Cover image for How dogs think : understanding the canine mind
How dogs think : understanding the canine mind
Coren, Stanley.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : Free Press, [2004]

Physical Description:
xi, 351 pages ; 24 cm
Format :


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Material Type
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Item Holds
SF433 .C668 2004 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf
SF433 .C668 2004 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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It's been said that dogs personify all the virtues of humans without the vices. Henry James wrote that his dog was "most reasonable and well-mannered" and Plato that "a dog has the soul of a philosopher." Over the years, dogs have taught us many things: loyalty, courage, and to turn around three times before lying down. Yet even in the face of millennia of evidence of thoughtful dogs, there has been little systematic scientific study until recently of what is actually going on in the dog's mind, and some people even question whether dogs have the capacity for that which we call mind. In this long-anticipated new book, written in the vein of his enormously popularThe Intelligence of DogsandHow to Speak Dog,Dr. Stanley Coren looks at both the heights of intellect and the depth of our misunderstanding of what goes on in a dog's mind.A bestselling author, psychologist, and world-renowned expert on dog behavior and training, Dr. Coren is always at the forefront of discoveries about dogs. With his ever-entertaining, erudite style, he provides a fascinating picture of the way dogs interpret their world and their owners, how they solve problems, learn, and take in new information. Dr. Coren lets you see through a dog's eyes, hear through his ears, and even sense the world through a dog's nose, giving you the insight that you need to understand the silly, quirky, and apparently irrational behaviors that dogs demonstrate, as well as those stunning flashes of brilliance and creativity that they occasionally display. Along the way,How Dogs Thinkwill answer the questions about which you have always wondered, including: Can dogs count? Do they have an appreciation of art or music? Can a dog learn how to do something by just watching another dog or even a person do it? Do dogs dream? What is the nature of dog personality? Which behaviors are prewired into your dog and which can you actually change? And, can dogs sense future earthquakes or detect cancer?With information not widely known to lay people, this lively guide also provides practical advice and wisdom that allows owners to discover the best ways to teach dogs new things, why punishment doesn't work, how a dog can actually learn to love or to fear, and how to turn that new puppy into a "perfect," emotionally sound, inquisitive, happy, and obedient dog.Combining solid science with numerous funny, informative anecdotes and firsthand observations -- all characterized by Dr. Coren's own searching intelligence and his (and sometimes his dogs') irrepressible sense of humor --How Dogs Thinkshatters many common myths and misconceptions about our four-legged friends and reveals a wealth of surprises about their mental abilities and intellectual potential.

Author Notes

Stanley Coren is Professor of Psychology at the University of British Columbia and a recognized expert on dog-human interaction

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Dogs are the oldest domesticated animal and our most common household pet. With all this time and intimacy, what have we learned about how our closest companion animal thinks? Coren, a professor of psychology and recognized dog expert ( How to Speak Dog 0 2000 and The Intelligence of Dogs0 1995) examines what is known about how the canine mind works. He investigates the effects of both genetics and learning on the behavior of dogs and the consequences of breeding for specific traits in purebreds and how this has changed their personalities. He is also the host of a weekly Canadian television show on dog behavior, and from this background he enlivens the text with human-dog anecdotes that illustrate his more scientific points. It is this combination of research (backed up with an extensive bibliography) and applicability, brought together with Coren's eminently readable style, that makes for a valuable book. --Nancy Bent Copyright 2004 Booklist

Publisher's Weekly Review

Friendly, authoritative and firmly grounded in scientific evidence, Coren?s survey of canine biology and psychology will give readers a new appreciation of humankind?s best animal friend. A psychologist and dog expert, Coren has an amused sort of enthusiasm for all things doggish; he likes both funny stories about pooches and serious research that logically explains their behavior. The combination will be familiar to fans of his previous bestsellers, The Intelligence of Dogs and How to Speak Dog, and it works just as well in this new volume. Chapters like ?I Sniff, Therefore I Am? and ?The Wrinkled Mind? teach readers what makes the canine nose so incredibly sensitive, why dogs have special taste buds that are sensitized to water, what?s the difference between long and short growls, and why dogs like to sniff people in embarrassing spots. Dogs feel pain in similar ways to humans, Coren explains, but most cases of ?dog ESP? or telepathy can be traced to sensitive hearing?or to humans? desire to believe in doggy ESP. In a chapter on genetics, he shows how anxiety disorder can be passed from mom to litter. Other chapters cover breeding and training, and the book concludes with a complex examination of the science and philosophy of canine consciousness. Coren doesn?t dumb anything down but manages to make scientific information easy to understand?and he scatters practical tips for handling dogs at home throughout the text. This entertaining, well-researched book will please dog lovers of every stripe. (Aug.) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.

Library Journal Review

Since people don't "speak dog" any more than dogs "speak people," there is never-ending speculation about what goes on in a canine's mind. Noted psychologist and dog trainer Coren (The Pawprints of History) presents a provocative discussion that starts with how a dog's mental abilities are assessed and explores how dogs receive sensory input and the effect that might have on their perception of the world. Using the latest scientific research and human-dog anecdotes, Coren provides information on environmental influences and learning, genes and behavior, breed differences, early learning, canine personality traits, temperament, and personality testing. He also covers in an understandable fashion what happens when things go wrong--panic disorders, fears and phobias, aggression, obsession/compulsion disorder, and rage syndrome. The book concludes with topics that are more likely to be controversial, e.g., social learning, the aging canine mind, and canine consciousness. An extensive bibliography is included. This book should be widely read among dog fanciers, from pet owners to professionals. Highly recommended.--Edell M. Schaefer, Brookfield P.L., WI (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted. All rights reserved.



