they will then accept members of that species as potential friends later on…
A vulgar person might say that this means dogs are basically genetically damaged wolves. Well, from that perspective, we’re genetically damaged chimpanzees, so: good match!
Dog owners are 24 percent less likely to die for any reason, but the life-prolonging benefits are even higher for anyone with cardiovascular disease, according to two new studies https://t.co/4n62PbrPmC
— CNN (@CNN) October 8, 2019