Category: History


Nothing to do with dogs but everything to do with the future!

An item in The Conversation recently was not only interesting from a scientific point-of-view but also it had real lessons for the way that we humans are interfering with the planet.

As The Conversation introduced the article:

A mile below the surface of the Greenland ice sheet, an ancient Arctic ecosystem is preserved in the frozen soil. How scientists discovered its leaves, twigs and mosses is a story in itself. It starts with a secret military base built into the northern Greenland ice.

Scientists Andrew Christ and Paul Bierman describe the discovery as something of a Rosetta stone for understanding how well the ice sheet stood up to global warming in the past – and how it might respond in the future.

So, for a change, read something that has nothing to do with our furry friends.


Ancient leaves preserved under a mile of Greenland’s ice – and lost in a freezer for years – hold lessons about climate change

Remnants of ancient Greenland tundra were preserved in soil beneath the ice sheet. Andrew Christ and Dorothy Peteet, CC BY-ND

Andrew Christ, University of Vermont and Paul Bierman, University of Vermont

In 1963, inside a covert U.S. military base in northern Greenland, a team of scientists began drilling down through the Greenland ice sheet. Piece by piece, they extracted an ice core 4 inches across and nearly a mile long. At the very end, they pulled up something else – 12 feet of frozen soil.

The ice told a story of Earth’s climate history. The frozen soil was examined, set aside and then forgotten.

Half a century later, scientists rediscovered that soil in a Danish freezer. It is now revealing its secrets.

Using lab techniques unimaginable in the 1960s when the core was drilled, we and an international team of fellow scientists were able to show that Greenland’s massive ice sheet had melted to the ground there within the past million years. Radiocarbon dating shows that it would have happened more than 50,000 years ago. It most likely happened during times when the climate was warm and sea level was high, possibly 400,000 years ago.

And there was more. As we explored the soil under a microscope, we were stunned to discover the remnants of a tundra ecosystem – twigs, leaves and moss. We were looking at northern Greenland as it existed the last time the region was ice-free. Our peer-reviewed study was published on March 15 in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Two men with the ice core
Engineers pull up a section of the 4,560-foot-long ice core at Camp Century in the 1960s. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

Paul Bierman, a geomorphologist and geochemist, describes what he and his colleagues found in the soil.

With no ice sheet, sunlight would have warmed the soil enough for tundra vegetation to cover the landscape. The oceans around the globe would have been more than 10 feet higher, and maybe even 20 feet. The land on which Boston, London and Shanghai sit today would have been under the ocean waves.

All of this happened before humans began warming the Earth’s climate. The atmosphere at that time contained far less carbon dioxide than it does today, and it wasn’t rising as quickly. The ice core and the soil below are something of a Rosetta Stone for understanding how durable the Greenland ice sheet has been during past warm periods – and how quickly it might melt again as the climate heats up.

Secret military bases and Danish freezers

The story of the ice core begins during the Cold War with a military mission dubbed Project Iceworm. Starting around 1959, the U.S. Army hauled hundreds of soldiers, heavy equipment and even a nuclear reactor across the ice sheet in northwest Greenland and dug a base of tunnels inside the ice. They called it Camp Century.

It was part of a secret plan to hide nuclear weapons from the Soviets. The public knew it as an Arctic research laboratory. Walter Cronkite even paid a visit and filed a report.

Workers cover a trench to build the under-ice military base
Workers build the snow tunnels at the Camp Century research base in 1960. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

Camp Century didn’t last long. The snow and ice began slowly crushing the buildings inside the tunnels below, forcing the military to abandon it in 1966. During its short life, however, scientists were able to extract the ice core and begin analyzing Greenland’s climate history. As ice builds up year by year, it captures layers of volcanic ash and changes in precipitation over time, and it traps air bubbles that reveal the past composition of the atmosphere.

One of the original scientists, glaciologist Chester Langway, kept the core and soil samples frozen at the University at Buffalo for years, then he shipped them to a Danish archive in the 1990s, where the soil was soon forgotten.

A few years ago, our Danish colleagues found the soil samples in a box of glass cookie jars with faded labels: “Camp Century Sub-Ice.”

Scientists look at the sediment in jars
Geomorphologist Paul Bierman (right) and geochemist Joerg Schaefer of Columbia University examine the jars holding Camp Century sediment for the first time. They were in a Danish freezer set at -17 F. Paul Bierman, CC BY-ND

A surprise under the microscope

On a hot July day in 2019, two samples of soil arrived at our lab at the University of Vermont frozen solid. We began the painstaking process of splitting the precious few ounces of frozen mud and sand for different analyses.

First, we photographed the layering in the soil before it was lost forever. Then we chiseled off small bits to examine under the microscope. We melted the rest and saved the ancient water.

Then came the biggest surprise. While we were washing the soil, we spotted something floating in the rinse water. Paul grabbed a pipette and some filter paper, Drew grabbed tweezers and turned on the microscope. We were absolutely stunned as we looked down the eyepiece.

Staring back at us were leaves, twigs and mosses. This wasn’t just soil. This was an ancient ecosystem perfectly preserved in Greenland’s natural deep freeze.

One of the authors looking excited
Glacial geomorphologist Andrew Christ (right), with geology student Landon Williamson, holds up the first twig spotted as they washed a sediment sample from Camp Century. Paul Bierman, CC BY-ND

Dating million-year-old moss

How old were these plants?

Over the last million years, Earth’s climate was punctuated by relatively short warm periods, typically lasting about 10,000 years, called interglacials, when there was less ice at the poles and sea level was higher. The Greenland ice sheet survived through all of human history during the Holocene, the present interglacial period of the last 12,000 years, and most of the interglacials in the last million years.

But our research shows that at least one of these interglacial periods was warm enough for a long enough period of time to melt large portions of the Greenland ice sheet, allowing a tundra ecosystem to emerge in northwestern Greenland.

We used two techniques to determine the age of the soil and the plants. First, we used clean room chemistry and a particle accelerator to count atoms that form in rocks and sediment when exposed to natural radiation that bombards Earth. Then, a colleague used an ultra-sensitive method for measuring light emitted from grains of sand to determine the last time they were exposed to sunlight.

Maps of Greenland Ice Sheet speed and bedrock elevation
Maps of Greenland show the speed of the ice sheet as it flows (left) and the landscape hidden beneath it (right). BedMachine v3; Copernicus Climate Change Service (C3S), CC BY-ND
Chart of CO2 concentrations over time
The concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere today is well beyond past levels determined from ice cores. On March 14, 2021, the CO2 level was about 417 ppm. NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, CC BY-ND

The million-year time frame is important. Previous work on another ice core, GISP2, extracted from central Greenland in the 1990s, showed that the ice had also been absent there within the last million years, perhaps about 400,000 years ago.

Lessons for a world facing rapid climate change

Losing the Greenland ice sheet would be catastrophic to humanity today. The melted ice would raise sea level by more than 20 feet. That would redraw coastlines worldwide.

