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Dogs and humans: a special bond

Published torsdag 19 februari 2015 kl 11.19
"In order to eat a pig, you have to have a distance from it"
(3:16 min)
Per Jensen with his son's dog Elsa. Photo: Sara Sällström.
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Per Jensen with his son's dog Elsa. Photo: Sara Sällström.
Cecilia Lindqvist with her dog Hachi. Photo: Sara Sällström, Sveriges Radio.
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Cecilia Lindqvist with her dog Hachi. Photo: Sara Sällström, Sveriges Radio.

Since the early years of this century there has been gathering research about the inner lives of dogs and how they understand humans. This increased interest can be a boon to our knowledge of farm animals and deepen questions of animal Welfare.

It has become more and more obvious that dogs are very good at understanding humans. Dogs do not just listen to what we say but also look at facial expressions and gestures.

Per Jensen, who researches animal behavior at Linköping University, told Swedish Radio Science that understanding the behavior of dogs will also lead to greater understanding of other animals as well, like farm animals.

"There is a distance that we have developed towards animals. Perhaps in order to be able to eat a pig, one has to develop a distance from it," Jensen said.

He thinks that this is essentially dangerous because it leads to the undervaluing of animals' capacity to feel and their capacity to experience different things.

The three primary areas of research into dog behavior have focused on their evolutionary origins, the way they communicate and how they think. Dogs really want to cooperate with humans, Jensen said, and this makes them especially good research subjects, more so than most other animals.

Jensen believes that the research into dog behavior will lead to an increased interest in the inner world of other animals. Then, he said, we could suddenly be able to understand and appreciate how for example a pig, a horse or a cow experience the world.

"You can, for example, see that pigs in fact have some kind of elementary self-consciousness," Jensen said.

He is referring to a series of experiments where pigs were able to use mirrors in order orient themselves in a room in a way that was earlier thought they could not do. For them to be able to do this is assumed to come from the pigs having some kind of self-consciousness, that they are aware of having a body.

Jensen believes this type of research would not have happened if the research into dog behavior had not had such a big impact.

Cecilia Lindqvist, who lives in Norrköping, has a Japanese Shiba Inu dog named Hachi. She believes Hachi can understand many words, even words from ordinary conversations. And she thinks the Connection humans have with dogs is not the same as with other animals.

"I've experienced it as being very uncomplicated. It is quite direct, whether or not he understands human words. With people, language and perhaps emotions are more advanced, so there is more room for misinterpreting more complex things. But with dogs it is simpler," Lindqvist told Swedish Radio Science.

Our journalism is based on credibility and impartiality. Swedish Radio is independent and not affiliated to any political, religious, financial, public or private interests.
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