If Dogs Could Talk: Exploring the Canine Mind

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"This book is endlessly enlightening and entertaining . . . will appeal to all dog owners." —Ann LaFarge, Taconic News

How do dogs think? Short of breeding a talking dog (not as impossible as it sounds), the best we can do is to carefully observe and record their behavior. And after a decade of research, the internationally renowned ethologist Vilmos Csányi has brilliantly captured the high degree of mutual understanding and empathy that exists...

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"This book is endlessly enlightening and entertaining . . . will appeal to all dog owners." —Ann LaFarge, Taconic News

How do dogs think? Short of breeding a talking dog (not as impossible as it sounds), the best we can do is to carefully observe and record their behavior. And after a decade of research, the internationally renowned ethologist Vilmos Csányi has brilliantly captured the high degree of mutual understanding and empathy that exists between humans and their proverbial best friends.

Drawing in part on close observations of his own dogs, Flip and Jerry, Csányi argues that the long-standing alliance of dogs and humans arose from the problem-solving and communications skills evident in wolves, from which all modern dogs are descended. These basic intellectual skills were refined and enhanced as dogs and humans evolved together over tens of thousands of years. And because dogs were bred to be mankind's helpmates, the dog owner who knows what to look for can interpret their thoughts, desires, and motivations.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"To anyone who has lived with a dog . . . Vilmos Csányi's If Dogs Could Talk: Exploring the Canine Mind will bring delight." —Paul Reidinger, San Francisco Bay Guardian
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780865476868
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
  • Publication date: 1/12/2005
  • Pages: 352
  • Product dimensions: 6.26 (w) x 9.16 (h) x 1.06 (d)

Meet the Author

Vilmos Csányi is a professor and chair of the department of ethology at Eötvös Loránd University in Budapest. He has written extensively about his work for both professional and general audiences. If Dogs Could Talk is his twenty-third book.

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If Dogs Could Talk

Exploring the Canine Mind
By Vilmos Csányi

North Point Press

Copyright © 2005 Vilmos Csányi
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9780865477292