About 40% of the global population lives within 60 miles of a coast, and 600 million people live within 30 feet of sea level. If warming continues, ice melt from Greenland and Antarctica will pour more water into the oceans. Communities will be forced to relocate, climate refugees will become more common, and costly infrastructure will be abandoned. Already, sea level rise has amplified flooding from coastal storms, causing hundreds of billions of dollars of damage every year.

A rock and tundra with a glacier in the background
Tundra near the Greenland ice sheet today. Is this what Camp Century looked like before the ice came back sometime in the last million years? Paul Bierman, CC BY-ND

The story of Camp Century spans two critical moments in modern history. An Arctic military base built in response to the existential threat of nuclear war inadvertently led us to discover another threat from ice cores – the threat of sea level rise from human-caused climate change. Now, its legacy is helping scientists understand how the Earth responds to a changing climate.

Andrew Christ, Postdoctoral Fellow and Lecturer in Geology, University of Vermont and Paul Bierman, Fellow of the Gund Institute for Environment, Professor of Geology and Natural Resources, University of Vermont

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


The article is republished with the full permission of The Conversation.

I hope you read it because the way the climate is changing is affecting all of us now and sooner rather than later we have all got to amend our ways. Indeed, when I look at anyone who has potentially thirty or more years of life in them I ponder what their future is going to be like. And, of course, it won’t be a drastic change in thirty years it is already happening now albeit at times difficult to see.

But there is not one scintilla of doubt that we humans are the cause and we humans have to be the solution!

What’s a stray dog need? Food and caring!

Another international story of love and caring for our dogs.

This time about homeless or stray dogs and in Peru. Again it was written by Stephen Messenger and was shared on The Dodo website. Again it is about the fundamental goodness that is in a great many humans spanning continents.


Nice Restaurant Owner Prepares A Free Meal For Every Stray Dog Who Visits

“They pay us with their happiness and wagging tails” ❤️
By Stephen Messenger
Published on the 26th February, 2021

One evening five years ago, an unexpected customer dropped by Gerardo Ortiz’s restaurant, Ajilalo, in Peru. It was a stray dog, a look of hunger in her eyes.

Ortiz could have easily turned the dog away. But he didn’t.

Restaurante – Ajilalo

That evening, Ortiz offered the dog a free meal, made just for her.

And thus began an adorable tradition that continues to this day.

Restaurante – Ajilalo

Each evening, from then on, the hungry dog came and received a free meal from Ortiz’s restaurant.

But it didn’t take long for word of Ortiz’s kindness and generosity to spread among the community of local stray pups.

More dogs began to arrive with that first visitor— and Ortiz welcomed them all with a meal.

Restaurante – Ajilalo

Nowadays, numerous stray dogs arrive to the doors of Ortiz’s restaurant each night. Many are regular “customers,” while others are first-timers — all hoping to fill their bellies thanks to Ortiz’s kindness.

Restaurante – Ajilalo

Often, as Ortiz is working, he’ll look up and see a new dog’s face at the front — waiting politely to see if the rumor that free food can found there is true.

It always is.

Restaurante – Ajilalo

“For me, they are the best customers,” Ortiz told The Dodo.

And his human customers hardly take that as a slight. Inspired by Ortiz, they often bring food for the visiting dogs as well.

Restaurante – Ajilalo

“Thankfully, our clients have reacted well to the dogs,” Ortiz said. “They are affectionate toward them.”

Restaurante – Ajilalo

Ultimately, Ortiz’s sweet routine of feeding all the stray dogs who visit does more than keep them from being hungry. It lets them know that their lives matter — a truth that Ortiz is happy to prove to them each and every day.

Restaurante – Ajilalo

“They do not pay us with money, but they pay us with their happiness and wagging tails,” Ortiz said. “They are very grateful, and we enjoy giving more than receiving. Since I was a child, I have loved animals. My mother always taught us to help others, both people and animals. She’s my inspiration.”


This is such a wonderful share. Snr Ortiz confirms what we know absolutely. That people who care for animals care for so much more. As Gerardo says: “It lets them know that their lives matter.

I am minded to remember when I first met Jean in December, 2007. Jean was living in San Carlos, Northern Mexico, and had been for many years. Her husband, Ben, had died in 2005.

Jean was rescuing street dogs off the streets of San Carlos and surrounding areas, caring for them, neutering or spaying them, and then finding homes for them mainly in Arizona, USA. Many, many dogs owed their lives to Jean’s love for those dogs. In 2010, after I had gone out to San Carlos with my Pharaoh to live with Jean and her dogs in 2008, we came North to Arizona to find a U.S. home and be married. We came through the Mexican-US border with 16 dogs, all of them with their paperwork in order. I will always recall the American border agent, after I had approached him with all the paperwork, leaning out of his booth and calling to the agent in the next booth: “Hey Jake, there’s a guy here with sixteen dogs!

Jean and I were married in Payson, AZ on the 20th November, 2010.

Mr and Mrs Handover

Very sweet memories and the start of a loving era in our lives.

Loving each other and loving our dogs!

Ancient North American beginnings.

And early humans also came with their dogs!

Gary, aka Nimbushopper, sent me an item that appeared on Newsmax.

It was all about the early settlers. I very much would like to share it with you.


Study: Dogs Came to N. America With Earliest Humans

Wednesday, 24 February 2021.

A Siberian husky enjoys the snow during a training session in Huy, eastern Germany, on February 11, 2021. – Musher Kerstin Galisch is a multiple participant of national and international competitions and takes care of a pack of fifteen Siberian Husky sled dogs, that live in and around a former and rebuilt feedlot premises administration building. (Photo by Ronny Hartmann / AFP) (Photo by RONNY HARTMANN/AFP via Getty Images)

Scientists said Wednesday they had discovered the oldest remains of a domestic dog in the Americas dating back more than 10,000 years, suggesting the animals accompanied the first waves of human settlers.

Humans are thought to have migrated to North America from Siberia over what is today the Bering Strait at the end of the last Ice Age — between 30,000 and 11,000 years ago.

The history of dogs has been intertwined with man since ancient times, and studying canine DNA can provide a good timeline for human settlement.

A new study led by the University at Buffalo analysed the mitochondrial DNA of a bone fragment found in Southeast Alaska.

The team initially thought the fragment belonged to a bear.

But closer examination revealed it to be part of a femur of a dog that lived in the region around 10,150 years ago, and that shared a genetic lineage with American dogs that lived before the arrival of European breeds.

“Because dogs are a proxy for human occupation, our data help provide not only a timing but also a location for the entry of dogs and people into the Americas,” said Charlotte Lindqvist, an evolutionary biologist from the University at Buffalo and the University of South Dakota.

She said the findings, published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B, supports the theory that humans arrived in North America from Siberia.

“Southeast Alaska might have served as an ice-free stopping point of sorts, and now — with our dog — we think that early human migration through the region might be much more important than some previously suspected,” said Lindqvist.

Older Migrations

A carbon isotope analysis of the bone fragment showed that the ancient Southeast Alaskan dog likely had a marine diet that consisted of fish and seal and whale scraps.

