Alexandra Horowitz with Jane C. Hu: Our Dogs, Ourselves

Transcript by Stephanie Guerroro

Jini Palmer: (00:07) Welcome to Town Hall Seattle Science series. On September 28th, 2019, New York Times bestselling author and dog cognition researcher Alexandra Horowitz came to our Forum stage to talk about the odd, surprising, and contradictory ways in which we live with dogs. Alexandra got into a delightful and curious conversation with Seattle-based science journalist Jane C. Hue. Together, they opened our eyes to the companions at our sides as never before and presented her new book, Our Dogs, Ourselves. The Story Of A Singular Bond.

Alexandra Horowitz: (00:42): [applause.] Hello.

Jane C. Hu: (00:56) Hello. Thanks so much for the lovely introduction. Can we have a round of applause for Town Hall for having us tonight?


JCH: (01:08) This is my first evening back in this beautiful space and it is just gorgeous. But I am pleased to be here tonight with Alexandra Horowitz to talk about her new book, Our Dogs, Ourselves. So I thought maybe a good place to start, or at least what I’ve wondered is how dogs? Why dogs? And how did you get there? How dogs, also?

AH: (01:32) We don’t have to ask why dogs, I mean, we all know why dogs because dogs are so mysterious and ubiquitous but, honestly, I didn’t know I’d be studying dogs when I went into grad school in cognitive science and which is, I was kind of interested in the mind of non-human animals, but dogs weren’t really being studied. Dogs were not the non-human animal of interest to scientists. It was more chimpanzees or big-brained animals. Not to say our dogs aren’t big-brained but not like dolphins and they just, I kind of accidentally wound up studying dogs because I got interested in looking at play behavior. All mammals and non-mammals play. But they not play all the time, you know, they once in a while like hide behind a bush and play or they play as young and they don’t play as adults. And while I was looking for an animal to study so I could do my play studies, I had a dog, Pumpernickel. And I was taking Pumpernickel out three times a day to play and it took me about six months because I was a dense grad student to realize, ‘Oh, there are all these playing animals’. And so I did convince my committee and I’m very thankful and appreciative that they let me convince them because people weren’t really studying play in dogs or dogs at all.

And I did my dissertation on dogs which was fantastic and it really changed the way I was looking at Pumpernickel and my interaction with her and how she interacted with other dogs. And then I just got more interested in the subject than in the kind of theoretical questions that had started me there. That’s just when other people started studying dog cognition too. So it became kind of a true field of study, which is amazing and bizarre, but wonderful. So that’s what I’ve done ever since is just look at dog behavior and cognition.

JCH: (03:39) You know, it made me think of this, so back in, I think 2008 or 2009, I was an undergraduate and I was working in a infant cognition lab and there’s one day we had lab meeting every week and one day the main researcher in the lab brought in her two greyhounds. And I remember thinking, okay, this is, you know, not usually what we do at lab meeting. And then she said that we were going to think about dog cognition studies and I thought she was just stalling because she didn’t have anything planned for lab meeting and just wanted to have an hour where she got to hang out with her dogs instead. But I really do think that you must be one of the pioneering researchers in this field and I’m curious to hear how that’s grown over the time that you’ve started being involved with that work.

AH: (04:25) Yeah, I mean it’s really exploded and that’s because there were people in different places in the U.S. and, especially in Europe, who had this idea at approximately the same time. I mean, I think the very first dog cognition researchers were in Budapest and there’s a big group of researchers there who were psychologists, comparative psychologists, who turned their eyes to the dog and they created a gigantic program really that studies dog cognition. And then there were some people independently in the U.S. and then in the U.K. who had started studying dogs. And now, there are a number of dog cognition labs in the U.S. which is surprising to me. But wonderful. So, I think I know about a dozen meeting graduate students are being schooled in how to study the mind of the dog. Right? And to your point about infant cognition, I mean, a lot of the methods that we use are once they’re extrapolated from studies with babies, you know, we think, well, how can we kind of revise this and ask similar questions of dogs? So, it’s a remarkably different field than when I came in and all to the better I think.

JCH: (05:36) Yeah. And, just like the field of dog cognition is growing and changing, one other thing that is growing and changing, as you mentioned in this book, is our relationship with dogs over time. It’s been really fascinating to read in this book how the history of us keeping dogs, in terms of just how we think about them, has changed over time and I’m wondering if you can say a little bit more about that.

AH: (06:05) Yeah. Our way of living with dogs now, which feels so natural, is actually very recent. So when I was a child, of course, dogs were in the house. But there was still dogs, a lot of dogs, who lived outside all the time. And at our home at least, I don’t think this was really uncommon, at the end of the day you would just let the dog out. Let them out. Right? I would never let my dogs out. I mean, I live in New York city, so that’s one thing. But also, you know, you want to keep them close.

What’s happened is that they’ve become family members. And a hundred years ago, that certainly wasn’t the case. And 200 years ago, they were just underfoot and around human societies and people owned dogs to be sure, but they weren’t members of the family. They weren’t on your couch. They weren’t potentially sleeping in your bed. Right. So that’s actually pretty recent. And now it seems natural in many ways. But there are still plenty of cultures around the world, we’re a little unusual, where that’s not the case, right? Where dogs are pariahs or are their village dogs. And so we can kind of see lots of examples of our different ways of interacting with dogs by looking at different cultures, attitude towards dogs today.

JCH: (07:23) Absolutely. And, yet, you also discuss in the book that this original idea of owning dogs, especially having working dogs rather than having them be on your couch or in your bed, this idea of owning dogs has persisted and what a strange dichotomy that is. So I just wanted to read this passage that I really loved from this book that kind of touches on this idea, “The dog’s place in society is steeped in contradiction. We sense their animalism, feeding them bones, taking them outside to pee, yet enforce an ersatz humanness, dressing them in raincoats, celebrating their birthdays to maintain the look of a breed. We cut their ears to look more like wild canids but squash their faces to look more like primates. We speak of their gender yet regulate their sex lives. Dogs have a legal status of property, but we endow them with agency. They want, they choose, they demand, they insist. They are objects to the law, but they share our homes. And often our sofas and beds. They are family, but they’re owned. They’re treasured, yet they are regularly abandoned. We name one, yet euthanize millions of nameless others.” Thinking about how this has changed over time and these contradictions that you mentioned, I guess why is it that we are projecting ourselves onto these dogs in such a way yet still feeling like we own them? What is the right balance to strike here?

