November 19, 2010
On dog-human interactions
Renowned expert, Dr. Stanley Coren, will close the book festival.
Award-winning author, psychologist and world-renowned dog expert Dr. Stanley Coren will close this year’s Cherie Smith JCCGV Jewish Book Festival.
A professor at the University of British Columbia and the director of the Human Neuropsychology and Perception Laboratory, Coren is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada and was named as one of the 2,000 outstanding scientists of the 20th century. His work and writings have been the subject of articles in such publications as the New York Times and People magazine, and he has appeared on many television programs, including Oprah, Larry King and Good Morning America. Coren has written several books on “man’s best friend,” many of which have been bestsellers. His latest, Born to Bark: My Adventures with an Irrepressible and Unforgettable Dog, describes his relationship with Flint, a Cairn terrier that was a holiday gift from his wife-to-be, as well as his relationships with other pets, from childhood to today, and their impact on his personal and professional life.
In Born to Bark, Coren writes, “Flint was a key that unlocked for me a way of looking at canine behavior and human relationships with dogs. Some people consider me to be an expert on dog behavior and the bond that humans have with their dogs. If the opinion of those people is correct, then I must admit that my primary education came from growing up around dogs and watching and interacting with them.”
Coren told the Independent, “Watching and researching dogs have led me to believe that humans and domestic dogs shared in a sort of co-evolution. There is now evidence suggesting that the reason that Neanderthals don’t rule the earth is because our line of humans had a relationship with dogs, which ultimately gave us a massive survival advantage. We have been systematically shaping dogs and their behaviors for at least 14,000 years, which probably accounts for why they appear to be our perfect companions.”
About the seeming increase in people anthropomorphizing their dogs – dressing them up in human clothes or pushing them around in a baby carriage, for example – Coren said, “Pampering dogs has been a common behavior for many centuries. Thus, Emperor Frederich the Great of Prussia had a special wing built on his palace at San Suci for his dogs, and he would simply replace any furniture or drapes that they damaged. His wife, on the other hand, was never invited to that palace. The big difference is that, in earlier times, dogs were workers and only the wealthy could afford to pamper them. Today, even the middle class has enough wealth to spend uncommitted funds on their pets. If this amuses their owners and reduces their stress levels, I see no harm in it.”
Coren’s current canines are a Nova Scotia duck tolling retriever named Dancer and a beagle named Darby. “They are mainly my companions,” he said, “but both also have competed in obedience competitions and earned advanced degrees. They also serve as my demonstrator dogs when I am teaching dog obedience.”
Even though Flint, who has passed away, was a gift from Coren’s wife, Joan, before they were married, Flint and Joan had a tempestuous relationship. This led the Independent to ask Coren whether he had any advice to give parents, or others, who were contemplating a puppy as a Chanukah gift.
“If you are not adopting a dog from a shelter, your puppy should be purchased from a responsible dog breeder, not from a pet store. The various breed clubs have lists of such breeders and they will also provide you with support and advice once you have you new dog,” he said.
He added, “One of the advantages of buying a dog from a breeder is that they can often judge, based on your lifestyle, whether their particular breed of dog will fit into your life. There are also some tests, like the one that I published in Why We Love the Dogs We Do, which will see whether people with your personality type tend to get along with particular breeds. The two most common reasons that people tend to have problems with their dog have to do with its size and activity level. A good rule of thumb is if there are a number of dog breeds that you think you might like, it is best if you select the smaller and less active dog.”
For more information, visit Coren’s website, stanleycoren.com or his blog, psychologytoday.com/blog/canine-corner.
Stanley Coren speaks at the Jewish Book Festival on Thursday, Nov. 25, 8 p.m. Tickets are $12, and can be purchased at jccgv.com/JewishBookFest or 604-257-5111. The festival runs from Nov. 20-25 at the Jewish Community Centre of Greater Vancouver.