Preface Do dogs think? Do they have a mental picture of the world like humans do? Could we say that a dog is conscious and self-aware the way that people are? Do dogs have true emotions? Compared to humans, just how intelligent are dogs? If you ask those questions when you are in a room full of behavioral scientists and philosophers, you are bound to start a heated argument. Despite the fact that paleontologists have proven that humans and dogs have lived together for at least 140 centuries, there are still many different viewpoints about the workings of a dog's mind, or even if a dog has a mind. For some people the dog is nothing but an unthinking, fur-covered, biological machine, while others consider dogs to be much like little people in fur coats. Most owners of pet dogs feel that dogs have something like true intelligence and consciousness, although they suspect that dogs often fail to show it for some reason. This notion is captured in a folktale told in Zimbabwe which says that dogs are not only very clever but they even know how to speak. It is just that they choose not to. According to the story, the hero Nkhango made a deal with the dog Rukuba. If Rukuba stole some fire from the god Nyamurairi, people would be dog's friend forever. Dog kept his part of the bargain and gave people fire. Later Nkhango asked dog to help him hunt dangerous animals, stand guard, herd animals, and do other difficult jobs. Finally Nkhango decided that dog should be a messenger. This was too much for dog. After all, since dog had given people fire, he felt he should be allowed to just lay near it in comfort. Rukuba thought, "People will always be sending me here and there on errands because I am smart and can speak. But if I can't speak, then I can't be a messenger." From that day since, dogs have chosen not to speak. Even educated and logical people sometimes have odd ideas about the mental capacities of dogs. This was demonstrated to me by a lawyer involved in one of the most public and controversial trials in U.S. history. The story of the murder of Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ron Goldman, and the subsequent arrest and trial of the sports hero and actor O. J. Simpson, is generally well known. However, there was also a dog involved, an Akita named Kato, which was owned by Nicole. Kato entered the story because one of the neighbors heard the dog's agitated whining. It was then that the neighbor noticed there was blood on Kato's feet and thought that the dog was injured. As he went to return Kato to Nicole, the dog pulled in the direction of the garage. This was how the bodies were discovered. Many people felt that Kato had seen the murder and was trying to get help. One morning, while O. J. Simpson's trial was in progress, I received a phone call from a lawyer associated with the court proceedings. He offered me a lot of money to come to Los Angeles to meet with Kato and to see if I could get the dog to identify the murderer. I tried to explain that, in comparison with humans, dogs have a mental ability similar to that of a two-year-old child. I asked him if he would expect a human two-year-old, with no clear understanding of death and limited language ability, to be able to comment on an event that had occurred nine months earlier. "Look," he pleaded, "couldn't you just come down and interview the dog?" Forgetting that some lawyers lack a sense of humor, I quipped, "You mean something like getting him to bark once for 'yes' and twice for 'no'?" The amazed voice on the phone asked, "Could you do that?" This book is my attempt to explain to the world (including that lawyer) how dogs think. To understand the canine mind requires that we know a lot about how dogs sense the world and the degree to which they have been genetically programmed to perform their doggy behaviors, as well as what and how dogs can learn and adapt their behavior to changing conditions. In the process of exploring this we will talk about many issues that are of interest to anyone who lives or interacts with dogs. We will learn about the personalities of various breeds of dogs and how early experiences can change their temperaments. We will also explore the changes that occur in the dog's mind as he matures and ages. Along the way we'll even consider some of the stranger questions that people ask about dogs: whether they have an artistic sense, can understand mathematics, have ESP, can sense future earthquakes, or can even detect cancer in humans. This is a book based upon some of the new and exciting scientific research that is beginning to give us a glimpse of the workings of that fur-covered mind. You may find some surprises here, such as some capacities and abilities you didn't know your dog had or some abilities you think he has which he does not. You may also find some ways to understand your dog better, to communicate more clearly with him, and to help shape his behaviors so that he fits into your life more comfortably. You will also find some interesting data and some fascinating stories about how dogs think and behave that you can use if you ever find yourself joining that argument in that room full of behavioral scientists and philosophers. Finally, I must acknowledge that in many ways this book could not have been completed without the help and support of my clever and loving wife, Joan, who struggled her way through the early drafts. Copyright (c) 2004 by SC Psychological Enterprises, Ltd. Excerpted from How Dogs Think: Understanding the Canine Mind by Stanley Coren All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

Table of Contents

Prefacep. ix
Chapter 1 The Mind of a Dogp. 1
Chapter 2 Getting Information into the Mindp. 13
Chapter 3 Playing Life by Earp. 36
Chapter 4 I Sniff, Therefore I Amp. 50
Chapter 5 A Matter of Tastep. 81
Chapter 6 In Touch with the Worldp. 93
Chapter 7 A Canine Sixth Sense?p. 112
Chapter 8 The Preprogrammed Dogp. 126
Chapter 9 Early Learningp. 145
Chapter 10 The Personality of Dogsp. 164
Chapter 11 Emotional Learningp. 195
Chapter 12 Skill Learningp. 207
Chapter 13 The Social Secret of Learningp. 226
Chapter 14 Artists or Scientists?p. 242
Chapter 15 The Wrinkled Mindp. 263
Chapter 16 Canine Consciousnessp. 288
Afterwordp. 319
Selected Bibliographyp. 321
Indexp. 337