AH: (08:52) Ooh, that’s like the million dollar question there. You know, why do we project ourselves onto dogs? I mean, I think we’ve always done that to some extent. As soon as we started bringing them into the fold, once we started domesticating dogs, we wanted to make them more like us. We were probably interested in the ones which were at some level more like us or at least more like our best selves. Right? You know, like friendly and cute and adorable and touchable. I think that’s very natural human inclination to look for in other animals, the thing which we recognize in ourselves. So I kind of can see why we do that and now it does lead us to do bizarro things with our dogs. Right? And assume that they are just like us, not just do they look like us, but they want the same things we want. Right? Which is a big leap.

AH: (09:48) And in terms of our owning them, that’s this funny strain that’s grown in parallel. So, you know, into the law. I think this is one of the most interesting things that I hadn’t thought about really as a scientist before. I looked into the kind of the culture of living with dogs to the law. You know, dogs are property and we all know that intellectually. But when you think about the effect of that, that means that this animal who’s part of your family, who reflects you, who if I asked you about your dog, you just have so many things to tell me about your dog, right? They’re individuals. Is also to the law, just the value of what you paid for them when you got them, when you adopted them or when you bought them. And that’s because the law has not evolved as our relationship with dogs and bringing them into our houses has changed. The law has just stayed exactly the same. There are persons to the law, that’s things like humans, but also corporations, things that can own property are persons. And then there’s everything else, all the things. So this chair, my dog, those are all property and that hasn’t revised. And I think it’d be really hard for that to radically change now. So I’m not sure. I think that dissonance is going to remain for a little while.

JCH: (11:10)Absolutely. It’s funny that you mentioned the value of dogs. My husband and I joke all the time reminding our dog whenever we buy things for her or pay for expensive medical treatments that she is worth $100. And we talk about that in terms of how many of her we could have gotten for the price of the operation or the treats that we’re buying. [laughter]

AH: (11:35) You tell her that?

JCH: (11:37) Of course. [laughs] And of course she understands. So actually that leads us to another interesting part of this book that we were discussing a little bit backstage about how, as you’ve been studying dogs and thinking about your own relationship with dogs, you’ve noticed that some of the things that we do kind of reflexively, we’re not alone in. So we were talking backstage about talking to your dog and also talking through your dog. And I’m wondering if you can say a little bit more about that.

AH: (12:08) Well, what one of the great things this book is really about the dog-human relationship and putting my eye at that relationship and kind of the hyphen that’s between us. And I started thinking about that because I have a lab at Barnard and that means that I just have a space where owners, people will come with their dogs to participate in my studies. The dogs are the subjects, but they’re volunteered by their people who I’m very happy to say are willing to bring their dogs in and put them through the paces. I show them plates of sausages and things like that. It’s tough. [Laughs] But the people accompany the dogs the whole time. Right? I’m not keeping dogs there. I don’t make the people, the owners, leave. They stay in the room and there’s a lot going on with that relationship. Right? As soon as they come in the dogs are looking to the people for information about what’s going to happen and the people are talking to the dogs. And that you just know this and you ignore it. And then I just started really looking at it and one of the studies I did, I started transcribing the things that people said in play with their dogs. And it was crazy. It was so surprising, first that it was so ubiquitous that we were just constantly talking. There was rarely a video with just silent owner. In fact, that would be strange. And then I started, you know, I live in New York and I go out with my dogs. And so I just started listening on the sidewalks and then I became like an eavesdropper, frankly. And I’d walk up to people and kind of be listening and people are constantly talking to their dogs on the sidewalks. In fact, sometimes it started to seem like when I would approach, that’s when they would turn to their dog and start saying like, “if you’re not going to go, we’re going to go.” Dogs, like, looking up.

And so I just started writing all these things down and I’m fabulously glad that I did because I find it really disarmingly sweet how much we talk to our dogs. And I think it is very much as we talked to humans. In fact, there’s a lot of baby register, baby talk register, in the way we talk to dogs. So it’s similar to how we talk to infants. But, in my thinking, it’s more like we’re having a conversation with a dog always in our mind, you know, you go out for a walk and you’re thinking, what are we going to do next? Or what’s our plan or what are we going to do later? Or, what are you doing? And we say it out loud and we wait for the dog to respond and they never do. And then we say the next part, right? So, I did record a lot of those. I heard myself talking to my dog, I hadn’t even heard that really. But I’m always talking to them. I never shut up, frankly.

And then there are all these other interesting, spurious outgrowths of talking to our dogs, which is there is a lot of people using the dog to talk to another person, right? So there’s a linguist named Deborah Tannen who has this great research about how she studies human dynamics and human relationships and she records people having a fight, a couple having a fight, and then they’ll start saying things to the dog as a way of communicating to the other person, right? Like, “Mommy’s so mean tonight, why is she being so mean?” [laughs] And then although she doesn’t talk about it, sometimes they’ll have the dog respond, “I don’t know why.” [laughs] And so then the dog is like the mediator of this whole social thing. So it’s fascinating really and one could write a whole book about that. Maybe that will be the next book is just a deep investigation of, you know, I don’t know if you ever saw the movie Kitchen Stories. It was a Scandinavian movie about anthropologist who sat in the side of the kitchen, people’s kitchens, recording everything that they said and did. So that could be me. Maybe if you’ll let me come to your homes and listen.

JCH: (16:14) If anyone’s on the fence about getting the book, by the way, there’s an entire chapter that’s peppered with these wonderful little quotes from people talking to their dogs and, meanwhile, I’m reading them out loud to my husband and dog being like, “I don’t ever do this to you all. This isn’t totally me.” So you mentioned your research, which involves some amount of walking around just listening to people interacting with their dogs, interacting with your own dog, but also the dog lab. And I think it would be interesting to take us into a day in the life of a dog researcher. So, you gave us a little glimpse into what it might be like for the dog to have to sniff sausages and things, but can you tell us a little bit more about maybe some of the studies you have going on now and what it’s like to visit the lab?

AH: (17:04) Well, the very last study I did, I can tell you a little bit about. I got very interested in, as was mentioned, how the dogs perceived the world, what it’s sort of like to be a dog. And in my mind that starts with understanding what it’s like to be an olfactory creature. One who kind of perceives the world through smell primarily, first, before sight or sound. And I think that has to be radically different. So we do a lot of studies where we’re playing with what do dogs know about smells.

