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Saturday November 27, 2021

What makes dogs so special? Science says love

By AFP
February 21, 2020

Washington: The idea that animals can experience love was once anathema to the psychologists who studied them, seen as a case of putting sentimentality before scientific rigor.

But a new book argues that, when it comes to dogs, the word is necessary to understanding what has made the relationship between humans and our best friends one of the most significant interspecies partnerships in history.

Clive Wynne, founder the Canine Science Collaboratory at Arizona State University, makes the case in "Dog is Love: Why and How Your Dog Loves You." The animal psychologist, 59, began studying dogs in the early 2000s, and, like his peers, believed that to ascribe complex emotions to them was to commit the sin of anthropomorphism -- until he was swayed by a body evidence that was growing too big to ignore.

"I think there comes a point when it’s worth being skeptical of your skepticism," the Englishman said in an interview with AFP. Canine science has enjoyed a resurgence in the past two decades, much of it extolling dogs’ smarts.

Titles like "The Genius of Dogs" by Brian Hare have advanced the idea that dogs have an innate and exceptional intelligence. Wynne, however plays spoilsport, arguing that Fido is just not that brilliant.

Pigeons can identify different kinds of objects in 2D images; dolphins have shown they understand grammar; honeybees signal the location of food sources to each other through dance; all feats that no dogs have ever been known to accomplish.

Even wolves, dogs’ ancestor species known for their ferocity and lack of interest in people, have shown the ability to follow human cues -- including, in a recent Swedish study, by playing fetch.

Wynne proposes a paradigm shift, synthesizing cross-disciplinary research to posit that it is dogs’ "hypersociability" or "extreme gregariousness" that sets them apart.

One of the most striking advances comes from studies regarding oxytocin, a brain chemical that cements emotional bonds between people, but which is, according to new evidence, also responsible for interspecies relationships between dogs and humans.

Recent research led by Takefumi Kikusui at Japan’s Azabu University has shown that levels of the chemical spike when humans and their dogs gaze into each others’ eyes, mirroring an effect observed between mothers and babies.