If Dogs Could Talk
Part OneThe Alliance of Two MindsHumans have coexisted for tens of thousands of years with a peculiar social predator descended from wolves, namely the dog. During this time we have accumulated much knowledge about dogs. Some of this knowledge is available in well-written and practical dog books, while some is the subject of the oral history of dogs, of anecdotes and beliefs; only a very small portion of this knowledge has found its way into the scientific literature about dogs. If we examine the practical and theoretical literature about dogs, we find much on breeding dogs, on owning and training them, and on the characteristics of particular breeds. But we will find precious little about their behavior and the functioning of their minds, and there are hardly any works that deal expressly with canine ethology.Why Is There No Canine Ethology?Ethologists are guided by numerous motives when they select a particular species for special examination, and some of the relevant considerations may appear to be contradictory. It is useful if the animal selected for study is easily approached and observed, but it is also useful if its habitat is far away, in exotic regions, and if it is difficult to observe. Itserves our purposes well if the chosen animal has a simple nervous system, but it is also appropriate for answering our scientific questions if its nervous system is among the most highly developed, and it is even better if the animal is closely related to humans. The extent to which earlier scientists have already dealt with the animal in question is also relevant: if they have studied it extensively, we no longer have to concern ourselves with observing the simplest features, but if they have hardly considered it at all, then practically every observation we make about the animal is a novel contribution to science.These contradictory considerations are particularly valid in the case of dogs: they are simultaneously extremely desirable as well as unsuitable subjects for ethological observations. Dogs live among us and their natural environment is human society. Consequently they are readily available for observation; but at the same time, they are very difficult to observe, because to do so requires us to penetrate a wild jungle, namely the family home. Being mammals, their nervous system is quite well developed, but does not reach the level attained by the apes. These contradictions are undoubtedly the reason that except for a dozen or so learned articles there are no books on canine ethology. The reluctance of ethologists to deal with dogs is further reinforced by the fact that there is much more variation in canine behavior than within particular species that live in the wild. There are two exceptions to the uniform rule of invariant behavior within species: humans and dogs. The reason for the variability of behavior among dogs is not only that there are many hundreds of genetically different breeds among dogs, but also that their individual development can be influenced by learning, teaching, discipline, and the development of habits.1 2Ethology offers the scientific researcher two principal opportunities for observation. The first one is the observation of the animal's behavior in its natural habitat. If a dog is a family dog, it clearly lives in the human environment. But it will also have close human contacts if it is a working dog or if its job is only to guard the house. Hence the domain of observations can be highly variable. Anyone who wants to pursue canine ethology has to have some familiarity with human ethology, as well as with psychology, because any evaluation of canine behavior must be coupled with an understanding of human behavior. It follows that we must adopta new methodology, which is to require in our experiments that dogs and their owners both participate in them.An alternative approach would be to examine the animal in an entirely artificial, laboratory setting. We did not seriously contemplate keeping dogs in a kennel and periodically selecting one for an experiment or for observation. Isolated dogs sooner or later become psychologically disturbed and become unsuitable as experimental subjects for behavioral observation. On the other hand, dogs kept in groups avidly observe the course of events and this again impedes objective study. For example, we examined bonding among dogs kept by an animal protective organization, which employed a common run for dogs. We soon learned that dogs vied for the honor of being selected for an experiment, and dogs that were picked more frequently were soon punished by the others' aggressive behavior. Dogs do not like exceptions.The reader will discover many facts and data in this volume: among them the results of tests and experiments of ethological significance performed with my collaborators, as well as those of other experiments that may not be directly related to ethology but are undoubtedly of scientific importance. We shall also discuss observations that I made over a ten-year period on my own dogs. These are, of course, individual observations, but their scientific value derives from the fact that they helped us to carefully design and control experiments. Finally, I shall also provide some firsthand anecdotes that enrich my story. The reader should consider my views on the canine mind as the hypotheses of a scientific theory, the proof of which remains the task of future research. But absent more research, these are my views here and now and I shall try to support them the best way I can. Those readers with a particular bent for science will find a long chapter near the end of the book about scientific investigations into the animal mind and what the stumbling blocks are. These stumbling blocks are obviously relevant for my theories as well. For this reason the reader must