And we also are interested in studies which test our intuitions about what dogs know because we all have lots of intuitions about what dogs know or understand. So the last study we did was about whether dogs recognize us by smell, right? Because we all have a smell. It’s just a natural smell. Not like the smell you put on to smell good. Just whatever we normally smell like. And you know if you live with a dog, that when you come home, your dog wants to investigate your smell, right? They’ll sniff you all over if you let them. And so I was interested, well, could they recognize the smell of their person, of their owner, without the person being there? So we took this method that’s been used in human studies, where we asked owners to wear a t-shirt, a plain t-shirt, for a couple of nights without bathing or wearing perfumes or lotions or no putting extra odors on. And then we sealed those t-shirts in little plastic bag. and we presented them to the dogs, to their dogs with them not around and compared how interested they were in that smell versus smells of other people. Smells of strangers, right? So to see if they could recognize their person by smell alone, which we’re still putting the data together, but it looks like they are, they’re recognizing just the smell of you. Right? Even if you were not there, which is kind of great. And we’re also interested in whether they recognized a picture of you based on your smell. So if I give you, here’s a little t-shirt with a smell. And then there’s a picture of somebody else, you know, do they think that’s weird? Are they like, “it smells like mom, but that’s not her”. Right? Or if they hear the sound of your voice, so that’s just a cross modal kind of comparison. And that’s another aspect of that study. So you basically have dogs come in the lab not knowing what’s going to happen and we get, excitedly show them a little bag with a t-shirt in it and we see how long they sniff it. Right? And we do this again and again. And then at the end we give them a toy and they go home.

JCH: (19:54) So is the assumption that they would spend longer sniffing what they’re familiar with then?

AH: (20:00) Yeah, we did a habituation study actually where we gave them the scent of, so habituation is just we get bored and this is used often in infant research where you can ask infants questions about like, “Do you know that red, can you see that red is different than green?” or “Can you tell that a circle is a different shape than a square?” But the baby is a baby. They’re like, “Aah”. They don’t say anything. So you have to use a measure, like how long do they look at a certain stimulus presented on a screen. For instance, with the circle square thing, you present them a circle and they look for a while and then they kind of grow bored and then you present it again and they look for a little less time and then you present it again. And eventually they habituate, they grow totally bored. You bore them, you bore the infants, that’s the study. And then you present something new. You present a red square and you see if they then look longer like, “oh, that’s different”. So their looking time as a measure of whether they notice the difference between those stimuli. So we did that, we presented them with their owner’s t-shirt and they were interested in it and interested. And then we presented again, and they’re a little less interested and we presented it again and they get really bored. And then they just stop approaching. And then we presented a stranger’s t-shirt and they get super interested in that. So that’s one of the ways that we can tell if they can tell the difference. And then the cross-modal, we did something different.

JCH: (21:26) Interesting. And so you say at the end the dogs get to pick a toy. How does that usually go?

AH: (21:34) I mean, actually they’re usually very polite. We give them a whole bin and we let them nose around in the toys and usually they’ll pick like one or two. These are very civilized dogs. You know, I’ve had a dog pick like twelve toys out, but mostly they pick, I mean, we’d give them whatever they wanted. Basically, these are people who come into the lab just because they’re interested in what their dogs know or understand, which is very cool. And I really appreciate that they’re kind of volunteering, so the dog could take the whole bin if the dog wants the bin. Yeah. That’s the compensation.

JCH: (22:08) Sounds like a good deal if you’re a dog. So, I’m wondering if you’ve noticed any trends in the types of dogs that you have coming into your lab? What got me thinking about this was breeds and all of the different connotations we have of different breeds of dogs. And I guess I’m curious, is there any connection with the type of demographic that tends to come into the lab?

AH: (22:38) Right, right. I mean it is a select group who comes in, right? These are people who want to travel with their dogs to go to a dog cognition lab. And I don’t know, maybe all of you would do that, which would be fantastic, but you know, it’s self-selects. There are people who are very engaged with their dogs. Some dogs do come in dressed—.

JCH: (22:58) How are they dressed? You need to tell us more.

AH: (23:03) Well, in New York right now there are a lot of little dogs. So it’s gotten very popular to have small little dogs because some people had this idea. So here’s one of those intuitions about dogs that we have, which is if you have an apartment then you need a little dog. It’s like everything has to be to scale somehow. I’m not really sure. [laughter] It’s a funny intuition or something. Like, if you have a big dog, there’s just not room for them to turn around or I don’t know what it is, but it was a really big dog. If it was Cliff, what was it? The big red? Clifford, the big red dog, right. Then I get it. But otherwise, I’m not sure that I would follow through with that intuition, but, so we do have a lot of little dogs and you can take them on the subway and your bag and so forth. And a lot of those dogs come in in a little bag and they have paraphernalia on. Which I discourage. Like, naked dog! But, you know, it’s up to them. We have a lot of mixed breeds actually. You know, I think right now in the city, there are a lot of -oodle kind of dogs. It’s a very popular variation. The doodle mixes. But, otherwise, so many mixed breeds of all kinds. We get a lot of pitties or pit mixes or pit-looking dogs. But they’re really all over the board. You know, I mean, the one thing they have in common is that they have really great owners and they’re all really great dogs.

JCH: (24:28) As an owner of a pitty mix, I want to represent the, so that was actually one thing that really struck me in this book and I think if you have a pit mix, you probably have direct experience with this, where people have very specific ideas about what a pitbull might be like. In my experience, if they are well trained, they are the sweetest dogs in the world and all they want is to be close to you. [applause] Thank you. But yet, you know, people who don’t necessarily have experience with them may have certain ideas that they’re dangerous just because of what’s been on the news. And I’m wondering if you can say a little bit more about how these breed connotations have grown and changed over time.

AH: (25:13) Well, as long as we’ve had purebred dogs, which is actually not that long, 150 years is when we started pure breeding dogs. Before that there were types of dogs but they weren’t inbred. They weren’t part of the same genetic pool, which has really diversified the purebred dogs that we have now, so we have a lot of different, very different looking dogs. As long as we’ve had purebred dogs, there have been dogs that have been called out as the bad dog, as the evil dog. And sometimes, for the purpose to which they were put, and sometimes for the acts which we think they do.

Two hundred years ago there were hound dogs that were houndy dog. So they probably weren’t a pure breed, but who were brought into cities to basically chase out native people. Right? So then they were tagged as evil dogs because they were doing a thing which was evil. Of course, they were just asked to do that thing, right? They weren’t inherently discriminating between peoples. Not long after that, there was a little tiny dog, which probably looked like today’s Pomeranian, which was brought over from overseas. And right at that time, there was a big run of rabies and people were really scared about rabies and they all blamed this little dog. It was called Spitz. And so, that was the bête noire really. And then for a while, of course, German shepherds were the bête noire because they were associated with Nazi Germany. And then there were Rottweilers and dobermans, which were considered to be the evil dogs. And then for the last thirty years or so, it’s really been pit bulls that people have focused on.

