Scientific American just came out with a special edition all about “the science of dogs and cats.” For $9.99, the cover teasers promise you can learn all about “what your pet says about you,” “how to build a dog,” and “what Fido really thinks.” I splurged, and here, for free, is what I learned, skipping, of course, the cat parts:
• These creatures that say so much about us aren’t really pets. They are “domesticated animal friends” who “seem to accept our human nature and love us anyway.”
• We keep them around for an array of social reasons. They also tap into our “attraction for the adorable,” which has something to do with big eyes and furry contours. I didn’t know babies had such furry contours, but it’s true that a photo of a puppy next to a photo of a baby is a whole lot of cute. In fact, you can barely tell the puppy from the baby. A little more fur on the forehead is about the only tell.
• Some human-animal relationships are similar to human-human relationships. You can see similar patterns of neuronal activity in the amygdalas of mothers when they look at their children as when they look at their dogs. Not sure about cats, but I doubt it.
• People who don’t have a pet are more likely to value a “neat and tidy home.” If you have a dog, you are more likely to be in “senior management,” live in Arkansas among other places, and be extroverted. If you have a horse, you are more likely to be a homeowner. If you have a bird, you are more likely to be “socially dominant if you are female.” If you have a snake or lizard, you are probably “unconventional and novelty-seeking.”
• Dogs are unique among animals for having found a way to join the community of “an alien species.”
• When dogs break rules, they appear to look guilty. But they are more likely to be worried about punishment. What does the dog really “feel?”
• Some scientists in Siberia with a lot of time on their hands found a way to reprise canine evolution from wolf to dog by raising a few generations of foxes in a special way. In the end, the foxes developed their own new sound as they sidled up to people, their new friends. The “acoustic dynamics of their vocalization are remarkably similar to human laughter,” Scientific American reported.
• A new count of brain cells in the cerebral cortex showed that dogs “far outdistance cats.” A neuroanatomist involved in the research concluded that “dogs have what it takes to have more cognitive capability than cats.”
• If you thought dogs were pretty stupid, that’s also not true. We humans just don’t appreciate the many varieties of canine intelligence. Nor are some dogs “smart” and others “dumb.” They just seem that way to us.
• Pennies minted after 1982 aren’t good for dogs to eat. Which raises the question: If dogs are so smart, why are they eating so many pennies? And even if they do prefer zinc (yes, look it up) to other metals, why don’t they just read the date and eat the old copper pennies?
Carl T. Hall is a longtime union organizer in San Francisco who is now a co-owner of Word A Café, a dog friendly coffee shop now open for business in the Bayview Neighborhood.
Main article photo by: Photo by Elena Nichizhenova-istock