Meet Stanley Coren, a psychology professor who focuses on the human-dog bond.
For all the dog owners and dog lovers out there, this one’s for you! It was my honor to be able to interview Stanley Coren, a local UBC professor, as well as the founder of a non-profit dog obedience training club in Vancouver. With over 300 journal articles, 14 published books, and a TV program called “Good Dog!” Stanley Coren has taught many readers the true definition of companionship.
I was lucky enough to get in touch with Stanley, and out of his busy schedule he provided these answers to our interview questions. I would like to take this time and share what I have learned with the Psycho2Go community.
1. What got you interested in the human-dog bond?
“As far back as I can remember I had dogs. I knew that they were thinking and I wanted to be able to understand their minds at least well enough to be able to communicate with them. That affected my decision to become a psychologist and the nature of the course work which I took in university.”
2. With over 19 books for people of all ages, which one gave you the most motivation to continue writing? Why?
“That is a difficult question to answer since books are like children and you love them all but each may have special qualities. My book “The Intelligence of Dogs” has had the most influence and contains a lot of original data. It certainly brought my work into the public eye. My book “Born to Bark” is the most personal of my books because it is autobiographical in nature. It also won the Maxwell Medal of Excellence from the dog writers Association of America which obviously gives me a positive feeling for that work. However, the two books which have been the most fun to write were “Pawprints of History” which is about how dogs influenced human history and “Gods, Ghosts, and Black Dogs” which is about the folklore and mythology of dogs and also gave me a chance to do all of the illustrations. So it is really very much like a parent asked to choose who was the favorite among their children, and finds that they are so different that is really an impossible task.”
3. Do dogs and humans sense and express emotions the same way?
“Dogs have all of the same emotions that a human child of 2 to 3 years of age has.”
4. Can dogs feel or sense human expression? For instance, do they understand when we’re feeling stressed or sick?
“There has been a lot of recent research which shows that dogs do have empathy and they can read our human emotions. They also learn to attach emotional expressions to the same things that we do. For example, if there are certain people, or types of people, that you tend to respond negatively to, your dog will read that and begin to respond negatively to those people as well.”
5. When I was in school for my Veterinary Diploma, I remember learning about Oxytocin. For any readers that don’t know, this is often called the love hormone. Is it true that dogs can produce this chemical in the same way humans can?
“Dogs do produce oxytocin and they produce it in much the same circumstances that humans do. In fact, the production of oxytocin is now being used to determine which things dogs have positive responses toward in a number of experimental studies.”
6. As you know, pitbulls are usually known as a dangerous breed of dog. I personally really love pitbulls, and I don’t believe that dogs are born aggressive. Do you think it’s the training from the owners that brings out the aggressiveness in them? What triggers a Pitbull to attack instead of other breeds of dogs?
“While there are a number of pitbulls that I have known personally and have been fond of, the data is quite unambiguous about the fact that these dogs have been involved in more fatal biting incidents than any other breed. In three different studies they had been found to be involved in 41 to 49% of fatal biting incidents when in fact they account for only one-half to about 1 1/2% of all dogs. The problem has to do with the fact that many have been specifically bred by some members of the population for dog fighting. The general public does not know that about 40,000 people in the United States earn their full-time living through dog fighting. The dogs that are used in these dogfights are called “game bred dogs” and I have seen a number of these. The dog breeders who produce such animals must take the bitch away from her litter when the puppies are five weeks of age or she may begin to kill them. These are genetically damaged dogs, and unfortunately, dogs of that lineage have begun to leak into the general population of pitbulls.”
7. Cesar Millan, a popular TV dog trainer, believes that being the alpha is the key to successful dog training. What are your thoughts on dog training vs dog psychology?
“I think that the dog expert Ian Dunbar was correct in his New York Times op-ed piece when he said that Cesar Millan has set dog training back to the 1940s. His system of dog training is based upon force, control, and punishment. Since the late 1940s when Blanche Saunders began to write her books, dog training has been moving steadily toward a more positive, reward-based approach. Force training will work to control behavior for short period of time, which is what you need if you are trying to make your training look successful for a television show. That form of training does not last, and I have had email communications from people whose dogs were trained by Millan as part of one TV episode or another, and then found within three or four weeks that not only had their dog regressed, but in the cases of aggression, the dogs and actually become worse. I believe that the only way to permanently control dog behavior, without damaging the bond that the dog has to its human family, is to use positive and reward-based training. A dog’s mind is much like the mind of a human child of 2 to 3 years of age. Human developmental psychology has shown that punishment and force is ultimately psychologically damaging for the child, and the evidence is now becoming clear that the same holds for dogs.”
8. Using dog psychology, what are the best ways of giving positive reinforcement?
“Anything that a dog likes can serve as a reward, however, the simplest and most convenient (and apparently the most universal) reward is food. I always have a pocket full of dog treats or kibble which I use to reward my own dogs as I go through my daily life around the house. My dogs are strongly bonded to me, and are extremely obedient.”
9. What’s the best advice you can give to an impatient pet owner who wants to give up when things start to get tough?
“I hate to keep going back to the fact that a dog’s mind is similar to that of a human child of 2 to 3 years of age, but it really is the key to understanding dog behavior. Most people are not dog experts but virtually every one of them has lived with or interacted with young toddlers. When a child is having difficulty understanding what is wanted of them we do not give up, however, we change tactics and try something else. If the person simply asks themselves “How would I solve this problem if I were dealing with a child rather than a dog?” then that should give them a clue as to how to proceed.”
10. What is the best way to build a strong human-dog relationship?
“Every time you interact with your dog in a positive manner you build the strength of your relationship with that dog. There is strong evidence that taking your dog to training classes, having the dog participate in dog competitions or athletic events, or simply taking your dog with you and playing with them frequently is enough to build a strong bond between an owner and its dog. The simple act of walking your dog each day will help to strengthen that bond as well. It also helps if you talk to your dog. Telling him what is about to happen next (whether being fed, groomed, or led out the door) allows him to learn what your words mean. If the dog understands and anticipates what is going on in his life then his is happier and feels more affection and trust for his owner.”
I hope all of you readers out there enjoyed this article. Thank you to Stanley for sharing all your information. The nature of the relationship between a dog and its owner has a huge amount of impact and benefits. “Dogs are the most amazing creatures; they give unconditional love. They are the role model for being alive.” Craving more dogs in your life? I invite you all to take this quiz to find your perfect canine match: http://pawslikeme.com/ or http://www.animalplanet.com/breed-selector/dog-breeds/questionnaire/page2.html