Date of this Version
Published in J. R. Stevens (ed.), Canine Cognition and the Human Bond, Nebraska Symposium on Motivation 69,
In four of Charles Darwin’s classic works (Darwin, 1859, 1868, 1871, 1872), the domestic dog (Canis familiaris or Canis lupus familiaris)1 featured prominently, offering key examples to illustrate his ideas about evolution, domestication, comparative behavior and cognition, and emotional expression. Darwin held a clear fondness for dogs, and when replying to letters detailing the “sagacity” of dogs, he remarked “I can believe almost anything about them” (Darwin, 2014). Despite the early interest in their behavior and cognition by a number of leading scientists, dogs were rarely subject to serious investigation as a study species for 150 years. In 2000, the number of studies on dog behavior and cognition began increasing rapidly, as more behavioral researchers worldwide began to work with them (Aria et al., 2021; Bensky et al., 2013). This research covers both the social and nonsocial domains of behavior and cognition (Bensky et al., 2013; Miklósi, 2015). In the social domain, researchers study how dogs interact with social agents (both conspecifics and heterospecifics) in areas such as play, social relationships, perspective taking, cooperation, communication, and social learning. In the nonsocial domain, researchers study how dogs interact with their physical environment by investigating perception, learning, memory, categorization, physical reasoning, numerical cognition, and spatial cognition. Combined, this work has highlighted dogs as an ideal study system for understanding the evolution of behavior and cognition, domestication and co-evolution, applied animal science, and even human health (ManyDogs Project et al., 2023).
Many species exhibit fascinating aspects of behavior and cognition. But what sets dogs apart is their relationship with humans. No other species has been invited into our homes, farms, schools, hospitals, libraries, and airports to the degree that dogs have. They have an exaggerated presence in the media we consume, from beloved cartoon characters such as Peanut’s Snoopy to a pudgy little pug setting the morning mood for millions of people on social media (Graziano, 2022). Further, many people identify as “pet parents” and treat their dogs as they would their children (Volsche, 2021). Mirroring the dog cognition trends, we have recently witnessed a sharp increase in studies of canine-human interaction, exploring the motivational, emotional, cognitive, physiological, and neural mechanisms of dogs on human psychology and well-being. Despite increase in both dog cognition and canine-human interaction, there is not as much cross talk between these fields as one might hope for. Here, we bring these research fields together to take seriously the questions of why dogs play such an important role in our hearts and minds and why the canine-human bond is so strong.