resist the temptation to believe that dogs are exactly the way I see them.Let us begin. How did the wolf turn into the dog?Chapter 1The WolfThe Evolution of CanidsI shall provide convincing evidence in chapter 3 that the ancestor of the dog is the wolf and only the wolf. Until then, let us devote some detailed attention to it.1 The scientific name for the wolf is Canis lupus, gray wolf (the American black wolf is also known as the timber wolf), and it is a predator. Predators can be classified into several families: the bears (Ursidae), the cats (Felidae), the hyenas (Hyaenidae), the civets (Viverridae), the weasels (Mustelidae), the raccoons (Procyonidae), and the dogs (Canidae) (see figure 1). These families can be traced back to an ancestral predator, the creodont, which lived more than a hundred million years ago in the Northern Hemisphere. Its descendant was the miacis (see figure 2), which lived forty million to fifty million years ago. Some of the predator families living today descended from this animal. The miacis was a tree-dwelling animal of weasel size, with short legs and a long tail. The canids' lineage descends from this to the cynodictus, which appeared in the pliocene era about twenty million years ago (see figure 3). This latter spent most of its time on the ground and its limbs were better suited for running than those of the miacis. It was after the miacis that the cat family separated from the canids, which descended from the tomarctus (see figure 4). The tomarctus rather resembled our contemporary dogs, although it was much inferior in intelligence. Today, the canids comprise some ten or so different genera and approximately thirty-nine species. The genus Canis comprises, beside the dog (Canis familiaris ) and the wolf (Canis lupus), the prairie wolf (Canis latrans), the golden jackal (Canis aureus), the silverbacked jackal (Canis mesomelas), the sidestriped jackal (Canis adustus), as well as various fox species. Additional caniform predators belong to various other genera; among these the best known may be the African wild dog (Lyacaon pictus).Scientists recognize some thirty to forty subspecies of wolf, the precise number depending on which taxonomy is accepted as valid. The members of various subspecies differ among themselves in their body weight, fur, and the average size of certain bones.The WolfAmong the canids, the wolf is the largest, weighing 40 to 50 kilograms (88 to 120 pounds), although individuals weighing more than 60 kilograms (144 pounds) have been found. The wolf hunts in cooperative packs for prey larger than itself Its habitat extends throughout the Northern Hemisphere, with the exception of tropical forests and arid deserts, and includes the tundra, taiga, steppe, savanna, and forests, unless it is displaced by human activity. It is superbly adapted for sustained running, and over short distances its speed can reach 60 to 70 kilometers per hour (37 to 43 miles per hour). According to some observers, when chased it is capable of jumping 4 to 5 meters (13 to 16 feet). At a moderate speed it is able to pursue prey for 15 to 20 minutes. After such an exertion it needs to rest for a comparable period of time. Its ability to swim is outstanding and wolves have been observed to tread water while killing their prey. In contrast to other canids, wolves eat only meat and bones. They have an exquisite sense of smell and hearing. Pack members can detect the smell of elk from a distance of 2 to 2.5 kilometers (1.25 to 1.55 miles) and tame wolves have been known to reply to the imitation of a howl by a familiar human from a distance of 6 kilometers (3.75 miles). This means that they can probably also hear a genuine wolf howl from this distance. Wolves' vision is particularly good in perceiving motion.It is no exaggeration that wolves are the most intelligent predators. The volume of their brains is between 150 and 170 cubic centimeters (9.2 to 10.4 cubic inches). They acquired their extraordinary mental abilities through social interaction. The size of the pack is determined by many factors; sometimes it consists of only two or three individuals, but it appears that the optimal number is seven or eight. A larger pack is rare. Packs, even small ones, often divide into two and reunite later. One frequently encounters solitary wolves, which are usually older animals or individuals that have been ejected from the pack. The formation and life of a pack are most often studied with captive wolves, because nobody has yet succeeded in following a pack in its natural habitat for years or in identifying its members precisely. But short-term observations have been carried out by several scientists, and the information gathered in this fashion has revealed much about the wolves' social system.The wolves that constitute the breeding pair are the key figures of the pack, which also consists of pups and a few adults of either sex. Adulthood is reached after two years, but a high percentage of the pups perish before reaching that age. Many observers have thought that the other adults in the pack may well be the older offspring of the breeding pair. Strange wolves are rudely chased away from the pack's habitat, but around the time that the young are born, adults that are strangers may join the pack and other adults may leave the pack; the pack may in fact divide into several parts.Packs inhabit a predominantly exclusive territory, which extends over a large area and is inhabited by the pack for many years. It may--depending on the size of the pack--amount to as much as 300 square kilometers (116 square miles).2 The pack moves around a great deal over this territory, but the daily movement is only 5 to 6 kilometers (3.1 to 3.7 miles). The entire area is covered in about three weeks. The pack uses well-trod paths, customary meeting places, and