The Dennes Room

Event Detail

Fri Apr 8, 2011
5101 Tolman, 11 AM–1 PM
Institute of Cognitive and Brain Sciences
Clyve Wynne (University of Florida)
The Origin of Domestic Dogs’ Sensitivity to Human Actions

Domestic Dogs are ubiquitous in human societies throughout the world. That dogs are highly responsive to humans is just as widely observed. Far less clear, however, are the origins of this sensitivity to human actions and intentions. Several authors have argued that dogs developed cognitive skills unique in the animal kingdom outside Homo as a direct consequence of the phylogenetic process of domestication. Domestication is a process of natural and artificial selection by which certain animals have become adapted to human proximity. I will identify several sets of data that contradict this hypothesis and propose instead that individual dogs become response to humans through the action of two basic behavioral processes: social imprinting and behavioral conditioning. Exposure to humans early in life enables dogs to respond to humans as social companions (imprinting); and repeated exposure to the actions of humans that lead to desired consequences for the dog enable human actions to become stimuli of importance to the dog (conditioning). This is not to say that phylogenetic changes during domestication are not important. Phylogenetic changes in the timing of development are the reason why it is much easier to tame a dog than a wolf or other wild animal. So easy, that many commentators overlook that each dog pup does need to be tamed if it is going to be a successful human companion.