Lindqvist said dogs did not arrive in North America all at once. Some arrived later from East Asia with the Thule people, while Siberian huskies were imported to Alaska during the Gold Rush in the 19th century.

There is a long-standing contention about whether the first humans entered North America through a continental corridor that formed as the ice sheets receded, or along the North Pacific coast thousands of years earlier.

Previous age estimates of dog remains were younger than the fragment found by Lindqvist and the team, suggesting that dogs arrived in the continent during the later, continental migrations.

Lindqvist said her findings supported the theory that dogs in fact arrived in North America among the first waves of humans settlers.

“We also have evidence that the coastal edge of the ice sheet started melting at least around 17,000 years ago, whereas the inland corridor was not viable until around 13,000 years ago,” she told AFP.

“And genetic evidence that a coastal route for the first Americans over 16,000 years ago seems most likely. Our study supports that our coastal dog is a descendant of dogs that participated in this initial migration.”


I have said it before and no doubt will say it again many times in the future: The bond that dogs have with us humans and, in return, the thanks and love that we have for our dogs goes back a very, very long time indeed.

This is just another article that confirms this.

Just want to repeat the amazing news that Charlotte Lindqvist reported:

But closer examination revealed it to be part of a femur of a dog that lived in the region around 10,150 years ago, and that shared a genetic lineage with American dogs that lived before the arrival of European breeds.

I do hope you read the full article as presented here.

Thank you, Gary!

Maybe there is a difference?

Between the genders!

I don’t think I had considered it before now, or rather at the end of January this year, that women across many cultures have an extra special relationship with dogs. It came from an article published in Treehugger on the 27th January and I hope it is alright to share it with you today.


Why Women Have Had a Great Impact on Dog-Human Relationships

Dogs were more likely to be seen as a type of “person” when bonded with women.


Mary Jo DiLonardo

Throughout cultures, women often have closer relationships with dogs. GM Visuals / Getty Images

Sure, they’re called man’s best friend, but it’s women who likely had a bigger impact on the evolutionary relationship between dogs and their humans.

In a new analysis published in the Journal of Ethnobiology, researchers found that several factors probably played a part in creating the beneficial bonds between canines and people. One of those key factors, they found, is gender.

“Both men and women were important for the care and status of dogs across societies, but women had a stronger influence,” Robert Quinlan, Washington State University anthropology professor and corresponding author on the paper, tells Treehugger.

The researchers analyzed documents in the Human Relations Area Files, an anthropological database of collections covering cultural and social life. They sorted through thousands of mentions of dogs, ultimately finding data from 844 ethnographers (researchers who study human culture) writing in 144 societies.>They studied these cultures hoping to get insight into how the beneficial relationship between dogs and humans developed, the researchers said. They tracked traits associated with what they called dogs’ “personhood” across cultures.

“In some cultures, that idea is quite explicit: Dogs are defined as a type of ‘person,’ with human-like qualities. But it also can look like treating dogs in ‘person’-like ways — including giving dogs names, allowing to sleep in humans’ beds, viewing them as beings with souls, or burying and mourning them upon death,” Jaime Chambers, a WSU anthropology PhD student and first author on the paper, tells Treehugger.

They found accounts of the Toraja Indigenous People in Indonesia describing dogs as “equals,” the Sri Lankan Vedda referring to dogs as “four-footed persons,” and the Kapauku in Papua New Guinea calling dogs the only non-human animals with souls, Chambers says.

“We also tracked instances where ethnographers mentioned dogs having a special relationship to women, versus a relationship to men. When it came to dogs’ usefulness to humans, we didn’t detect either gender having more of an influence than the other,” Chambers says. “But in cultures where women and dogs shared a special bond, humans were more likely to be useful to dogs (providing things like affection, food, shelter, and healing) and to regard dogs as ‘person-like.’”

They found that in societies where men were observed interacting with dogs, the likelihood of dogs receiving care and other benefits from humans increased by 37%, and the likelihood that they were treated like people increased by 63%.

In contrast, in societies where dogs were observed interacting with women, the likelihood that they received care and other benefits from humans increased by 127%, and the likelihood that they were treated like people increased by 220%.

“The influence of men and women were additive so that in societies where dogs interacted with both men and women, their benefits and status were increased even more than in societies where dogs tended to interact with only men or only women,” Quinlan points out.

How Women Interact with Dogs

When sifting through the documents, researchers found examples of how women interacted differently with dogs than did men.

“We found women playing a notable role in welcoming dogs into the family sphere. Among the Munduruku from the Amazon and Tiwi from Australia, ethnographers describe women caring for dogs like their own children — literally allowing them to feed and sleep alongside their own human kids,” Chambers says.

“In some cultures, dogs serve as women’s companions in their daily work, such as Amazonian Tukano women who tend their gardens and hunt small game with their dog by their side. In Scandinavia, Saami women play a key role in controlling dogs’ breeding, keeping both male and female dogs and distributing the puppies to their human friends and relatives.”

But dogs aren’t revered everywhere.

“Among the Rwala Bedouin, there’s ambivalence around dogs — they’re seen as an unclean, polluting source, forbidden from eating from cooking vessels — yet they’re still valued as watchdogs and kept close to particular households via women (who sleep near them at night, and feed them via tossed scraps),” Chambers says.

Heat and Hunting

Gender isn’t the only thing that appears to have played a role in the coevolution of dogs and humans. Researchers also found that the warmer the climate, the less useful dogs were to people as hunting partners.

Humans evolved in tropical environments and are pretty good at keeping cool, Quinlan says. However, canine ancestors evolved in cold environments in northern latitudes.

“Dogs burn a lot of energy quickly when they are very active, like chasing prey and so forth, and that can make keeping cool a big problem. Anyone who has taken their dog for a run on a chilly day versus a hot day can easily see the difference,” Quinlan says.
“So, in hot environments dogs can overheat really quickly, making them less useful as hunting partners, herders, etc. ”There are some breeds in some hot environments that have better heat tolerance, yet those are the exceptions.”

Hunting also seemed to strengthen the ties between humans and dogs. In societies where people hunted with their dogs, the animals were more valued. That benefit appeared to decline when food production increased through agriculture or keeping livestock and dogs weren’t as necessary anymore.

Mutual Cooperation Theory

There have been many theories about how dog domestication happened. Some think that humans directly tamed the animals, while others think that people and dogs were mutually attracted to each other and discovered benefits from working together.

“We will never be able to precisely identify the chain of events and conditions leading to dog domestication, but shifting our emphasis like this allows us to rethink the relationship between humans and nature by moving away from a sense of complete human dominance to a kind of cooperation between humans and other beings where the other beings are on a more equal footing,” Quinlan says.

“A mutual cooperation scenario is probably more realistic, and it suggests that we all might benefit from thinking of humans as just one important player among many when we think about humans and the natural world. For us, this rethinking allowed us to approach dog-human relationships from multiple interrelated angles, and the insights we hoped to get from viewing the relationships from multiple angles was a big motivator for this research.”