dens for the time of birthing. During the daily excursions the dominant individuals industriously mark the territory with urine, stool, and scratching. Wolves have scent glands on the balls of their feet and their secretions leave traces on the ground. Observations show that such a marker appears on the average every 250 meters (1,134 feet) and these marks are mostly found along frequently used paths, near branches of the paths and close to the boundaries. If the wolves encounter the scent mark of a strange wolf, they densely mark it themselves. According to observers, it is certain that they work from a cognitive map,3 because if they are heading for a particular objective, they frequently avail themselves of shortcuts. Their image of the map is built up of scent markers and the characteristics of the terrain. It appears that wolves build their mental map out of the same elements as humans: places, roads, and boundaries. They adjust the direction of their movement according to the habitual location of their prey, the location of a carcass abandoned after a successful hunt, a meeting ground, or a den. The pack's territory is surrounded by a no-man's-land with a width of one kilometer; this is used jointly with the neighboring pack, but never at the same time. Solitary individuals also move on the periphery of the territory. An examination of the territorial behavior of neighboring packs reveals that every pack has a precisely defined territory, but there is no systematic border control as exercised by other social animals suchas the hyenas, because the property rights pertaining to territory are recognized by the neighbors as well. It does occur, but infrequently, that they invade the neighboring territory, but after its cursory examination they rapidly withdraw. The new packs formed out of the dissolution of an old pack are friendly toward one another and may even reunite temporarily.The wolf pack is a self-supporting and reproducing unit in which the individuals jointly and cooperatively procure food and jointly rear the new generation. The parents are not the only ones to participate in these endeavors, but are joined by almost every member of the pack, particularly the younger ones. The basis for the pack's cooperation is the ranking of the members established by their battles for advantage and the bonding among them. Cooperation demands a well-developed social intelligence, good problem-solving abilities, and flexible behavior that can easily adapt to circumstances. The wolf possesses all these characteristics, and until it lost out in the competition with humans, it was the dominant predator of its habitat.BondingThe most important behavioral precondition for the survival of the pack is that its members bond with one another. There is no widely accepted definition of bonding. In general, it is understood to mean the attraction toward members of the same species, and this can manifest itself in a number of different behaviors. The emotional state in bonding is formed in youth, during a brief period of socialization. Pups no more than three weeks old are already powerfully and solidly attracted to their parents and to other older individuals in the pack. If they are prevented from bonding, they develop symptoms of stress and they relax only if they are reunited with their group. Captive wolves can bond with dogs or even humans. Pups bond with humans most strongly when they are taken from their mothers before their eyes are open and are cared for exclusively by humans. Under ordinary, natural circumstances, pups meet adult members of the pack on the twentieth day of their lives, when their inclination to bond is at its strongest. In general, they leave the den when they are eight to ten weeks old and after that their inclination tobond diminishes rapidly They bond not only with adults but are also strongly attached to their litter mates, since they spend most of their times with the latter. Beginning with their seventh month they accompany the pack and after that time they are less able to form social bonds with unknown individuals, unless they spend a great deal of time together. Ignoring artificially created situations, this tends to occur when adult individuals are experiencing sexual attraction. This is probably the reason why the courtship period of wolves is very long, sometimes longer than a whole year. Occasionally, the time that elapses between the formation of a couple and the onset of sexual relations is even longer. The bonding of couples is durable and may last several years.The members of the pack bond most tightly with the strongest male. Ethologists refer to this individual as the alpha male and to his female as the alpha female. Other members of the pack are also denoted by the letters of the Greek alphabet according to their rank. The alpha male bonds most strongly with his mate, and among males with the next ranked beta male. Those at the bottom of the ranking bond less with one another, but are especially friendly with the pups and may attempt to build relationships with adult strangers.A part of bonding behavior is that the alpha male carefully nurtures its relationships with every member of the pack. The other aspect of bonding is that the alpha individual, and often the other pack members as well, immediately attack the occasionally appearing outsider. Captive wolves kept in a kennel tend to behave in a threatening manner toward strange humans. Bonding is what enables the communal movement and cooperation of the pack during the hunt.Bonding exhibits countless easily recognizable behavioral signs. Among these are, in the first place, the various forms of bodily contact, the playfully subordinated behavior of those of lower rank. Perhaps most important is that adult wolves are always prepared to play. If they happen not to be