Tuesday, 5 February 2008

the love between dogs and humans

Penny has been resting near me as I read a book called "If Dogs Could Talk". It's by Vilmos Csanyi, a professor and chair of the department of ethology at a university in Budapest. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines ethology as:
1 : a branch of knowledge dealing with human character and with its formation and evolution
2 : the scientific and objective study of animal behavior especially under natural conditions
Csanyi says that the natural environment of the domestic dog is the human household, because dogs are quite different from other animals in that they have been bred to need to live with humans. He says (page 54):
With well-designed experiments we can even show that puppies are attracted more powerfully to humans than to their own species. Puppies long for humans even if they experience pain or other unpleasantness in their presence; in other words, they are unable to learn that in such experimental situations they should avoid humans.
To me this seems to be powerful stuff. It suggests that we have a great responsibility to those dogs who live with us. (By the way, I shudder to think of the experiments that proved those puppies would endure pain to be with humans. He gives footnotes to refer to these.)
There is a time in a puppy's life, between four and twelve weeks, when it learns to recognise which animals belong to its own species and begins the process of personal bonding. At this stage, the puppy that sees or touches humans, even for just a few minutes, will accept them as members of its own species.
He argues that puppies that get to know several humans during these few weeks, called 'the period of socialization', will be able subsequently to bond with anyone - in effect, if they are separated from their first master, they can bond with a new human.
I guess this answers a question that has bothered me about how rescue dogs generally manage to settle in so happily with a new family (unless bad experiences in their previous life have damaged them, of course).

He says that dogs that bond with their human families experience great stress if they are separated. He criticises people who abandon dogs. He says:
Anyone who rids himself of his erstwhile pet in such a fashion deludes himself by thinking that it is only an animal. Such a person does not realize that dogs are as capable of suffering as humans and are the exception among animals in that they experience rejection similarly to humans and human children."
When I first brought Penny home I read other authors' books about dogs and I was influenced by one who said that it is an act of enslavement to keep dogs as pets. Occasionally I feel a sense of guilt that Penny had no choice but to be taken from her litter and brought to live with us. However, Csanyi's writing rings true to me, reflecting the centuries of stories of the love between humans and dogs. It makes me relax about the fact that I get comfort from her companionship - because it is likely that the pleasure is reciprocal.


curator said...

Oh, indeed, I do NOT like thinking about those pain-inducing experiments.
They sound evil and unnecessary to me.

parlance said...

Curator, there's been some good stuff lately about the advances in animal treatment, so I'm hopeful that a whole generation of researchers will exist who would not even think of putting an animal through pain. Some of the stuff referred to in Csanyi's book would break your heart if you thought it would still go on. What I love about this book is the respect and love that shine through in his writing about dogs.

Noah the Airedale said...

Another good book is "The Truth About Dogs" by Stephen Budiansky. Basically it explains why dogs behave the way they do. Pinky really enjoyed reading it.


parlance said...

Noah, that book is now on my to-be-read list.