So, in a way, it has been our tendency in dealing with dogs to find one that we think is like the bad example of the breed or of the species. That’s a human tendency. And with pits, it’s especially tragic and weird because there is no kind of pit bull, right? Like there’s no breed. People are notoriously bad at identifying dogs that have any of the pit bull-like breeds, the Staffordshire terrier and so forth, in a dog. Even experts when they see pictures of dogs and say, which one is truly a pit bull, they usually get most of them wrong. Exactly wrong. We just mean some dog that looks like blocky-headed, strong, that looks like my idea of this evil dog. That’s probably what a pit bull is. So it’s really hard to interpret. When you see there has been some horrible accident with a dog and somebody thinks it’s probably a pit and they just assume it is and nobody’s genetic testing them, so that increases their notoriety. Yeah. It’s really tragic for pits. And it also doesn’t speak well of us that we want to put off on this dog the kind of evilness that is actually probably somebody’s bringing it up badly. Right? That causes them to do whatever they’ve done.

JCH: (28:21) Absolutely. And speaking of putting off some of our responsibility, one other thing that came up in this book that really got me thinking differently about dogs and dog ownership is spaying and neutering. So, like you, you mentioned in the book that your dogs were adopted and they came spayed or neutered before, my dog was also spayed before I even adopted her. But we just kind of take for granted that that is the right thing to do. And in your book you discuss a little bit more why that might not be the knee jerk best thing all the time. And I’m wondering if you can say more about that.

AH: (29:02) Yeah, it’s a really complex issue. And I was raised with all dogs without testes or ovaries, right? I never had an intact dog. Because in the ’70s, it was the case in the U.S. that we were euthanizing something like 15 to 20 million dogs or cats a year because they were unwanted. This was an overpopulation problem and [crosstalk] And the solution that gradually got some momentum was to spay and neuter the dogs that were coming in, so that when they went out they wouldn’t have more puppies. And there’s a certain kind of logic to that right? Since the ’70s, lots of things have changed about our way of living with dogs. Like, we don’t let our dogs run in the same way, right? They’re better weight containment methods. If you lose your dog, most of them are microchipped and you can get your dog back. For that, and the spaying and neutering, lots of things have changed since 1970 in terms of our living with dogs.

Now, we only probably euthanize a little over a million dogs and cats. So way, way less. It’s still over a million dogs, cats every year that we’re euthanizing because they’re unwanted. And so, what has happened is this solution that’s out there, the way to sort of solve this problem is spay/neuter in the many, many shelters. Most shelters have mandatory spay/neuter policies and some districts in the U.S. have mandatory spay/neuter policies.

So, I just kind of accepted that like everybody else. And I got interested in the fact that, a. it hasn’t solved the problem, right? And, b. there’s a researcher at Davis, Ben Hart, who’s looked at the health effects of early spay/neuter of different breeds. And what he’s found is that some, a lot of the purported health effects for dogs are really not there. And in fact many breeds, it really varies by breed and by sex, are more likely to have cancers. Certain cancers. They’re more likely to have joint disease or osteoporosis. And there are a host of other medical problems that happen if you remove the reproductive organs, especially early in life. And I got interested in this as we have a problem in society. We make too many dogs. We let too many dogs be made somehow. And our way of solving it, which isn’t quite solving it, is to take new dogs when they’re brand new and perfect and spay and neuter them. And it has a deleterious effect for them. Like if you take out all the source of testosterone and estrogen, that’s a problem with bone growth, muscle growth, brain growth. It’s a problem.

So what we’re doing to make ourselves responsible owners, is sort of putting off on the dog the problem and not solving the problem. So it’s a really tricky issue. I don’t have the solution, but I think it would be useful if there were a more tailored process and a societal conversation about, “geez, what are we doing that’s creating all these extra dogs?” One thing is that they’re property, as we mentioned. And if they’re property then you can make more and make money on them, right? So if you decide to be a breeder, Jane, you decided to be a breeder tomorrow. Like you can be a breeder and make more puppies and you’re exempted from all the spay/neuter requirements because you want to make more puppies. So, of course, you can’t spay/neuter, right? But that’s interesting to me. So if you want to make more puppies and make money on them, then you’re allowed to do that. But if you’re the responsible dog owner, right? And everybody’s heard this, you’re the responsible owner if you spay/neuter and you can’t make more puppies and you’re not making money on the dog. So we just have this funny attitude about a problem that we created as humans. And I think I’d love a new conversation societally about how to do what’s best for the dog, right? And face up to our misdeeds as a society that we are creating this problem and making them kind of solve it.

JCH: (33:22) And that’s just in the U.S. I mean, I guess not just in the U.S., but the way that we do things in the U.S. is not how everyone does it.

AH: (33:31) It’s another interesting thing, right? There are countries like Norway. Until recently, it was illegal to spay or neuter your dog. It was illegal. Right? And that’s because they have a different attitude about what you should be allowed to do to a dog. Switzerland has an animal in their law. They have an animal protection act that forbids you doing anything which is not necessary for the health or welfare of the dog. And of course it’s, it might be necessary if a dog has testicular cancer or it’s a propensity to uterine cancer, then it might be necessary to take out their reproductive organs. But, otherwise, it’s not for them that we’re doing it. It’s for us. It’s also inconvenient for us. Like we want a non-sexual, non-messy dog, right? And I find that to be an interesting thing to look at and think about. But there are countries where there’s no more stray dog problem than we have, but they have no spay/neuter policies. So there are different ways to deal with it. And I don’t know that ours is the best way.

JCH: (34:36) Yeah. I was surprised to learn, actually I first learned, that Norway had made spaying and neutering illegal from my favorite Instagram dog whose handle is @arnoldstaffzenegger, if anyone’s looking to, he’s a Staffy mix who lives in Oslo and he’s very cute. But Arnold got me thinking about one of the chapters in your book, which is called “Humorless”. You talk about things that you no longer find cute or funny that have gone viral in our society. For instance, these pictures where people show their dogs looking super guilty or that they’re apologizing for having destroyed something. I think about this a lot because Arnold, as much as I love him, it seems like we have projected ourselves onto these dogs in such a way on Instagram specifically. Arnold has this whole storyline on Instagram where he’s dating this other girl dog named Amina. One of the other dogs I follow on Instagram constantly has really adorable, but probably uncomfortable, sparkly stickers and bows all over her body. I’m wondering if you can say a little bit more about the things that we do, maybe out of love or that we think are super cute, but that you no longer find cute.

AH: (36:02) The funny thing is I find dogs living with dogs is full of humor to me. I will laugh until I’m doubled over at my dog going outside and running in that sort of spastic, zoomy, runny way when he just really gets it in him. Or if there’s a big puddle and I just know what’s going to happen. And I love it. I just am laughing with them all the time. I play with them, I’m laughing with them. And then there’s this whole other genre of dealing with dogs that I just found myself thinking like, “Oh God, I have no humor about this at all”. I’m totally humorless.