hunting or resting, the pack members strengthen and sometimes shape their bonding through playful behavior. The adults always play with individuals close to them in rank. Lower ranked individuals play more. The invitation to play is the same as among dogs: the individual issuing the invitation lowers its forelegs to the ground. It frequently also happens that the invitation to play is initiated by aggressive pursuit. The invited wolf pulls its tail between its legs, extends its ears rearward, andattempts to escape quickly, as if it were really being attacked; but unlike the case of a real attack, its flight is not in a straight line but along a curved arc. When this individual returns to the initiator of the challenge to play, the pursued becomes pursuer and the game continues for some time with alternation between the roles. During the game, many behavioral elements can appear that are employed in the pursuit of serious objectives, such as hunting and aggression. But it is characteristic of playful behavior that the usual behavioral norms dissolve and the various elements get thoroughly mixed together and are often repeated. The mood throughout all this activity is relaxed and the final act, the kill, is omitted.In itself, the play has no serious purpose, but can be used for the attainment of certain objectives.4 If the pack members are inclined to go hunting, but the alpha individual for some reason does not move, the pack members may induce it to do so with play. The alpha individual does exactly the same if it wants the pack to follow it. It grabs a stick and entices the pack by running away with it, then returns and teases the pack, tries to involve all the members in the game, and at a given moment it drops the stick and starts out in a determined manner, at which point the pack follows. A pack moving at a leisurely pace also sticks together. The alpha male always leads, but it is not the only one that determines the movement of the pack. Everybody cooperates to some extent, but it can happen that the pack and the leader want to go in different directions. In that case, the alpha individual does its very best to induce the pack follow it, but it will not go off on its own.Bonding is the basis for the cooperation in the pack and this fact manifests itself in the selection of the direction of the hunt and in the selection and the killing of the prey. When the pack surrounds the prey, every individual attempts to remain equidistant from its two neighbors. As a rule, the attack is at the alpha male's initiative, and every pack member does its job cooperatively and with intelligence. The hunt by the pack is well organized and efficient.Countervailing the tight bonding is frequent and heated aggression and renewed outbursts of aggressiveness for the sake of attaining a more prominent position in the ranking within the pack. This is probably the reason that while the personal distance between pack members is small, it is precisely defined and is in effect even during sleep. It can be violatedonly through playful surrender. The pups sleep alone from their fourth week onward.Wolves are also characterized by xenophobia, the fear of strangers. When a strange wolf approaches,5 a pup is anxious when only three months old, and by the time it is five months old, it is definitely afraid.AggressionAggression is manifested in three different ways.6 Its most powerful form is when an attacking wolf, without any prior warning, jumps and bites, unless the victim manages to escape. A second form is represented by aggression with restrained pursuit, which is always directed toward an individual of lower rank. The aggressor begins to stare fixedly at the individual selected for an attack and slowly, almost crawling, approaches it; then the approach accelerates, and as a rule the attacker executes a massive leap to close the gap. When the attacker's four feet touch the ground, it emits a peculiar sound. If the attacked animal has not noticed the attacker before, it now does and usually flees. The objective of the aggressor is clearly to chase the other animal away and not to attack it, because the flight ends the whole process. The third form is the playful attack. Its course is exactly the same as that of the pursuit, with the exception that the aggressor shakes its head in a broad arc or bounds in a zigzag manner. Seeing this, the victim does not flee but stands firm and the action continues with violent play.Aggression has many functions in the life of the pack. The most important is the establishment of the rank order, which determines in cases of dispute who has automatic primacy in the distribution of resources. In a wolf pack, only the alpha individuals breed, with the proviso that if the alpha male is an older wolf, the alpha female may mate with a beta male; but in any event, only individuals near the top of the rank order can become breeders. This is the reason for the arduous struggle to rise in the rank order. Individuals that lose out in this struggle have no descendants and their characteristics are erased from the gene pool. Hence the competition for position is the most important determinant of wolves' intrapack behavior.It is not only adults that fight for position in the rank order. A hierarchyis rapidly established even among pups. Aggression is the means by which an established position is periodically affirmed. The alpha female uses aggression to hinder the sexual activities of other females. An important role is played by a peculiar form of behavior, called simulated ceremonial aggression, which is initiated by lower-ranked individuals. In this, a lower-ranked individual acts provocatively toward a superior one, but then quickly surrenders by exhibiting submissive behavior. This type of behavior probably reinforces bonding. Aggression also enables the free