I don’t know about you but we found this a very interesting and fascinating theory.

I would love to say more but despite me being the publisher of this blog I am still an individual with lots to learn about dog domestication.

The Wapiti wolves

Stunning photographs.

I subscribe to Ugly Hedgehog, a forum about all things photographic.

It is a mine of information, people share incredible photographs, and much more.

On February 17th this year Photolady2014 published a set of photographs of wolves that were just gorgeous.

This is how she introduced the pictures:

So I am still on cloud 9 seeing wolfs rather close. They were about 150 feet away. Not the quality that the pros were getting who were there. I have seen their photos and well I still have a lot to learn. But, for someone who just started wildlife a couple of years ago, I will take these! If you do the download you will see they are not all bad. I have had to do some sharpening and noise reduction. The pros were all using the 600mm F4 with 2x extenders.
Me: Canon R5, 100-500 & 1.4 extender. All are at 700mm.

I asked if I could share them on Learning from Dogs and said Photolady2014 of South West Colorado said ‘Yes’.

Here they are:







Photolady went on to report:

This is the Wapiti pack in Yellowstone.

We sat in below 0 weather for about 4 hours watching them and the coyotes who were patiently waiting their turn to eat!

Fabulous pictures and one can’t help thinking that some 23,000 years ago there started the long journey of domestication, and the bonding between humans and wolves brought about the dog.

It doesn’t get any better than that!

Well done the team at NASA.

What an outstanding feat.

Many, many congratulations!

On Feb. 18, 2021, NASA’s Mars Perseverance rover makes its final descent to the Red Planet.

A little more information:

Landed: Feb. 18, 2021, 12:55 p.m. PST (3:55 p.m. EST), (20:55 UTC)

Landing Site: Jezero Crater, Mars

Mission Duration: At least one Mars year (about 687 Earth days)

Main Job: The Perseverance rover will seek signs of ancient life and collect rock and soil samples for possible return to Earth.

As someone who watched the television non-stop in 1969 to see man’s remarkable achievement, NASA has been an organisation of considerable interest all my life.

At 10:56 p.m. EDT Armstrong is ready to plant the first human foot on another world. With more than half a billion people watching on television, he climbs down the ladder and proclaims: “That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.

What an achievement!

German Shepherd

A wonderful video.

This was sent to me by Jules. Julie is the partner of my friend of too many years, Richard Maugham. Richard and I go back many, many years. Indeed we met on a flight in the Commodore PET Jet over 40 years ago. Prior to that Richard was working for Olivetti and me for IBM Office Products. We were then selling electric typewriters and the early forms of dedicated word-processing machines. As I said a long time ago!

This is what ‘Frosty Life’ has to say about the video:

My daughter has a German Shepherd puppy that is huge, but is only 7 months old. This German Shepherd has never experienced snow before. Watch as Rollo, the German Shepherd experiences snow for the first time and then he barks at the snow. This GSD has his hackles up as he growls and barks at the new fallen snow. It is amazing to watch her German Shepherd as he experiences snow for the first time and barks at it. He ate the snow and now he likes it.


Communicating dogs!

Not just for kids!

The Conversation blog recently had a question in the Curious Kids section:

Curious Kids is a series for children of all ages. If you have a question you’d like an expert to answer, send it to

But to be honest the answer is just as interesting for those a tad older than a kid!


When dogs bark, are they using words to communicate?

Professor of Psychology, Arizona State University
February 8th, 2021

When dogs bark, do they have words? – Sarah W., age 9, Clinton, New York

Does your dog bark a lot? Or is he one of those quiet pooches who barks only when things get really exciting? Most dogs bark at least a little.

Dog barks are not words. But although your dog will never tell you about his parents or the weather or the amazing bone he had yesterday, his barks still communicate important information.

Dog barks are much closer to the noises people make when they accidentally hit their thumb with a hammer – “Ow!” – or open a fantastic present – “Wow!” These sounds convey how someone feels, but not why they feel that way. When other people hear these kinds of sounds, they often come over to see what has happened: How did you hurt yourself? What is this wonderful gift you received?

All dogs, even the tiniest chihuahua, are descended from great grey wolves. Wolves almost never bark. They howl. Sometimes dogs howl too – but howling is rarer in dogs. Understanding why wolves howl and dogs bark helps explain what barking is for.

United in sound. Fotosearch via Getty Images

A howl can be a beautiful sound – almost like a kind of music. And, just as group singing brings people together, so too does group howling help a pack of wolves feel united.

Dog barking also brings groups together – but it’s not a beautiful sound. It is a much more urgent noise, just like the sounds you make when you are hurt or very pleased. Many smaller animals, like scrub jays, meerkats and California ground squirrels, make such noisy sounds. They do this when they feel frightened by something. In dogs, barking can bring a group together to defend against a danger that can’t be coped with alone.

Wolves don’t need to make sounds like this because they are big and fearsome and don’t often feel threatened. Dogs, on the other hand, are much smaller and weaker than their wolf ancestors – and often need to call the group together.

A call for assistance. Seregraff/iStock/Getty Images Plus

This is why dogs bark. They are calling their group to get help with something they are not confident they can handle on their own. This doesn’t mean a barking dog is always frightened. He may just be very excited. He badly needs the family to know that there is a stranger coming to the door, or another dog coming close to the house.

Your dog’s barks may not be words, but he probably barks a little differently depending on what kind of thing has got him excited. If you listen closely, you may find you can tell the difference between a bark directed at a package deliverer and one directed toward a friend at the door. The bark to a passing dog may be different than the bark at a passing car.

Your dog doesn’t understand much of what you say, but he listens hard to try to make sense of human language. If you return the compliment and listen hard to his sounds, you may find you can also understand him better, and the two of you will have a richer life together.


This touches on something that I saw elsewhere; the business of dogs having emotions (which they really do!).

I will try and find the article and see if I have permission to republish it.

Until then, keep safe all of you!


Ancient DNA

Ancient DNA shows that dogs probably came from Siberia.

There has been much discussion recently that Siberia may have been the site of dog domestication. In that a research team examining the origins of the domestic dog via the genetic past found that all American dogs carried a genetic signature.

This signature, dubbed A2b, in dogs descended from a canine ancestor that lived in Siberia some 23,000 years ago. An article in the January 2021 issue of Science went on to say:

That ancestral dog probably lived with people who belonged to a genetic grouping known as the ancient north Siberians, the team speculates. The group, which appeared more than 31,000 years ago, lived in a relatively temperate part of northeastern Siberia for thousands of years, and they shared this refuge with the gray wolf, the direct ancestor of today’s dogs.

The assumption being that this group of people brought the dogs with them when, about 15,000 years ago, they splintered into four groups as they spread around North America and Europe.

Dingo relative discovered in remote highlands of New Guinea. From

I wish I could say more but all the texts and pictures that I have come across have all been protected by copywrite.

And another one from The Smithsonian

Our very ancient bond with dogs!

