Join Professor Clive Wynne as he discusses why dogs have become one of the most widespread mammals on the planet.
Dogs are the most widespread large mammal on this planet (besides ourselves), with nearly a billion individuals on every continent except Antarctica. How did they achieve this success, especially in a world from which their ancestors, wolves, have been almost eradicated?
Sticking close to people is clearly part of the reason for dogs’ widespread presence. However, their relationships with humans are highly varied. Some argue that dogs possess a unique form of intelligence — in the 15,000 or more years since dogs became human companions, they have developed human-like modes of cognition. It has been suggested that this ability to comprehend human actions and intentions has been the secret to their success. However, Professor of Psychology Clive Wynne has proposed an alternative idea: perhaps dogs’ intelligence is actually quite pedestrian, and it is their exaggerated ability to form strong emotional connections that account for our desire to have them around us.
A better-informed understanding of dogs’ success in the human-dominated world has important practical implications. Firstly, understanding dogs’ adaptations to life in human proximity will have consequences for how people structure their lives alongside dogs, as each species in this symbiosis has the potential to bring benefits or do harm. Secondly, in an era of unprecedented human-driven extinctions, understanding how one animal has succeeded in adapting to human activity may shed light on how and why others have failed.