And it’s the Instagram dogs that are kind of like today’s version of the Victorian autobiographies where everybody’s dog was writing an autobiography. Yeah. That’s what happened 120 years ago when there were a bunch of dog autobiographies and it was the same type of thing. I mean, Virginia Wolf actually wrote a dog autobiography, Flush. Yeah. Where she’s sort of imagining Flush’s point of view. But, I think, it’s mostly about her, right?

Today, it’s dogs who are posing and sometimes have products to sell on Instagram and so forth. But they’re often made up to be, I think what kind of bothers me, is just that the interest seems to be in all the non-dog things about the dog. It’s just all those human things that we can put on them and they will put up with stickers all over their body, for the most part. Or headgear, like a top hat, and they’ll sit there with the little water bottle that you’re selling or something like that. But, I think, the fun, wonderful thing about dogs is their total “not-like-that-ness”. That they like to roll in poo. Like that’s the super fun thing, right? They don’t like to dress up. So, it’s a funny thing because I’m in this big dog culture where we celebrate all those kinds of things and I find myself being kind of a grump all the time.

JCH: (38:08) With Halloween coming up, someone asked me—

AH: (38:11) I’m totally grumpy about that.

JCH: (38:12) what my dog was going to be, and I was like, we tried it once and she hated it enough. [Inaudible]

AH: (38:16) I mean, that’s the thing I’m keen about, right? If you are an observer of dog behavior and you look at dog body language, it’s really easy to see when a dog is just feeling pretty uncomfortable. But they’re putting up with you putting them in a Happy Meal costume and they’re putting up with it. I mean, some dogs are totally oblivious and fine, but again, the thing I celebrate most is just their pure dogginess, you know? Not that they’re Abraham Lincoln or whatever.

JCH: (38:51) So I think now we’ll transition to having audience questions. Yeah. Come on up.

AH: (38:57) Please.

Audience Member 1: (38:58) Hi. Thank you so much. This has really been wonderful. I am listening to you talk about how we project ourselves on our dogs and thinking about a question about training and how we think about dog training. I’m an educator and I teach in grad school and learning about different pedagogical methods and models and how different people learn and how I have to learn all these different ways of teaching information. I’m also thinking about how we teach our dogs and how different modalities of training sort of fall out of favor. You’ve got all these different positive reinforcement or otherwise. I’m wondering, is that a projection that I’m making that you have to learn how to teach different people different kinds of information in different ways. And, likewise, maybe not every dog learns the same way with the same kind of training. Could you speak a little bit to what our thinking is around training and how things sort of work or don’t work?

AH: (40:02) Yeah. A really interesting question. Actually, I don’t think that’s projection at all. When I study dogs, we consider dogs as though they’re all the same, right? But the whole point of our all being interested in the one dog we live with or the two or three dogs we live with is that they’re so not like all the other dogs, right? They’re very individual. And so it is a little ironic that we’re pretending we’re talking about dogs and that one training method would work well for all dogs. The reason there are different training methods is not because they’d been tailored to different dog personalities, though, it’s because there have just been different styles of training over time. And most training, if you do positive reinforcement training which if you don’t know what that is, that’s just basically when you see a behavior that you like, you reinforce that behavior in whatever way is reinforcing. So that could be a little bit of food or it could be praise or getting to the thing that the dog is trying to do. Something like that. In basic learning theory that works for everybody. That works for us, right? In fact, one of the big methods of positive reinforcement training, which is called clicker training, has really been popularized by Karen Pryor, who is a friend and colleague, 40 years ago which comes out of straight learning theory. Just like, you’ll do something more if you get a reward for that type of thing. She developed it actually for use with humans. With the idea being that you could shape human behavior if you just gave a little mark when you’re doing something right. And people didn’t want to use it with humans. They thought that that’s sort of weird, you know, like, no, we learn in a fancier way. But, no, we learn in the same way [laughter]. Like if there’s something with light touches and it shocks me, I’m not gonna touch that again. Right? Or maybe once [laughter]. Just to see. But if I get something good when I do a behavior, then I do it again. That’s just classic conditioning. And positive reinforcement training takes advantage of that. So the other training methods that are out there that are more punitive are just other styles of training that are falling out of favor because we realize that they’re punitive. That they’re aversive, that they might instill pain or harm. And that’s thankfully not, I think, mostly in favor now.

JCH: (42:25) Yes?

Audience Member 2: (42:26) Thank you. You mentioned earlier in your remarks that our relationship to dogs is, as it is today, is relatively recent. What do you think that tracks to in terms of other changes in our culture? How has that reflected in other ways in terms of the other things we relate to ourselves, our children, and our friends and so forth?

AH: (42:47) Yeah. Oh, it’s a great question. Well, I mean there has been a rise of a more childless society, right? And with fewer children in lots of parts of society than we have room for a dog maybe to fit into that kind of child role. Also, it’s trackable to wealth. I mean, we’re a wealthy society and the reasons that dogs can play into adulthood and became my study subject is because they don’t have other pressures on them, right? Like we provide their territory, we provide their food. There’s the bowl. We control their life, basically. And similarly, we have fewer pressures as humans, right? And so we get to have this additional, we can take on an additional responsibility of living with a non-human other.

I also think our minds are more open to animals now than 50 years ago. Partly in psychology, the discipline we both come out of 50 years ago, behaviorism was still the predominant idea and that would have dissipated into culture and behaviorism thought you know what, unless they’re saying something, there’s nothing going on in their heads. That was the popular idea about animals. And that has changed now obviously, right? Jane Goodall, you know, was radical transformation of that idea. And then all the research that shows now, I was walking around today and there were octopus representations everywhere and now octopus is the big popular animal to talk about how smart and clever they are. And so that societal interest in and acknowledgement of the kind of brain of other animals, I think, has let dogs be closer to us because we’re much more interested in them.

Audience Member 3: (44:45)I was wondering if you have any ideas why so many toys come with a squeaker when the first thing the dog does is do a “squeakectomy”. Have you looked at what makes the perfect dog toy? [Laughter].

AH: (45:00)Did you say, “squeakectomy”? That’s pretty good. I like that. Yeah. Well I actually did look into the history of dog toys for this book because I also am interested in why we get, like you get a dog and the shelter or the breeders is like, “you’re going to need a couple things you’re going to need maybe a crate or a bed and you’re going to need a collar and a leash and a bowl and get a couple of squeaking toys.” You know, it’s like, why are those the things that satisfy living with dogs.