Earlier this week Dan recommended me coming off Gmail and also finding a VPN to use. I chose CyberGhost. It was the same VPN that Dan uses. So when I have drawn breath I will to go for ProtonMail as an alternative to Gmail. But the last couple of days had me puzzling why my browser, Safari, was so ineffective and thank goodness for the LiveHelp function on CyberGhost for they saved my bacon. The consequence is that I am now using Firefox as my new browser and all seems to be in order and CyberGhost is now working perfectly. The reason for all these changes is to stop the ‘big boys’ from stealing metadata. (Just one of many links on the topic!)

But again I ran out of time and energy to publish a post for yesterday.

Then I saw this on The Smithsonian website and thought another brilliant one to share with you good people. It is a long article but that doesn’t take a single thing away from it!


The New Science of Our Ancient Bond With Dogs

By Jeff MacGregor; Photographs by Daniel Dorsa

A growing number of researchers are hot on the trail of a surprisingly profound question: What makes dogs such good companions?
Walter, an 11-pound Yorkipoo study participant, resides on the Yale campus. (Daniel Dorsa)

This is a love story.

First, though, Winston is too big. The laboratory drapery can conceal his long beautiful face or his long beautiful tail, but not both. The researchers need to keep him from seeing something they don’t want him to see until they’re ready for him to see it. So during today’s brief study Winston’s tail will from time to time fly like a wagging pennant from behind a miniature theater curtain. Winston is a longhaired German shepherd.

This room at the lab is small and quiet and clean, medium-bright with ribs of sunlight on the blinds and a low, blue overhead fluorescence. Winston’s guardian is in here with him, as always, as is the three-person team of scientists. They’ll perform a short scene—a kind of behavioral psychology kabuki—then ask Winston to make a decision. A choice. Simple: either/or. In another room, more researchers watch it all play out on a video feed.

Left, Bailey, a 100 percent Yorkie, in the waiting area of the Canine Cognition Research Lab at Yale University with her owner, Judy Dermer. Right, Winston waits behind a curtain as researchers set up an experiment. The dog will observe how people yield space to one another on a tape-marked floor. The goal is to assess the dog’s response to human dominance behavior. (Daniel Dorsa)

In a minute or two, Winston will choose.

And in that moment will be a million years of memory and history, biology and psychology and ten thousand generations of evolution—his and yours and mine—of countless nights in the forest inching closer to the firelight, of competition and cooperation and eventual companionship, of devotion and loyalty and affection.

It turns out studying dogs to find out how they learn can teach you and me what it means to be human.

It’s late summer at Yale University. The laboratory occupies a pleasant white cottage on a leafy New Haven street a few steps down Science Hill from the divinity school.

I’m here to meet Laurie Santos, director of the Comparative Cognition Laboratory and the Canine Cognition Center. Santos, who radiates the kind of energy you’d expect from one of her students, is a psychologist and one of the nation’s preeminent experts on human cognition and the evolutionary processes that inform it. She received undergraduate degrees in biology and psychology and a PhD in psychology, all from Harvard. She is a TED Talks star and a media sensation for teaching the most popular course in the history of Yale, “Psychology and the Good Life,” which most folks around here refer to as the Happiness Class (and which became “The Happiness Lab” podcast). Her interest in psychology goes back to her girlhood in New Bedford, Massachusetts. She was curious about curiosity, and the nature of why we are who we are. She started out studying primates, and found that by studying them she could learn about us. Up to a point.

Santos believes that studying canines will “tell us something important about what makes humans special.” (Daniel Dorsa)

“My entry into the dog work came not from necessarily being interested in dogs per se, but in theoretical questions that came out of the primate work.” She recalls thinking of primates, “If anybody’s going to share humanlike cognition, it’s going to be them.”

But it wasn’t. Not really. We’re related, sure, but those primates haven’t spent much time interacting with us. Dogs are different. “Here’s this species that really is motivated to pay attention to what humans are doing. They really are clued in, and they really seem to have this communicative bond with us.” Over time, it occurred to her that understanding dogs, because they are not only profoundly attuned to but also shaped by people over thousands of years, would open a window on the workings of the human mind, specifically “the role that experience plays in human cognition.”

So we’re not really here to find out what dogs know, but how dogs know. Not what they think, but how they think. And more important, how that knowing and thinking reflect back on us. In fact, many studies of canine cognition here and around the academic world mimic or began as child development studies.

Understand, these studies are entirely behavioral. It’s problem-solving. Puzzle play. Selection-making. Either/or. No electrodes, no scans, no scanners. Nothing invasive. Pavlov? Doesn’t ring a bell.

* * *

Zach Silver is a PhD student in the Yale lab; we’re watching his study today with Winston. Leashed and held by his owner, Winston will be shown several repetitions of a scene performed in silence by two of the researchers. Having watched them interact, Winston will then be set loose. Which of the researchers he “chooses”—that is, walks to first—will be recorded. And over hundreds of iterations of the same scene shown to different dogs, patterns of behavior and preference will begin to emerge. Both researchers carry dog treats to reward Winston for whichever choice he makes—because you incentivize dogs the same way you incentivize sportswriters or local politicians, with free food, but the dogs require much smaller portions.

In some studies the researchers/actors might play out brief demonstrations of cooperation and non-cooperation, or dominance and submission. Imagine a dog is given a choice between someone who shares and someone who doesn’t. Between a helper and a hinderer. The experiment leader requests a clipboard. The helper hands it over cheerfully. The hinderer refuses. Having watched a scene in which one researcher shares a resource and another does not, who will the dog choose?

The question is tangled up with our own human prejudices and preconceptions, and it’s never quite as simple as it looks. Helping, Silver says, is very social behavior, which we tend to think dogs should value. “When you think about dogs’ evolutionary history, being able to seek out who is prosocial, helpful, that could have been very important, essential for survival.” On the other hand, a dog might choose for “selfishness” or for “dominance” or for “aggression” in a way that makes sense to him without the complicating lens of a human moral imperative. “There could be some value to [the dog] affiliating with someone who is stockpiling resources, holding onto things, maybe not sharing. If you’re in that person’s camp, maybe there’s just more to go around.” Or in certain confrontational scenarios, a dog may read dominance in a researcher merely being deferred to by another researcher. Or a dog may just choose the fastest route to the most food.

Nutmeg participates in a study evaluating whether dogs prefer people who help others over those who don’t. One seated actor has already “helped” by handing over a clipboard; one has “hindered” by moving it away. Bottom left: Nutmeg seeks out the “helper.” (Daniel Dorsa)

What Silver is trying to tease out with today’s experiment is the most elusive thing of all: intention.

“I think intention may play a large role in dogs’ evaluation of others’ behavior,” says Silver. “We may be learning more about how the dog mind works or how the nonhuman mind works broadly. That’s one of the really exciting places we are moving in this field, is to understand the small cognitive building blocks that might contribute to valuations. My work in particular is focused on seeing if domestic dogs share some of these abilities with us.”

