I’ve noticed a trend.

Not everyone wants someone else’s interpretation of the latest canine science study. “I want to see the study’s methods myself, how the research was done, and who the subjects were before drawing any conclusions,” I see time and again on Facebook.

Good news: There are a number of ways to access original research articles, such as checking whether the article is posted on the researcher’s website (sometimes it is, like here and here) or emailing the corresponding author to request a copy. And more and more, canine-focused studies appear in open-access journals like PLoS ONE, Frontiers, and Animals, among others. Sometimes studies are available open-access even when they are published in journals typically behind a paywall. For example the recent dog “guilty look” study that I covered in last week’s post is available open-access through the subscription-based journal Applied Animal Behaviour Science.

Then there are the special issues, like ‘New Directions in Canine Behavior,’ a special issue of Behavioural Processes with 15 articles available via free promotional access until January 2016. Download now, view whenever! This special issue features articles on a wide range of topics such as dog play and play behavior, self-regulation, human-directed affiliation in young wolves, puppy personality tests, canid behavioral sequences, smell-related brain activity, working-dog welfare, dog response to human emotions, and much more. I have an article in the issue exploring the role of citizen science in the growing canine science field — my co-author is Eleanor Spicer Rice who among other things, is behind the art-inspired science blog, Buzz Hoot Roar (featuring excellent posts like ‘A Spider Did Not Bite You’).

For generalists like me (the picture to the right captures the typical excitement of a generalist), special issues are where it’s at; lots of different topics in one easy location! I recently checked in with Monique Udell, guest editor of the special issue ‘New Directions in Canine Behavior’ and head of the Human-Animal Interaction Lab at Oregon State University to learn more about the issue and her thoughts on the future of canine science. As an added bonus, she also shared how studying dogs has affected her.

Julie Hecht, Dog Spies (Hecht): Until January 2016, anyone can access ‘New Directions in Canine Behavior,’ a special issue of Behavioural Processes. What do you hope dog lovers will take from it?

Monique Udell (Udell): I think the diverse range of questions being asked about dogs and canines in general is something that should be exciting to academics and non-academics alike. Dog owners, and those who work with dogs, will have the opportunity to learn new things about this species–and their close relatives–including how they may perceive humans, how they learn and problem-solve, and what play behaviors might mean.

This issue also provides a window into the scientific process – readers can learn how scientific ideas have changed over time, where we need more research (e.g. welfare and canine behavioral assessments) and even how they might be able to get involved in the future — especially with new opportunities for citizen science in canine research!

Hecht: As the canine science field grows, are there topics that you hope researchers give more attention to?

Udell: I think many people will continue to be interested in the social behavior of pet domestic dogs, and there is still much critical research to be done in this area. However, I would love to see more research on independent canine problem solving and also more work with populations (and even species) beyond pet domestic dogs. This special issue has papers that discuss the behavior of working dogs, laboratory-reared dogs, shelter dogs, as well as coyotes, foxes and wolves in addition to the behavior of companion dogs. To fully appreciate and comprehend the qualities of the dogs we live with, we must better understand the behavior of dogs that exist in different environments and niches around the world.

Hecht: Studies often find that dogs are incredibly responsive to humans, but the special issue includes articles highlighting that dogs are not always successful when it comes to reading human behavior.

Udell: There is no doubt that dogs are highly skilled at living with and around humans and can be very responsive to human behavior. However, scientific reports of ‘failures’ in this area are just as important as successes. They remind us that even if dogs are born amazingly flexible and social animals, their environment and life experiences are critical when assessing what kind of relationship individual dogs will come to have with humans. A feral dog and a pet may both be equally responsive to human actions, but one may respond to signals of attention by fleeing while the other may use the same human signals as a cue to approach, play or even beg.

Dogs are not preprogrammed to respond to people in one way, or even to love people; while they are born with a capacity to form such bonds, this capacity has to be fostered. In many cases, differences in dogs’ behavioral responses to our actions say as much about us, and the environments we may be raising these animals in, as they do about the dog–we play an important role in shaping their behavior and cognition. The product of these relationships is a fascinating thing to study, and many of the articles in this issue focus on the important place where evolution, environment, and life experience meet.

Hecht: You’ve been in this field for a number of years; are there things that you’ve incorporated into your life with dogs as a result of studying dogs?

Udell: The longer I work with dogs, the more I appreciate their adaptive nature. Each dog is more than a canine, more than a breed–it is an individual. My work has allowed me to incorporate what I know about canine behavior more generally, with an understanding of the importance of environment and lifetime experience, and as a result I believe I have more respect and appreciation for dogs as a species, and also the dog-human relationship, than ever before. It is amazing how many of us can feel that dogs belong in our homes to such a degree that we treat them as members of our family–yet dogs can also be found thriving in different families, in dumps, as scavengers, as working animals, and there too they can thrive.

My experiences and research has also led me to have more patience and understanding when a dog–including my own–does something unexpected or inappropriate by human standards. When we take a step back and recognize the many ways that dogs adapt and learn to thrive with us on a daily basis, it may also inspire us to find more ways to allow dogs to express their natural motor patterns, problem solving skills, and unique behaviors in appropriate contexts instead of trying to suppress them. With dogs, one size definitely does not fit all, and that social flexibility might well be a key reason we love them.

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Check out the entire special issue, ‘New Directions in Canine Behavior’ available until January 2016 via free promotional access. Download now, view whenever!

Image: Jumping Dog Shadow via Flickr Creative Commons License.

Coverage of studies in ‘New Directions in Canine Behavior’
Hecht, J. 2015. A Dog Rolling Over During Play Is a Combat Tactic, Not Submission. Scientific American

Lazarowski, L. 2015. How Dogs Get the Point: What Enables Canines to Interpret Human Gestures? Do You Believe in Dog?

McConnell, P. 2015. New Directions in Canine Behavior. The Other End of the Leash

Todd, Z. 2015. Do Dogs Prefer Petting or Praise? Companion Animal Psychology

Todd, Z. 2015. How Can We Improve Working Dog Programs? Companion Animal Psychology

Todd, Z. 2015. Working Dog Welfare: A Conversation with Mia Cobb. Companion Animal Psychology