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Neuropsychology and Dogs, An Unlikely Duo: An Interview with Dr. Stanley Coren

Have you ever wondered why dogs steal in the dark? Dr. Stanley Coren did and addressed the psychology of this in his article “Dogs Steal in the Dark,” an insightful piece on the neuropsychology underlying both our and dogs’ cognition and sensory processes. I was extremely intrigued by the idea of theory of mind, which Dr. Coren describes as “the ability to understand that another individual might have a different amount of information, see the world in a different way, or even have different desires and motives then another individual.” I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Coren, and below he has shared his experience in neuropsychology and his insight into a lifelong pursuit of the interesting and important. Keep reading to hear Dr. Coren’s experience of seeking out rewarding experiences and bridging interests together, and check out his website to learn more!


Dr. Coren, how did you get into the field of psychology and why did you choose to study in particular sensory processes, neuropsychology, and cognition?

I actually thought that I was going to become a physicist because I was interested in light. However, when I took my first physics courses I found out that what I was really interested in was not the phenomena of light but rather how people see the light. To find out more about visual perception I took a course in psychology and ultimately I was hooked. The study of vision in humans became a passion, particularly questions concerning situations where our perception differs from the reality as in visual illusions or subjective contours. I blundered into the issues associated with neuropsychology when I was doing research on how we maintain single vision despite the fact that we have two eyes, which ultimately led me to look at eye dominance. At that time people thought that there was a relationship between the dominant eye in the dominant hand and so I began to look into handedness and began to include measures of it in my ongoing experimentation. When I found out that handedness was linked to many other interesting phenomena, such as birth stress, cognitive styles, intellectual ability, and ultimately to life span, I felt that I had to continue research in that area because of its potential importance. Other areas of study, such as cognition, sleep, and dog behavior, all evolved out of my interests in specific findings at various times. I have always let my own interests determine my research topics rather than current trends and “hot issues” and that has served me well since other people have found the topics that I did research on to be interesting.

What has a career in academia been like? Besides your books for the public on dogs and psychology issues, you’ve published over 400 scientific reports and books for students and professionals.

I like to write, and have tried to write something every single day. This is a practice that I’ve continue even though I have been retired from the University since 2007. However, I am not a fiction writer, so I view scientific investigation as a means of providing “plot materials” and “storylines” for my writing. The trick in doing my research was to find topics which would generate interesting material to write about. I was also lucky in that I had a number of research collaborators from different universities who were very stimulating and kept my mental juices flowing at various times during my career.

I also like to teach, and find teaching large classes to be invigorating. When my students have one of those “aha…” experiences, and suddenly have an insight into a topic, or an understanding into why particular questions are important, I find that very rewarding.

What I dislike about the Academy is the burden of administrative work, endless meetings, continuous scrounging for grant funds, and the burden of an ever-increasing number of rules and regulations which require numerous report writing, conferences, and other things which take away from intellectual and academic work.

Your best-selling books have won you multiple awards. How did you transition from, or rather pursue simultaneously, an academic career to one in writing for the general audience?  

You make time to do what you think is important. I simply adopted a lifestyle where I was working or writing for 80 or 90 hours a week, and I did not take off for weekends and holidays very often. Since the writing was rewarding I didn’t find that to be much of a burden, however it had its costs. Among those costs was my first marriage. I later learned to reserve a little bit of time for my personal life and my competitive involvement with dogs. Still, everyone in my life knows that I am apt to pick myself up and wander off to my office at all sorts of odd hours. 

What do you consider your greatest achievement so far in your career?

That is difficult for me to assess and should probably be left to others. Nevertheless, I am quite proud of our findings that left-handedness is associated with reduced life span. I am also fond of the fact that I introduced the English-speaking world to the perceptual phenomenon known as subjective contours. However, I suppose that I feel most warmly about the fact that I was able to ignite interest in studying the behavior of dogs with my publication of “The Intelligence of Dogs” which contained a ranking of canine intelligence by breed. The concept that the mental abilities of dogs are roughly equivalent to those of a human two or three-year-old child, and that we can use tests which have been designed for testing human children to test dogs, will probably be one of my more lasting contributions.

How did you become so interested in the psychology of dogs? You clearly are well-versed in anything about them, and after reading your article I’ve learned the psychology behind their minds is quite interesting. 