As promising as the field is, in some ways it seems that dog nature, like human nature, is infinitely complex. Months later, in a scientific paper, Silver and others will point out that “humans evaluate other agents’ behavior on a variety of different dimensions, including morally, from a very early age” and that “given the ubiquity of dog-human social interactions, it is possible that dogs display humanlike social evaluation tendencies.” Turns out that a dog’s experience seems important. “Trained agility dogs approached a prosocial actor significantly more often than an antisocial actor, while untrained pet dogs showed no preference for either actor,” the researchers found. “These differences across dogs with different training histories suggest that while dogs may demonstrate preferences for prosocial others in some contexts, their social evaluation abilities are less flexible and less robust compared to those of humans.”

Santos explained, “Zach’s work is beginning to give us some insight into the fact that dogs can categorize human actions, but they require certain kinds of training to do so. His work raises some new questions about how experience shapes canine cognition.”

It’s important to create experiments measuring the dog’s actual behaviors rather than our philosophical or social expectation of those behaviors. Some of the studies are much simpler, and don’t try to tease out how dogs perceive the world and make decisions to move through it. Rather than trying to figure out if a dog knows right from wrong, these puzzles ask whether the dog knows right from left.

An example of which might be showing the subject dog two cups. The cup with the treat is positioned to her left, near the door. Do this three times. Now, reversing her position in the room, set her loose. Does she head for the cup near the door, now on her right? Or does she go left again? Does she orient things in the world based on landmarks? Or based on her own location in the world? It’s a simple experimental premise measuring a complex thing: spatial functioning.

In tests like these, you’ll often see the dog look back at her owner, or guardian, for a tip, a hint, a clue. Which is why the guardians are all made to wear very dark sunglasses and told to keep still.

In some cases, the dog fails to make any choice at all. Which is disappointing to the researchers, but seems to have no impact on the dog—who will still be hugged and praised and tummy-rubbed on the way out the door.

Left, the waiting area of the Canine Cognition Research Lab. Right, the tape-marked floor in the lab. (Daniel Dorsa)

Every dog and every guardian here is a volunteer. They come from New Haven or drive in from nearby Connecticut towns for an appointment at roughly 45-minute intervals. They sign up on the lab’s website. Some dogs and guardians return again and again because they enjoy it so much.

It’s confusing to see the sign-up sheet without knowing the dog names from the people names.

Winston’s owner, human Millie, says, “The minute I say ‘We’re going to Yale,’ Winston perks up and we’re in the car. He loves it and they’re so good to him; he gets all the attention.”

And dog Millie’s owner, Margo, says, “At one point at the end they came up with this parchment. You open it up and it says that she’s been inducted into Scruff and Bones, with all the rights and privileges thereof.”

The dogs are awarded fancy Yale dogtorates and are treated like psych department superstars. Which they are. Without them, this relatively new field of study couldn’t exist.

All the results of which will eventually be synthesized, not only by Santos, but by researchers the world over into a more complete map of human consciousness, and a better, more comprehensive Theory of Mind. I asked Santos about that, and any big breakthrough moments she’s experienced so far. “Our closest primary relatives—primates—are not closest to us in terms of how we use social information. It might be dogs,” she says. “Dogs are paying attention to humans.”

Winston, a 100-pound longhaired German shepherd, is a veteran participant in a series of research projects at Yale, including studies constructed to assess canine perceptions of human dominance behavior. (Daniel Dorsa)

Santos also thinks about the potential applications of canine cognition research. “More and more, we need to figure out how to train dogs to do certain kinds of things,” she says. “There are dogs in the military, these are service dogs. As our boomers are getting older, we’re going to be faced with more and more folks who have disabilities, who have loneliness, and so on. Understanding how dogs think can help us do that kind of training.”

In that sense, dogs may come to play an even larger role in our daily lives. Americans spent nearly $100 billion on their pets in 2019, maybe half of which was spent on dogs. The rest was embezzled, then gambled away—by cats.

From cave painting to The Odyssey to The Call of the Wild, the dog is inescapable in human art and culture. Anubis or Argos, Bau or Xolotl, Rin Tin Tin or Marmaduke, from the religious to the secular, Cerberus to Snoopy, from the Egyptians and the Sumerians and the Aztecs to the canine stunt coordinators of Hollywood, the dog is everywhere with us, in us and around us. As a symbol of courage or loyalty, as metaphor and avatar, as a bad dog, mad dog, “release the hounds” evil, or as a screenwriter’s shorthand for goodness, the dog is tightly woven into our stories.

Maybe the most interesting recent change, to take the movie dog as an example, is the metaphysical upgrade from Old Yeller to A Dog’s Purpose and its sequel, A Dog’s Journey. In the first case, the hero dog sacrifices himself for the family, and ascends to his rest, replaced on the family ranch by a pup he sired. In the latter two, the same dog soul returns and returns and returns, voiced by actor Josh Gad, reincarnating and accounting his lives until he reunites with his original owner. Sort of a Western spin on karma and the effort to perfect an everlasting self.

Millie, also a Yale study subject, is a husky-Catahoula Leopard dog-terrier mix. “We need to test dogs from all kinds of backgrounds, breeds and training levels,” Santos says. (Daniel Dorsa)

But even that kind of cultural shift pales compared with the dog’s journey in the real world. Until about a century ago, in a more agrarian time, the average dog was a fixture of the American barnyard. An affectionate and devoted farmhand, sure, herder of sheep, hunting partner or badger hound, keeper of the night watch, but not much different from a cow, a horse or a mule in terms of its utility and its relationship to the family.

By the middle of the 20th century, as we urbanized and suburbanized, the dog moved too—from the back forty to the backyard.

Then, in the 1960s, the great leap—from the doghouse onto the bedspread, thanks to flea collars. With reliable pest control, the dog moves into the house. Your dog is no longer an outdoor adjunct to the family, but a full member in good standing.

There was a book on the table in the waiting room at Yale. The Genius of Dogs, by Brian Hare and Vanessa Woods. Yiyun Huang, the lab manager of the Canine Cognition Center at the time, handed it to me. “You should read this,” she said.

So I did.

Then I flew to Duke University in Durham, North Carolina.

* * *

Not long after I stepped off the plane I walked straight into a room full of puppies.

The Duke Canine Cognition Center is the brain-child of an evolutionary anthropologist named Brian Hare. His CV runs from Harvard to the Max Planck Institute and back. He is a global leader in the study of dogs and their relationships to us and to each other and to the world around them. He started years ago by studying his own dog in the family garage. Now he’s a regular on best-seller lists.

Like Santos, he’s most interested in the ways dogs inform us about ourselves. “Nobody understands why we’re working with dogs to understand human nature—until we start talking about it,” he says. “Laugh if you want, but dogs are everywhere humans are, and they’re absolutely killing it evolutionarily. I love wolves, but the truth is they’re really in trouble”—as our lethal antipathy to them bears out. “So whatever evolutionarily led to dogs, and I think we have a good idea of that, boy, they made a good decision.”