So I went back to see when this started to appear. In the 19th century, there were no dog toys. Dogs just ate what they ate, the ball of string or it’s a stick or whatever it is, or bone. And then with the rise of pure-breeding, when people started making these purebred lines that we recognize today, there was a whole rush increase in dog ownership and interest from the dog fancy that purebred dog breeding was known, in acquiring things to kind of support this new product, really the new dogs. And so companies started making toys and some of the very first toys were from Abercrombie & Fitch was an early maker of dog toys and they’d make little squeaky toys. There were a lot of like chocolate scented heads that would squeak. And the idea there is clear, the idea is that it’s reproducing dogs prey sound, right?

So when they “squeakectomy” they’re killing the prey. So that’s an idea, that’s a satisfying experience. And I think it probably is except for the toy meant for the owner who’s like, now that toy’s done and I need to get you a new squeaker. So there now toy manufacturers I know who make extra squeakers that you can just stick back in there. Which might be really weird reincarnation idea for the dog. Like, oh, it’s back, I’ve got to kill it again. I’m interested in the fact that our toys have not evolved that much from 120 years ago. They’re still putting little heads with squeakers in them and, like, here dog, that’s what we’re going to give you. So I hope that changes a little bit.

JCH: (47:11) The reincarnation thing, I’ve always wondered about that, like, what is my dog thinking when she’s shook it all around and has definitely killed it. But then—

AH: (47:20) Stuffing everywhere. You put the stuffing back in.

JCH: (47:22) We might never know.

AH: (47:23) It must be very frustrating. Yeah.

Audience Member 4: (47:28) I was just wondering if you had any thoughts on dogs and language. I just recently heard about people in, think of the park in New York, the large park.

Audience: (47:41) Central Park.

Audience Member 4: (47:41) Yeah. That they are bringing dogs there and they’re teaching them Yiddish because the language is very abrupt and they feel like the dogs would respond better to the Yiddish. Do dogs recognize other languages? Is there any thought that they can tell language one from the other?

AH: (48:04) I mean, the things we think. I mean, as you know, dogs can learn any language, right? There, like infinitely flexible insofar as they can learn language at all. Right? Which is not to say that they do learn language in a humanlike way, but they become familiar with the sounds around them and they learn the sounds that are relevant to them. So in some ways it is like a human infant who we could be born into any culture and we would learn the language of that culture. And if there were two or three languages around us, we would learn two or three languages, right?And the dog’s learning just extends much less far. They don’t learn any syntax. They don’t seem to learn combination rules. They obviously don’t learn to produce any language, right? But, yeah, if you take a dog from Germany who grew up in Germany and it has certain words they respond to when you teach and you bring them here and you talk to them in English, they won’t understand that, right? They have to relearn that. So it’s just the sounds, but they can learn in any language, right? They’re so much better than I am in that way. But they just are very limited in the meaning that they can extract from it. And that’s mostly just because they’re not language using, that’s not a slight on their cognition it’s that they communicate with each other, you know, through different means.

Audience Member 5: (49:26) So this is Hayley at my side. She is a working dog and she’s now 14 and I have two questions surrounding kind of anthropomorphism versus biology. One is she’s worked far beyond what I expected. And the vet suggested, well, you take her whether she’s walked five, six miles every day for years. She interacts with people and other dogs when she’s let off duty. She’s never left home alone. That’s the perfect set of conditions for a dog. That’s what the vet said. And I wonder how much of her, perfect health at 14 is genes versus what they consider to be environmental. And then I have one other brief question after that.

AH: (50:18) Well, it’s delightful that she’s doing well at 14. I mean, small dogs will live a little bit longer and if she’s still astute and interested in going and able to walk around and so forth, I mean, I think that is because she’s more fit frankly, right? And so your vet’s not wrong there. Most dogs are not walking five or six miles a day. Although a wolf, their ancestors and relatives wolves might travel tens of miles in a day if they’re hunting for food or changing territories, you know, our dogs, sometimes they’re lucky if they get to walk around the block in a day. So, yeah, the more you’ve kept her moving, the more she will continue to be moving. If she’d had a genetic predisposition for something, it would have shown up probably by now. So I think she seems in pretty good health.

Audience Member 5: (51:10) Yeah. So and possibly the play and the mental stimulation. I mean we ascribe that to human aging and the vet said that maybe that contributes as well.

AH: (51:19) Well, I mean we don’t know that having an under-stimulated environment shortens the life of a dog, but it could, I mean it’s an interesting hypothesis. Yeah.

Audience Member 5: (51:28) Okay. And then I have one second question. I was just in the middle of your first book and I got to the part about whiskers and how interacting with the dog’s whiskers or petting them could potentially be uncomfortable to the dog. And we have kind of a ritual when she wake up, she’s next to me and I’ll kind of invade her space and kind of breathe on her whiskers and get in her nuzzle. And I wonder when I read that to what degree, she seems to me to be enjoying it, and when other people see me kind of rub her beard, my beard against her, she seems to enjoy it. But then when I read that, I wonder to what degree she might just be putting up with it or do dogs, as we come to know them, do they come to let us into their space a little bit more with kind of physical intimacy?

AH: (52:12) Yeah, sure. I mean if somebody else could come over and blow on her face and mess with her whiskers and she’d be okay with it, then I would think that she’s just okay with that, right? But if it’s just you, yeah, you’ve created a little ritual with her where that’s part, maybe she is just putting up with it, but it’s part of a whole bonding and attachment between you that is probably not separable from it, right? So I wouldn’t worry that you’ve been torturing her for 14 years.

Audience Member 5: (52:40) Thank you very much.

Audience Member 6: (52:44) I was wondering about this spay and neutering thing because if you spay/neuter every dog, they won’t reproduce at all. So what is the right percentage of dogs that—

AH: (53:00) Yeah, it’s a really cool question. It’s a little tricky. We don’t know what the right percentage of dogs is. You know, the interesting thing about the mandatory spay/neuter is that what’s happening is that it’s eliminating, if it were successful but you were still allowed to breed dogs, it would eliminate all the kind of shelter dogs, right? You would just have purebred dogs eventually, which would be weird. But we do want more dogs all the time. So you probably do to have a certain amount of breeding to just fill our demand as a society for living with dogs, especially puppies, we always want puppies, so there’s always a call to make more puppies. So we can’t really say except for that it’s somewhat less breeding than we do now because we still have this million or so dogs that are unwanted every year. I would think societally there’s no obvious answer. We’d have to play around with it a little bit and see what happened.

Audience Member 6: (53:58) Also, I read somewhere that purebred dogs live a shorter life. Is that true?

