Why dogs are different

John Bradshaw

Wednesday, September 7 2011 at 7:30PM

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9 - 13 George Street

We use the upstairs function room.

To find it, go up the spiral staircase - then look for the door immediately opposite you. Go through, up another flight of stairs and you will find us. There is a bar up here and it will be open, so no need to spill your pint on the spiral stairs. If you want to eat in the function room then you have to order your food downstairs and then carry it up yourself.

Step-free access is available.

John Bradshaw

What's the talk about?

The domestic dog's ancestor is the grey wolf - their DNA is almost indistinguishable - and for a century or more dogs have been portrayed as barely civilised wolves, engaged in a lifelong struggle for "dominance" over their owners.  Yet over the past fifteen years or so, science has revealed just how hollow this myth really is.  First, wolves do not, in the wild, struggle to assert "dominance" over their own kind.  Natural wolf packs are harmonious family units in which every member participates voluntarily; the despotic structure that was once thought to be the norm is an artifact, caused by confining unrelated wolves together in zoos.  Secondly, the one subspecies of wolf whose social life has been studied in detail is only very distantly related to modern domestic dogs.  Thirdly, dogs left to their own devices do not structure their social lives as wolves do - they adopt the basic canid breeding pattern of loose-knit packs and non-cooperative breeding.  Fourthly, most pet dogs exhibit stronger attachments to humans than to other dogs.  Thus domestication has had such a profound effect on the dog's behaviour that analogies with wolves, while academically interesting, can be an impediment to our understanding of our "best friend's" wants and needs.

John Bradshaw is a biologist who founded and directs the world-renowned Anthrozoology Institute, based at the University of Bristol. He has been studying the behaviour of domestic dogs and cats (and their owners) for over 25 years, and is the author of many scientific articles, research papers and reviews, which have not only shed new light on our animal companions' abilities and needs, but have also changed the way that pets are understood and cared for all over the world.  His most recent book, In Defence of Dogs/Dog Sense (Allen Lane/Basic Books, 2011), has been a best-seller on both sides of the Atlantic.