Ultimately, Hare says, what he’s studying is trust. How is it that dogs form a bond with a new person? How do social creatures form bonds with one another? Developmental disorders in people may be related to problems in forming bonds—so, from a scientific perspective, dogs can be a model of social bonding.

At Duke, Brian Hare and Vanessa Woods (with golden-Labrador retriever mix puppies Westley, left, and Arthur) assess canine cognitive skills using 25 different games. (Jeremy M. Lange (Dogs – Canine Companions for Independence))

Hare works with research scientist Vanessa Woods, also his wife and co-author. It was their idea to start a puppy kindergarten here. The golden and Labrador retriever-mix puppies are all 10 weeks old or so when they arrive, and will be studied at the same time they’re training to become service dogs for the nonprofit partner Canine Companions for Independence. The whole thing is part of a National Institutes of Health study: Better understanding of canine cognition means better training for service dogs.

Because dogs are so smart—and so trainable— there’s a whole range of assistance services they can be taught. There are dogs who help people with autism, Woods tells me. “Dogs for PTSD, because they can go in and spot-check a room. They can turn the lights on. They can, if someone’s having really bad nightmares, embrace them so just to ground them. They can detect low blood sugar, alert for seizures, become hearing dogs so they can alert their owner if someone’s at the door, or if the telephone’s ringing.”

Canines demonstrate a remarkable versatility. “A whole range of incredibly flexible, cognitive tasks,” she says, “that these dogs do that you just can’t get a machine to do. You can get a machine to answer your phone—but you can’t get a machine to answer your phone, go do your laundry, hand you your credit card, and find your keys when you don’t know where they are.” Woods and I are on the way out of the main puppy office downstairs, where the staff and student volunteers gather to relax and rub puppy tummies between studies.

It was in their book that I first encountered the idea that, over thousands of years, evolution selected and sharpened in dogs the traits most likely to succeed in harmony with humans. Wild canids that were affable, nonaggressive, less threatening were able to draw nearer to human communities. They thrived on scraps, on what we threw away. Those dogs were ever so slightly more successful at survival and reproduction. They had access to better, more reliable food and shelter. They survived better with us than without us. We helped each other hunt and move from place to place in search of resources. Kept each other warm. Eventually it becomes a reciprocity not only of efficiency, but of cooperation, even affection. Given enough time, and the right species, evolution selects for what we might call goodness. This is the premise of Hare and Woods’ new book, Survival of the Friendliest.

If that strikes you as too philosophical, over-romantic and scientifically spongy, there’s biochemistry at work here too. Woods explained it while we took some puppies for a walk around the pond just down the hill from the lab. “So, did you see that study that dogs hijack the oxytocin loop?”

I admitted I had not.

Oxytocin is a hormone produced in the hypothalamus and released by the pituitary gland. It plays an important role in human bonding and social interaction, and makes us feel good about everything from empathy to orgasm. It is sometimes referred to as the “love hormone.”

Woods starts me out with the underpinnings of these kinds of studies—on human infants. “Human babies are so helpless,” she says. “You leave them alone for ten minutes and they can literally die. They keep you up all night, they take a lot of energy and resources. And so, how are they going to sort of convince you to take care of them?”

What infants can do, she says, “is they can look at you.”

And so this starts an oxytocin loop where the baby looks at you and your oxytocin goes up, and you look at the baby and the baby’s oxytocin goes up. One of the things oxytocin does is elicit caregiving toward someone you see as part of your group.

Dogs, it turns out, have hijacked that process as well. “When a dog is looking at me,” Woods says, “his oxytocin is going up and my oxytocin is going up.” Have you ever had a moment, she asks, when your dog looks at you, and you just don’t know what the dog wants? The dog has already been for a walk, has already been fed.

“Sure,” I responded.

“It’s just kind of like they’re trying to hug you with their eyes,” she says.

Canine eyebrow muscles, it turns out, may have evolved to reveal more of the sclera, the whites of the eyes. Humans share this trait. “Our great ape relatives hide their eyes,” Woods says. “They don’t want you to know where they’re looking, because they have a lot more competition. But humans evolved to be superfriendly, and the sclera is part of that.”

So, it’s eye muscles and hormones, not just sentiment.

In the lab here at Duke, I see puppies and researchers work through a series of training and problem-solving scenarios. For example, the puppy is shown a treat from across the room, but must remain stationary until called forward by the researcher.

“Puppy look. Puppy look.”

Puppy looks.

“Puppy stay.”

Puppy stays.

“Puppy fetch.”

Puppy wobbles forward on giant paws to politely nip the tiny treat and to be effusively praised and petted. Good puppy!

The problem-solving begins when a plexiglass shield is placed between the puppy and the treat.

“Puppy look.”

Puppy does so.

“Puppy fetch.”

Puppy wobbles forward, bonks snout on plexiglass. Puppy, vexed, tries again. How fast the puppy susses out a new route to the food is a good indication of patience and diligence and capacity for learning. Over time the plexiglass shields become more complicated and the puppies need to formulate more complex routes and solutions. As a practical matter, the sooner you can find out which of these candidate puppies is the best learner, the most adaptive, the best suited to the training—and which is not—the better. Early study of these dogs is a breakthrough efficiency in training.

At Duke, 11-week-old retriever Wisdom awaits the next phase in a challenge known as the Unsolvable Task. Wisdom’s response to a container holding a treat or toy, sometimes immovably glued to a panel, will offer clues to his persistence. (Jeremy M. Lange)

I asked Hare where all this leads. “I’m very excited about this area of how we view animals informs how we view each other. Can we harness that? Very, very positive. We’re working already on ideas for interventions and experiments.”

Second, Hare says, much of their work has focused on “how to raise dogs.” He adds, “I could replace dogs with kids.” Thus the implications are global: study puppies, advance your understanding of how to nurture and raise children.

“There’s nice evidence that we can immunize ourselves from some of the worst of our human nature,” Hare recently told the American Psychological Association in an interview, “and it’s similar to how we make sure that dogs are not aggressive to one another: We socialize them. We want puppies to see the world, experience different dogs and different situations. By doing that for them when they’re young, they aren’t threatened by those things. Similarly, there is good evidence that you can immunize people from dehumanizing other groups just through contact between those groups, as long as that contact results in friendship.”

Evolutionary processes buzz and sputter all around us every moment. Selection never sleeps. In fact, Hare contributed to a new paper released this year on how rapidly coyote populations adapt to humans in urban and suburban settings. “How animal populations adapt to human-modified landscapes is central to understanding modern behavioural evolution and improving wildlife management. Coyotes (Canis latrans) have adapted to human activities and thrive in both rural and urban areas. Bolder coyotes showing reduced fear of humans and their artefacts may have an advantage in urban environments.”

The struggle between the natural world and the made world is everywhere constant, and not all possible outcomes lead to friendship. Just ask those endangered wolves—if you can find one.

The history of which perhaps seems distant from the babies and the students and these puppies. But to volunteer for this program is to make a decision for extra-credit joy. This is evident toward the end of my day in Durham. Out on the lab’s playground where the students, puppy and undergraduate alike, roll and wrestle and woof and slobber under that Carolina blue sky.