AH: (54:04) Well, I don’t think you can generalize like that. Dogs live different length lives based on tons of factors. So you know, small dogs live longer lives than larger dogs, which is just a phenomenon of size that you see across most animals. Some purebred dogs have lots of problems that have led them to have shorter lives, unfortunately. Especially some large dogs, which have lives of seven or eight years, life span of seven or eight years, which seems to be outrageous, but it’s not all purebred dogs and it’s not that all mixed breed dogs are healthier either, right? I mean there’s no one answer. Inbreeding dogs is generally a bad idea, just like inbreeding humans and we all know that, right? And we don’t do it. But in so far as you do it, you’re going to come up with some genetic problems over time and that could risk the health and longevity of a dog. Yeah.

Audience Member 7: (55:03) I thank you very much for a really interesting, illuminating talk. I just have a two part question. The first part, I was wondering, you’ve talked a lot about some of the physical trauma we occasionally inflict on dogs and occasionally you’ll see viral videos of dogs, like siblings, being reunited and being very happy. And I was wondering if there’s been any studying into the potential emotional trauma that we inflict on them by separating them from their litters, their mothers. And then the second part is, if there’s been any study into if dogs love us in the same way or as much as their siblings or mothers. Like if a dog grows up with its sibling pup from the same litter and a human and then you stick the sibling dog and the humans that have grown up with in separate cages, which one does it go to first to comfort? Is it the human, is it⁠—

AH: (55:50) It sounds like you have a study there, come to the lab. So to the first point, which was now, because I got so involved in your second question, just give me a minute. What was it?

Audience Member 7: (56:03) A little, if there’s been a little study into the emotional trauma?

AH: (56:07) So early separation from mothers is, has been shown to lead, to have negative social, it has negative social effects. So those dogs usually have more behavioral problems when they’re placed in a human home. Now that’s only a secondary marker of what their emotional experience is, right? I don’t know exactly what their emotional experience is, but usually socialization problems and misbehavior problems are signs of some kind of emotional chaos or disorganization within the dog, right? So I can’t tell what it feels like, but yeah, we do see an effect of that, unfortunately. You know, I think that dogs are pretty good at fitting into human families. So taking a dog from their litter when they’re 8 or 12 weeks old or a little bit older and had been weaned. And putting them in a human family, they’re actually really good at working their way right into the human family and may or may not recognize a litter mate later and female, mother dogs will stop being interested in hanging out with their pups after a certain amount of time, right? They push them away so they’re not looking to have this long time bonds like I am with my son. Like he’s never moving out of the house. They push them out a couple months in. They’re like, get outta here, right? Stop bothering me. So it’s a slightly different maternal familial setup, but I think part of what makes dogs so successful with us is that, yes, they are able to slip from this family unit to our family unit. Fits perfectly.

Audience Member 8: (57:42) Hi. I can attest to this squeaky noise because my dog has caught a rabbit before and I was sure he had a remnant squeaker in the yard and, no, it was a little bunny. But they sound just like the toys. So my question is whether or not you have studied the wag of a tail. Because I’ll watch mine and sometimes it circles, sometimes it’s back and forth. And I wondered if one was like on the hunt and then when it went another way it found whatever it was looking for.

AH: (58:18) Well you would have to tell me that because I haven’t studied your dog’s tail and they are really individual, right? So there’s not, there isn’t a kind of uniformity across dogs in terms of directionality and that’s what people see that they’re kind of excited about. Like, my dog does a clockwise thing and it’s kinda like on the left. There’s just a lot of individual variation there. Although those are certainly meaningfully different within the dog, right? Just like a high tail wag is different than a tail wag down beneath the legs. They’re telling us different things, happiness or relaxation and kind of like concern or anxiety. There have been people who’ve studied interesting little features of tail wags, and I kind of love their study. One researcher studied⁠ — so tail wags look like pretty much symmetrical but they’re not, they’re usually biased off to one side. And that’s because a lot of dog behavior like our behavior is lateralized because you have two hemispheres of the brain and they’re controlling the other side of the body. And they found that when dogs saw someone familiar or a familiar dog, their tails wagged a little bit more to the right. And then when they saw a strange dog, is how they put it a strange dog, then their tails wagged a little more to the left. So there is actually meaning there. You can see that they’re recognizing somebody or not recognizing somebody or seeing a threat through their tail wag.

Audience Member 9: (59:50) Hi. In studying canine cognition, have you done any work with canine theory of mind? And if so, what have you found so far?

AH: (59:59) Well, in fact it was theory of mind, this idea of theory of mind that got me into studying dogs. So when I was interested in play behavior, what I was really interested in this idea of theory of mind, which is something that all humans develop when we’re older children, which is the realization that other people have other minds, basically, right? That they have things they know or understand or feel that are different than what I feel. You know that if you lived with children you realize that at some certain point they don’t realize that, right? And then there’s a point where they know that if you’re out of the room, that’s when they can take the cookies from the jar because you don’t see it and you don’t know what I know, right? And so that’s having a theory of mind and it’s considered to be highly complicated and sophisticated.

And so there are studies that try to find out if non-human animals have this, but they haven’t shown that they do. But I thought all the experiments are so weird that they set up for these animals to see, like, there’s a chimpanzee and they’ll be two people behind a screen. And one of them has a bucket over their head and they’re both pointing at a bin. And the chimp’s supposed to choose which one knows where the food is, right? And I’m like, that’s crazy for a chimp. Like, what’s happening? How would that tell us if the chimp has a theory of mind? It’s so weird.

So I thought you have to look at how they naturally behave with each other. Because that’s how we learn about theory of mind is like I play with my brother and then I realized that if he’s not there I can steal his stuff. You know, that’s when I got it. And so, play is one of those places that theory of mind might develop when you start thinking about like, I’m gonna play my mom, I’m going to be my mom now. So what’s my mom’s role and how does she talk and what does she know? And that kind of social play is where theory of mind develops. And so I thought it might in dogs as well. And I studied this dog play behavior and what I did see, which I couldn’t prove a theory of mind but I saw some indication that they might have a theory of mind because I was looking at some things, is such a long-winded answer but I really liked the question and I want to answer it properly, I was looking at how they used communications in play and the communications in play are play signals.

