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Dog Behavior: Beneath the Veneer of ‘Man’s Best Friend’

Kenneth W. Krause is a contributing editor and “Science Watch” columnist for Skeptical Inquirer and science journalist at http://thedotingskeptic.wordpress.com. He may be contacted at krausekc@msn.com.

In Homer’s eighth-century bce Odyssey, Odysseus referred to the domestic dog as a “noble hound,” and it may have been Frederick II, King of Prussia, who in 1789 first characterized Canis lupus familiaris as “man’s best friend.” Emily Dickenson famously judged that dogs are “better than human beings” because they “know but do not tell.” Dogs are capable creatures, certainly, but are they as intelligent and considerate as most of humans apparently believe? Regardless of breed, can their levels of consciousness truly support qualities such as nobility, loyalty, and friendship? otor-PatternsEthologists, by contrast, attempt to assess animal behavior more objectively by emphasizing its biological foundations. Classic ethology was founded on the notion that animals are driven by intrinsic motorpatterns, or speciesspecific, stereotyped products of natural selection (Lorenz 1982). Modern practitioners, however, often introduce additional factors into the ethological equation. Many suggest, for example, that intrinsic motor-patterns can be accommodated to developmental and environmental influences. Some argue as well that complex and otherwise confusing behaviors can emerge from interactions between two or more simpler behavioral rules.

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