BOOKS: Do Dogs Dream?
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, July/August 2012:
Do Dogs Dream? by Stanley Coren / W.W. Norton and Company (500 5th Ave., New York, NY 10110), 2012. 277 pages, hardcover. $23.95.
The Left-Hander Syndrome: The Causes & Consequences of Left-Handedness (1993) established University of British Columbia psychology professor Stanley Coren as a best-selling author. Coren had a ready-made audience: about one person in 10 is left-handed. But nearly half of the people in the English-speaking world share their homes with dogs, the subject of eight of Coren’s nine subsequent books, including his 2005 best-seller The Intelligence of Dogs.
Do Dogs Dream?, like most of Coren’s other books about dogs, appears to be a compilation of Coren’s columns and blog postings, produced at first for a defunct magazine issued by Rodale Press, and more recently for Psychology Today. Only three pages of Do Dogs Dream? actually address the title question. Far more of Do Dogs Dream? examines issues pertaining to dog perception, communication, and problem-solving.
Coren explains that most dogs have historically not responded to televised images, regardless of the subjects, because dogs have greater “flicker sensitivity” than humans. This means that while humans see pictures on a TV screen, dogs mostly see the blank space between signal receptions. However, the advent of high-definition television has reduced the blank space–and has begun to enable dogs to see TV.
Of the olfactory acuity of dogs, Coren writes that most can detect a chemical commonly found in human sweat so readily that a dog standing in the middle of Philadelphia could in theory simultaneously individually smell every one of the 1.5 million human residents.
Coren adds that dogs readily learn to sniff out cancer, with accuracy as great as that of advanced diagnostic equipment.
Delving into dog training, Coren explains that comforting a dog who has just behaved in a fearful manner tends to reinforce phobic behavior.
Coren’s few pages on dog attacks are unfortunately decades outdated, for example in asserting that humans are twice as likely to be struck by lightning as to be killed by dogs. In truth, as Center for the Human-Animal Bond director Alan Beck informed ANIMAL PEOPLE readers in September 2009, the National Weather Service recorded 45 U.S. lightning strike deaths in 2007, 28 in 2008, and
27 in 2009, a three-year average of 33.3. Meanwhile, there were 33, 16, 31, and 46 dog attack fatalities, 2007-2010, for a four-year average of 32–and were 31 dog attack deaths in 2011. Since I informed Coren of Beck’s findings on May 6, 2011, after Coren misinformed his Psychology Today readers, Coren had ample opportunity to correct his error.
In the same few pages Coren asserts that 53% of fatal dog attacks are provoked. This saw dates back more than 50 years, to an era when the U.S. averaged under one fatal attack per year.
Currently it is questionable that even 5% of fatal dog attacks are “provoked” by anything other than normal human behavior in the presence of dogs. Not one of the 22 U.S. dog attack fatalities thus far in 2012 was demonstrably provoked by anything more menacing to the dog than a baby attempting to stand up by clinging to a mastiff/Rhodesian ridgeback for support, exactly as the victim had often done before.
Reality is that many dogs today are far more powerful and far more reactive than the dogs of 50 years ago, and now often kill or disfigure people in situations which 50 years ago might have brought only some barking, a growl, or a nip.