Communicating with Canines

The domestic dog is an animal that is special in many ways. It is an animal that has been artificially selected by humans for thousands of years and has taken on a variety of roles in human societies from being companions to circus animals to guards and guides. Despite the intimacy with human beings, we all know of instances in which there have been rough and sometimes violent encounters between people and these canine creations. In this issue, Jenna Buley et al. tries to understand the relationship between human facial and postural characteristics and stress level in a dog as revealed by a dog's behavior such as tongue-flicking. Some findings were expected: staring at a dog made the dog just as nervous at the end as at the beginning.

However, other interesting findings such as human grinning reducing stress level in dogs can be useful in improving dog-human encounters and preventing aggressive incidents. Like any good research, more questions are raised than answered. Interdisciplinary questions can be asked combining for example, the rapid advancements in molecular biology with basic questions about canine emotionality and behaviour. The individual and breed differences in reaction to human facial expressions can perhaps be correlated with various genetic markers. A recent genome-wide scan localized a gene that explained the diversity in canine body sizes. Similarly, employing the behavioral methods of Buley and colleagues, one could find the genetic markers underlying the diversity in emotionality and stress reactions in various breeds of dogs. Such a study would be more complex since the phenotype is not something directly measurable (such as body size), but it could lead to a wider understanding of not just canine, but human and nonhuman animal emotionality and stress.

Farhan Ali

Psychology and Social Sciences Research Editor

JYI has a science journalism program, which trains undergraduates how to write news and feature articles about science and about how to communicate effectively to the public.
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