I have always had dogs, and always wondered about what they were thinking. When I was in University I had an interest in the human-canine bond and so, although most psychologists are trained either in human behavior or animal behavior I decided to make sure that I was dual trained since there were different creatures at each end of the leash. That meant that I took a lot of extra courses as an undergraduate and later in graduate school. Unfortunately, when I finished my degree I found that there was no funding available for research in the human-canine bond so I went on to study my other loves, such as sensory processing. In the 1980s, when research by Alan Beck and Aron Katcher showed that simply petting a familiar and friendly dog had physiological effects on humans and reduce their stress levels it became more acceptable to study the relationship between dogs and people, and by the 1990s I had begun to shift my research and writing efforts in that direction.

How can dogs have a theory of mind akin to that of a young child? The idea that dogs have similar capabilities to those of young children is quite interesting.

It is not surprising that dogs have a theory of mind since the average dog has the mental capacities of a human 2 to 2 1/2 child, and the super dogs (those in the top 20% of canine intelligence) have a mind equivalent to a human 2 1/2 to 3-year-old. Theory of mind begins to emerge at around two years of age, so it is reasonable to expect it in dogs. Thinking about dogs as if they were human toddlers with limited language ability provides a useful handhold and a mnemonic when we are thinking about the cognitive abilities of dogs.

If you could give one piece of advice to Millennials and future generations, what would it be?

It is okay to discuss your problems with your dog. He may not have the answers, but he won’t give you bad advice.


Thank you Dr. Coren for sharing your experience and insight! 


Dr. Coren is a Psychology Professor at the University of British Columbia. He is a best-selling author and an award-winning researcher. Be sure to check out his articlewebsite, and blog for more interesting reads!



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  1. The introduction to this article is somewhat confusing and reads a little like a blog entry rather than a serious interview, but I understand the lighthearted tone when addressing the dog aspect of Dr. Coren’s article. The questions are thorough and render in-depth answers, and I enjoyed reading the different insights of Dr. Coren. The article is practically devoid of grammatical errors, which was a pleasant change of scenery compared to some of the articles I’ve seen thus far! Interesting organization and structure, just be sure to amend having confusing sentences when you’re trying to get your point across in the future!

  2. This interview has left me with the desire of getting my own dog even though I am more of a cat-person than a dog-lover.

    Dogs have been considered man’s best friend for as long as we know and this article gives us reason to believe it moreso. The fact that dogs have intelligence equivalent to a human toddler is also interesting. Psychology has always been a favorite subject of mine and now its relation to dogs has piqued my interest even more. I am sure dog owners are going to have a field day after reading this.

    I just hope we get something like this in relation to cats too.

  3. I thoroughly enjoyed reading about the varied interests of Dr Coren. It gives hope to students like me who are fascinated by a wide variety of topics. The article is cheerful and informal but demonstrates the interviewer’s knowledge about Dr Coren’s work. In particular, I could identify with the questions about his opinions of a career in academics and about how he manages to make time for his writing endeavours. His views on writing are echoed by a number of writers, who insist that writing well is a byproduct of writing consistently and habitually.
    The article succeeded in highlighting new avenues to read up on.

  4. I must admit, that the author advice made me laught, because when I was little I would always tell my problems to my dog and it really did help and I always knew that the sacret was still a secret. From my point of view, Dr. Stanley Coren did a great job, because he really did help the science, and he found out more about the things that he wanted to know, rether than wait for someone else to publish it. And he did some interesting researches, like connecting dominant left hand with shorter life, and the researches about the dogs. The science approval to the theory that dogs help people just by the simple things is importat. After reading this, I really want to know more about Dr. Stanley Coren.

  5. The title definitley caught my attention although it did not give me any insight about what to expect the article to be about. The introduction led me to believe that the article would be about his work and findings regarding perception. Through the questions I learned the focus is mainly on his life and career.

    This is an interesting and uplifting article. While many doctors interviewed are very disciplined in their respective field Dr. Coren seems to be well disciplined in a variety of subjects that interest him. This shows people that you do not have to stick with one thing for your entire life and that you should always continue learning and pursuing your passions. As well, it is never too late to make a career shift.

    Interesting personal questions but I would have loved to learn more about his research regarding human perception as well.

  6. So if dogs are as smart as toddlers, are dependents like toddlers, and act vaguely like toddlers, is that why people tend to talk to dogs like they’re toddlers? Or do people do it for some other reason?

  7. I loved the tone of the article! I surely wasn’t expecting this when I clicked on it. It really surprised me to learn that dogs have the intelligence of 2 year old children and it was interesting to read how Dr Coren came to do research about the subject. I like his approach to research, how he decided to only do it about subjects that were important to him and how he dedicates so much time to writing, I can definitely relate to that.