You know the play bow, right? You get down, their four limbs down and the rump in the air and the tail wagging. That’s like an invitation to another dog, do you want to play? Well if you want to ask that, you have to make sure the other dog’s paying attention, right? And I want to see if they waited for another dog’s attention before they did these play signals in play. And the short answer is it looks like they do, which is pretty cool, right? Like, they don’t just do this behavior in all directions and then see if a dog takes up the gambit, they’re thinking you have to be looking at me for me to communicate with you. And if you’re not, they’ll do attention getters that are kind of scaled to how not looking at me you are. Like, if you’re just on the side, I can kind of run in front of you and like put myself right in front of you. If you’re playing with someone else, I might need to bite you on the rump. And then when you turn, I’m like, “hey”. So I feel like that’s a little theory of mind-ish. And we haven’t gotten much further than that in the field, so it’s still sort of an open question with a promising result.

Audience Member 10: (01:03:29) Thank you for being here. When I got my first fur girl about 10 years ago, someone told me something like, you know, a tired dog is a happy dog. So we took walks every day, like rain, shine, whatever. Now there seems to be a movement about canine enrichment. And there’s all these like puzzle slow feed bowls and then you see all these people creating these Rube Goldberg contraptions for their dogs to spin and stuff. And I just wonder if you could talk a little bit about that.

AH: (01:03:59) No, I actually I love that, right? I mean, basically, if you think about the dog’s life in most households, they’re just hanging out waiting for us to do something all day and they don’t have anything to do. And I would revise that like a tired dog is a dog who has a work project is a happy dog and that work project can be any manner of things so it can be one of these. Like a food puzzle is interesting because, you know, think about their wild ancestors. There wasn’t just food like dropped in front of them where they went and got it. And that’s part of their life, right? So it’s nice and easy that dogs don’t have to hunt for their food, but it could be more engaging for them and that would be more stimulating for them.

I’m very much an advocate of smell games with dogs because that’s something we really don’t pursue with dogs that much ’cause we’re usually not that interested in them sniffing things, right? Because we’re not interested in sniffing. We’re like, that’s kinda gross what they’re doing, like come on, let’s go for our walk. We need a tired dog. But I’m very interested in them being able to spend time sniffing. So iI don’t know how many people know scent work or nose work. Yeah, that type of enrichment I think is a really great, it’s just basically a find it game for dogs where they can use their nose and they’re in charge. The owner is not in charge and they’re very keen on that. I think those things are fantastic. I mean a dog’s day doesn’t have to be filled up back-to-back enrichments like this. But given where we’re starting, which is usually with nothing like this, anything is, I think, a little bit of improvement.

Audience Member 10: (01:05:39) So do you think ongoing education throughout their lives, like scent work and agility and Canine Good Citizen, like that’s a good idea throughout their life just to kind of keep their brain in check?

AH: (01:05:49) Absolutely throughout their life. And if you have a 12 year old dog and you’ve never done any of this, it still could be engaging for them, right? It’s not just for young dogs and it’s not like they’re going to get a degree in something and move on to the next thing. It’s not about an accomplishment. It’s about things to do and actually cognitive decline is a real phenomenon in dogs, right? In fact, dogs are used as a model of cognitive dysfunction and dementia for human medicine. That’s because it happens to them as well. And what do we prescribe for human dementia is we prescribing, you know, doing things with your mind. So I think it could actually potentially stave off some decline in later life as well.

Audience Member 10: (01:06:31) Awesome. Thank you.

Audience Member 11: (01:06:34) Thank you for your wonderful answers to good questions. So this is appropriate. It’s the last question because it has to do with bereavement in dogs. In my community, which is a retirement community, many people, humans, have been given diagnoses. They know that they’re not going to live that much longer. And a very dear friend of our community recently died and her dog who was the bark bark little thing of the entire community, you wouldn’t even get in an elevator with him because he was so, and this was before the diagnosis. Once she was diagnosed, he slept on her bed, was near her all the time. And I’ve heard studies that some dogs can smell the illness that’s in them. But what about preparing a dog? And is it possible for loss whether of a human or another animal in a family that they’re connected to?

AH: (01:07:38) Yeah, it is. It is a really interesting question. And I’m sorry to say that I don’t know of any way to prepare them. I think this is because one of the things we think dogs don’t have a conceptual understanding of or conceptual anticipation of is his death. Now that doesn’t, I don’t know that they don’t, but we don’t know that they do, right? We have to be a little agnostic about it. So even though sometimes a dog is, sometimes they act differently when they’re about to die. For instance, they might walk off sort of separate themselves from their person. It’s hard to know what their understanding is of that. And if they don’t really understand that, it would be hard to prepare them for somebody else’s death, I think. But it certainly is the case that they know about death, right? And they know about illness and you’re right. Illness has a smell. Illness has an odor. In fact, human physicians used to use their nose to detect illnesses in us, right? Because different illnesses, different lung disease has a certain kind of smell and diabetes has a smell. And tuberculosis, I understand, smells like freshly baked bread. So you could use that. Even just somebody who was attuned to use that and dogs do as well. So they can be kind of canaries in the coal mine. They’re telling someone ahead of time what their health might be and I don’t, unfortunately,I don’t have the answer for that. Science hasn’t really addressed that. In fact, it’s the type of thing we haven’t wrangled with it enough with humans. You know, we don’t even really know how to do it with ourselves let alone with dogs.

Audience Member 11: (01:09:23) A veterinarian that I had some years ago when one of my cats was dying, said when that cat died, I was to be sure and bring the body back to the home so that my other cat could sniff her. And it was so amazing what happened. She sniffed her half sister from ear to bottom and back again, then stretched out on the floor, like in a spoon position for probably half a minute. And then she sat up and looked at me and she was a talker, Siamese. She looked at me and no words would come out. But she was shaping her mouth as though she was talking. And I just said, “Gwenny some grief has no words”. But I thought that veterinarian’s advice was good because he said, if you don’t do that, especially when the animals are pretty smart, they will keep looking for the other animal. And she didn’t, she didn’t look for her sister. So I wondered, I presume it’s the same with dogs.

AH: (01:10:37) Yeah, absolutely, and especially if we think about them as living through smell and knowing us through smell. So how thoroughly do they know us and others through smell. So whatever understanding they’re going to have at the end of life, it’s going to smell like something, right? And that’s how they’ll rest. Thanks for your question.


Jini Palmer: (01:11:08) Thank you for listening to our Town Hall Seattle Science series. I’m Jini Palmer. Our theme music comes from the Seattle bass band, Say Hi and Seattle’s own Barsuk Records. A special thanks to our audio engineer, John Nold. Check out our new season of Town Hall Seattle’s original podcast In The Moment. Each episode, a local Seattle correspondent interviews somebody coming to Town Hall. They get you excited about upcoming events by giving you a behind-the-scenes look into a presenter’s content, personality and interests. If you like our Science series, listen to our Arts & Culture and Civic series as well. For more information, check out our calendar of events or to support Town Hall, go to our website at

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