NOT ALL DOGS ARE WHAT YOU’D CALL SMART. There’s a fascinating little firestorm underway over at the Chicago Tribune, where columnist Eric Zorn had the temerity to suggest that dogs don’t “really” love their owners. Then Jonah Goldberg penned a rebuttal, which Zorn re-rebutted, and finally a torrent of commenters weighed in to offer their own opinions. The whole circus is worth reviewing, and while it may help set some latches for my own comments, it’s not an absolute prerequisite for understanding this post.
I’ve had a lot of dogs, known many more, and I’ve also read some of the more durable analyses of their behavior, like Konrad Lorenz’s Man Meets Dog and Elizabeth Marshall’s Hidden Life of Dogs. I routinely watch documentaries on the subject of dog evolution/husbandry and dog intelligence, and I watch the Dog Whisperer, usually sympathetically but sometimes skeptically. I know that sharing my reading in particular will be sufficient grounds for some of you to dismiss my thoughts out of hand, but since that’s also part of my point, I’m sharing it anyway.
What was most interesting to me about the commenters was how readily they all leaped into a discusssion about dogs in general, whether their evidence was genetic, biochemical, behavioral, or broadly anecdotal. I think scientists tend to make this assumption as well, to their considerable detriment as experts. It’s become an obstacle to their understanding of human beings, too, this notion that to understand the generic machine is synonymous with understanding (and frequently dismissing or derogating) the emergent properties of that machine, which are in reality so various, subtle, and abstract as to be quite beyond the reach of science.
There’s a lot more, with links.