* * *

In rainy New York City, I spent an afternoon with Alexandra Horowitz, founder and director of the Horowitz Dog Cognition Lab at Barnard College, and the best-selling author of books including Being a Dog, Inside of a Dog, and Our Dogs, Ourselves. She holds a doctorate in cognitive science, and is one of the pioneers of canine studies.

It is her belief that we started studying dogs only after all these years because they’ve been studying us.

She acknowledges that other researchers in the field have their own point of view. “The big theme is, What do dogs tell us about ourselves?” Horowitz says. “I am a little less interested in that.” She is more interested in the counter question: What do cognition studies tell us about dogs?

Say you get a dog, Horowitz suggests. “And a week into living with a dog, you’re saying ‘He knows this.’ Or ‘She is holding a grudge’ or, ‘He likes this.’ We just barely met him, but we’re saying things that we already know about him—where we wouldn’t about the squirrel outside.”

Horowitz has investigated what prompts us to make such attributions. For instance, she led a much-publicized 2009 study of the “guilty look.”

“Anthropomorphisms are regularly used by owners in describing their dogs,” Horowitz and co-authors write. “Of interest is whether attributions of understanding and emotions to dogs are sound, or are unwarranted applications of human psychological terms to nonhumans. One attribution commonly made to dogs is that the ‘guilty look’ shows that dogs feel guilt at doing a disallowed action.” In the study, the researchers observed and video-recorded a series of 14 dogs interacting with their guardians in the lab. Put a treat in a room. Tell the dog not to eat it. The owner leaves the room. Dog eats treat. Owner returns. Does the dog have a “guilty look”? Sometimes yes, sometimes no, but the outcome, it turns out, was generally related to the owner’s reaction—whether the dog was scolded, for instance. Conclusion: “These results indicate that a better description of the so-called guilty look is that it is a response to owner cues, rather than that it shows an appreciation of a misdeed.”

She has also focused on a real gap in the field, a need to investigate the perceptual world of the dog, in particular, olfaction. What she calls “nosework.” She asks what it might be like “to be an olfactory creature, and how they can smell identity or smell quantity or smell time, potentially. I am always interested in the question: What is the smell angle here?”

Earlier this year, for instance, her group published a study, “Discrimination of Person Odor by Owned Domestic Dogs,” which “investigated whether owned dogs spontaneously (without training) distinguished their owner’s odor from a stranger’s odor.” Their main finding: Dogs were able to distinguish between the scent of a T-shirt that had been worn overnight by a stranger and a T-shirt that had been worn overnight by their owner, without the owner present. The result “begins to answer the question of how dogs recognize and represent humans, including their owners.”

It’s widely known and understood that dogs outsmell us, paws down. Humans have about six million olfactory receptors. Dogs as many as 300 million. We sniff indifferently and infrequently. Dogs, however, sniff constantly, five or ten times a second, and map their whole world that way. In fact, in a recent scientific journal article, Horowitz makes plain that olfaction is too rarely accounted for in canine cognition studies and is a significant factor that needs to be accorded much greater priority.

As I walked outside into the steady city drizzle, I thought back to Yale and to Winston, in his parallel universe of smell, making his way out of the lab, sniffing every hand and every shoe as we piled on our praise. Our worlds overlap, but aren’t the same. And as Winston fanned the air with his tail, ready to get back in the car for home, my hand light on his flank, I asked him the great unanswerable, the final question at the heart of every religious system and philosophical inquiry in the history of humanity.

“Who’s a good boy?”

* * *

So I sat down again with Laurie Santos. New Haven and Science Hill and the little white laboratory were all quiet under a late summer sun.

I wanted to explore an idea from Hare’s book, which is how evolution could select for sociability, friendliness, “goodness.” Over the generations, the thinking goes, eventually we get more affable, willing dogs—but we also get smarter dogs. Because affability, unbeknownst to anybody, also selects for intelligence. I saw in that a cause for human optimism.

“I think we’ve shaped this creature in our image and likeness in a lot of ways,” Santos tells me. “And the creature that’s come out is an incredibly loving, cooperative, probably smart relative to some other ancestral canid species. The story is, we’ve built this species that has a lot of us in them—and the parts of us that are pretty good, which is why we want to hang out with them so much. We’ve created a species that wants to bond with us and does so really successfully.”

Like Vanessa Woods and Brian Hare, she returns to the subject of human infants.

Millie, a mixed-breed dog, in the waiting area of the Canine Cognition Research Lab with her owner Jim Tucker. (Daniel Dorsa)

“What makes humans unique relative to primates?” she asks. “The fact that babies are looking into your eyes, they really want to share information with you. Not stuff that they want, it’s just simply this motivation to share. And that emerges innately. It’s the sign that you have a neurotypical baby. It’s a fundamental thread through the entire life course. The urge to teach and even to share on social media and so on. It makes experiences better over time when you’re sharing them with someone else. We’ve built another creature that can do this with us, which is kind of cool.”

* * *

I think of Winston more and more these strange days. I picture his long elegant face and his long comic book tail. His calm. His unflappable enthusiasm for problem-solving. His reasonability. Statesmanlike. I daydream often of those puppies, too. Is there anything in our shared history more soothing than a roomful of puppies?

There is not.

It turns out that by knowing the dog, we know ourselves. The dog is a mirror.

Logic; knowledge; problem-solving; intentionality; we can often describe the mechanics of how we think, of how we arrived at an answer. We talk easily about how we learn and how we teach. We can even describe it in others.

Many of us—maybe most of us—don’t have the words to describe how we feel. I know I don’t. In all of this, in all the welter of the world and all the things in it, who understands my sadness? Who can parse my joy? Who can reckon my fear or measure my worry? But the dog, any dog—especially your dog—the dog is a certainty in uncertain times, a constant, like gravity or the speed of light.

Because there is something more profound in this than even science has language for, something more powerful and universal. Because at the end of every study, at the end of every day, what the dog really chooses is us.

So. As I said. A love story.


About the Author: Daniel Dorsa is a photographer based in New York City, whose work has appeared in The New York Times, The New Yorker and Time, among others. Read more articles from Daniel Dorsa
Jeff MacGregor About the Author: Jeff MacGregor is the award-winning Writer-at-Large for Smithsonian. He has written for the New York Times, Sports Illustrated, Esquire, and many others, and is the author of the acclaimed book Sunday Money. Photo by Olya Evanitsky. Read more articles from Jeff MacGregor and


This is a superb article and one that is worthy of a decent read. It has a ton of information. It is also beautifully written. To be honest I read this aloud to Jeannie yesterday afternoon and I want to follow-up on some of the links in the article to see if there are other posts that may be shared.

So settle yourself down and read it thoroughly. For dogs are the most perfect creatures! Plus, the photographs are pretty neat!

Finally, just a personal note to say that we are so priveleged to have six dogs around us here at home. Gradually the number has come down from the sixteen we brought into Arizona from Mexico when we moved back in 2010. We so love them!