  8. I thoroughly enjoyed this article, there were so many interesting facts. I also enjoyed the informal and light-hearted tone, although I think it might be better with a title that better reflects that tone. When I first read the title I had no idea what to expect, so maybe a title that was a little simpler and a little more representative of the content would be better suit the article.

  9. The introduction was a little confusing, but I like that it didn’t reveal too much of what Dr. Coren was going to talk about. The interview was great! This is such a cool topic. I’m curious though, how do they measure the fact that dogs’ minds are similar to a 2-3 year old human’s mind? Did they measure that by object permanence, learning, etc, and other signs that a human toddler would be on the right track of development?
    I find it difficult to compare something in that way because we are two completely different animals. Human intelligence has helped humans to survive and we have certain skills dogs don’t have, while dog intelligence has helped dogs survive and they have certain skills we don’t have. An animal’s intelligence shouldn’t be based off human intelligence. I do see though how it is a good base to have to understand the cognitive abilities of dogs. I just hope people also see that they are clearly ‘smarter’ than a human toddler in many different ways as well.
    Overall, this is a really cool article and a great topic, it was written really well! I would love to know more about his specific research with dogs though as well as his neuropsychology studies.

  10. I clicked on the article because the title sounded intriguing, however, I was left slightly disappointed after finishing it. The reason being is that the title and the actual content of the interview have little correlation. Also, there was really only one question which pertained to discussing his work while the rest was about Dr. Coren’s work life and interests. I highly suggest keeping questions relavant to the topic that prompeted you to interview him, in this case: “the neuropsychology underlying both our and dogs’ cognition and sensory processes.” Or at least change the title so that it is not too misleading for readers.

    Nonetheless, I still enjoyed the article. It contained a fair amount of personal advice and a few interesting findings. Thank you for sharing!

  11. This article had more to do with Dr. Coren’s career more than anything else, yet this is understandable, as he is a very accomplished individual. This being said, I feel there should have been follow-up questions to specific answers. I would have loved a question delving into his process for writing every single day, this is an incredible habit that requires time and dedication. I also feel that the actual dog psychology section should have been expanded upon, considering how short the answer was (although, I am familiar with dogs having the brain equivalent of a 3-year-old, so perhaps I felt cheated for having already known this). If he truly has published over 400 articles and loves dogs, he should have expanded on his research instead of saving it all for his award-winning book. I believe this article is very interesting considering Dr. Coren’s accomplishments, but I don’t think his answers about his actual research should have been so short.

  12. Like most, the title and the content did not quite match up. In the future, I’d appreciate less bait and more truth, but this was a great article nonetheless.

    First off, I love the advice at the end of the article.

    This article gave much thought about an individual who chose to bridge two kinds of studies and then make it his career. I think that kind of determination is admirable, even if there were some sacrifices along the way. His mission to try and bring awareness to human-canine bonding and canine psychology/behavior is great, since science is always connected to more than what that particular study is about.

  13. As others have noted, from the title alone I wasn’t certain of what to expect from reading the article. However, in my opinion the title relays the subject of the interview; which is Dr. Coren’s life in research and academia.

    I do agree with above posters who suggest editing your introduction. It sets the reader up to anticipate questioning related specifically to his research, not his experience as a researcher.

    On a personal note, I love reading interviews and biographies of those in academia who have broad interests. I’m one who has always been fascinated with the idea of “the renaissance man” or multi-potentialite.
    I strongly believe that it can be disadvantageous to focus on one thing when there are so many interesting pursuits. We are capable of so much more than what we believe. For this reason I’m determined to pursue my interest, not solely resume building.

    Also, I found Dr. Coren’s distaste with the bureaucracy of academia, amusing. I was initially enrolled as a biological science major. Being that my interests varied I had figured that I would go the route of cognitive neuroscience or cultural anthropology; the latter being my stronger interest.
    That was until i really contemplated being somewhat enslaved to the university. I’m happy that I had this awakening of sorts because I’ve been able to explore many other subjects that I’ve come to be more passionate about, that I feel I would have been blind to had I remained on my trajectory.

    As a last point, I’m interested to know whether funding remains a problem for current researchers. If so, have many explored crowfunding options such as Kickstarter or is this method blocked by the university?

    Nice article!

  14. This was an interesting story to learn about the background of Dr. Coren. It is very interesting to learn about the stories of established people such as how Dr. Coren was originally thinking about becoming a physicist. I took a course in physiological psychology and in that class we briefly learned about physiological changes in animals due to their environment and I also learned a lot about animals in my learning processes class such as with rats, rabbits, birds, and dogs with Maslow and learned helplessness. I was hoping to be able to add to my knowledge about dogs and neuropsychology but there was not as much information as I expected about the actual topic. I would love if there was possibly a follow-up article to this sometime with more information on the topic!

  15. An intriguing article that it quite well written. The questions and answers are in depth, and Dr. Coren did well expressing his experiences and explaining his thoughts and ideas. It was interesting to read about how he developed as a psychologist, a scientist, and an author, and his journey was quite inspiring.
    There was a good buildup towards the subject of dogs and their connection with neuropsychology, however, the actual discussion of the study felt anti-climatic because it was not given enough time to be explored as much as Dr. Coren’s history and career.
    Nonetheless, a very interesting and enlightening article that makes me want to cuddle with my dogs!

  16. Dr Coren’s passion for neuropsychology is amazing and deserves to be applauded. This is a pretty interesting read with nuggets of information encased within. This article could do with more concise writing but nevertheless, I also understand the dilemma of cutting short sentences without leaving information out. Good work, keep it up!

  17. The article was pretty interesting.
    It was very fascinating to see how he came to be a neuropsychologist, even though he wanted to be an physicist before.
    The fact that dogs have intelligence equal to a2 year old human is very also interesting.
    It was very nice to read an article about the relation between dogs and psychology/neuropsychology.
    Also, Dr. Corens last advice was very funny.

  18. This was a very enjoyable and light read! It is less heavy on content like other articles, but is more focused on the history of Dr Coren himself and his interests and developments in the academic field. Sometimes, it is also nice and inspiring to read about the struggles and developments of established psychologists and authors today.

    The section about the findings about dogs’ minds and the human-canine bond was very interesting. Dogs have always been given the label “a man’s best friend”, and is often deemed more loyal and more suitable for interaction with humans than other animals. It is very interesting to learn that dogs do also have a theory of mind like humans, though they are not as developed as human adults and instead is more likened to a toddler’s theory of mind. Even then, it is pretty impressive and inspiring. I wish I could have read more about Dr Coren’s insight about perhaps why dogs as a species as compared to other species tend to have this ability? Could it just be a nature thing? Also, it would be interesting to have a comparison of a dog’s brain with a human’s in terms of structure and function, perhaps by neuro-imaging techniques. Have such studies been done?

  19. Hello! What a wonderful interview and topic! As a dog mom, this piece drew me in immediately. Since this is an interview I know you’re more limited with what you can use in a feature image, but in the future try to find a higher quality picture to look more professional. The text-wrapped images look great, and the bolding helps the readers to find the important information, but the paragraphs are quite long and may be intimidating to some readers since the entire post is long.

  20. I enjoyed reading about Dr. Coren’s inspirations and achievements from throughout his studies in psychology. However I would have also liked to see a bit more about Dr. Coren’s work, as I felt talking about his findings were more brief than I expected; although, this article has encouraged me to begin reading up on his article, website and blog given at the end of the article.
    I consider studying the relations between humans and dogs to be really helpful in learning more about interaction. It’s made me think more about the relations between other animal species as well. I also question if evolution has led some of an influence to our interactions.
    Neuropsychology has been of an interest of me and I feel reading this article gave me a bit more of an insight on the study of dogs and humans; especially with the comparison of a two to three year old human child to a dog. I believe this research is very important as dog therapy has been supportive for those with mental illnesses or for hospital patients. I had also liked the final statement Dr. Coren gave stating, “[I]t is okay to discuss your problems with your dog. He may not have the answers, but he won’t give you bad advice” for I felt it was a well fit ending statement for this article.

  21. I felt this article was a delightful read but I didn’t get the article I expected from the title if that makes sense. I was hoping to learn a little more about his research with human canine interactions and expressions but from the little knowledge I did get, I did appreciate. Dr. Coren is one of those people who seems truly passionate about a multitude of different topics and dabbles in a little bit of every kind of thing, I think it would have been helpful for the reader to actually have picked the topic they wanted from the title and geared the conversation towards that main idea. Otherwise, I thought it was a good read.

  22. Hello! Dr. Coren seems like a very interesting and hard working man so I am glad I stumbled upon this article so I can further research his work. Your choice of questions helped me get a good idea of what he was all about and left me wanting to know more about him. I think this article was a good way to introduce readers to Dr. Coren without overwhelming them with information. You leave the readers to decide for themselves if they would like to learn more which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Thanks!

  23. I really love this topic but I did not know Dr Coren’s work, so thank you for making me discover it !! Indeed, the title was a bit different from the article’s content, but since this made me click and read, I guess it is not a bad thing ! Nice article.

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