movement of individuals and their access to prey It has often been observed that if a large prey is killed, it is likely to be consumed quite peacefully. But smaller prey is viciously defended against poaching by others. Experiments with hungry wolves have shown that if a low-ranked wolf succeeds in appropriating a small piece of meat, it will not yield it to higher-ranked individuals, and those will not even try to take it away. But larger pieces of meat are usually taken by the alpha individuals.It has also been observed that adult wolves bring meat not only for the pups, but also for the adults that guard the pups. Thus, wolves are familiar with the most important behavioral characteristic of higher social orders, namely the sharing of food. The American researcher R. D. Lawrence reports from a visit to a wolf reservation that the pack members, with the exception of the alpha male, were afraid of visitors.7 On each visit, the caretaker threw frozen chickens to the alpha male, which first passed one to the alpha female, which suddenly emerged from its hiding place, then passed others to the beta and gamma males, and would consume only the fourth chicken itself Once I visited the white wolves of the Hungarian keeper Frigyes Fischl and I took them a large quantity of turkey bones. The loot was immediately commandeered by the alpha male, which leisurely started to eat them. The others, some five adults, made a large circle around it. For a while, they just watched it; then, one at a time, they stealthily approached, carefully removed a bone, and ran away According to my friend Frigyes, this occurred according to their precise rank order. Most of the bones were consumed by the alpha male, but he tolerated the theft of a few pieces without aggression. This behavior resembles remarkably the tolerance that chimpanzees exhibit toward freeloaders; the one that succeeds in grabbing the jointly pursued prey does not mind if the others manage to make off with a small portion. But in general the male chimpanzee procures food by itselfand shares it only with its young; only rarely does it give anything to the female.Among wolves we also have examples of defensive aggression, which occurs when lower-ranked individuals refuse to yield to higher-ranked ones.The following elements have been shown to be present among various forms of aggression:• Immediate biting.Wrestling.Pushing.Biting of the cheeks.Threatening growls or snarls: This is actually a form of restrained aggression; if the threat turns out to be ineffective, the restraint may vanish and the animal attacks for real.• Jumping on the other: This occurs mostly with strangers.• Simulated biting: Occurs among the young.• Intimidation: The initial stage of aggressive pursuit and is always initiated by an individual of higher rank.• Turning on another, biting: Among wolves, as among dogs, inhibited biting develops as a result of socialization. The pups learn during play how powerful a bite may be before it hurts and provokes a response. The inhibited bite regulates the boundaries of friendly behavior for a lifetime. This can be taught to a wolf or dog if it grows up in human company without other members of its species: small punishments or the flick of a hand indicate to a pup that it has crossed the permissible boundary. If this correction is not carried out, the art of inhibited biting is not learned, and the adult animal is no longer capable of learning this behavior.• Pursuit: The aggressor pursues the attacked and keeps attacking until the pursued flees. Subordination by the attacked animal is a counterpart of aggression: it curls its tail between its legs and crouches or crawls before the higher-ranked individual. This is referred to as the active form of subordination: the subordinated individual pushes the dominant one with its nose, licks it rapidly or gently takes its cheeks into its mouth.8 Frequently it may also tap on the ground with its forepaw while wagging its tail and its entire hindquarters. The function of this behavior is to assure the higher-ranked individual that the other acknowledges its relative position, but would like to stay or participate in the division of the spoils. Passivesubordination is particularly noticeable among the young: the subordinate animal will lie on its back and usually pass some urine.After Konrad Lorenz, many have claimed that the subordinate animal offers up its throat to the dominant one; but wolf experts consider this claim to be an error, or at least nobody has yet observed such behavior.9Higher-ranked individuals frequently seek the opportunity to assert their dominance. One form of this assertion is to ambush the subordinate by pouncing from a crawling position, as if it were prey. In most cases, the subordinate acknowledges the rank of the dominant by some suitable behavior.Aggression is always accompanied by fear. The motives of the aggressor are often both attack and fear. If the fear overcomes its lust for attack, it will take flight or assume a subordinate posture; in the reverse case, a battle ensues.Other Forms of Social BehaviorI list here only the more important forms of social behavior:• Wagging of tail: This behavior indicates a state of excitement. In friendly encounters the tail moves rapidly, while in an aggressive approach the tail is rigid and moves little. The dominant animal holds its tail up.• Bodily contact: Touching or pressing or pushing of bodies, sniffing the other animal's fur, licking, sniffing the cheeks, the touching of cheeks (this can happen only among animals of equal rank), the grabbing or licking of cheeks, or the licking of wounds.• The sniffing of genitals, of the anus, or of the scent glands under the tail: Dominant individuals engage in these practices mutually with each other, whereas subordinates cover their scent gland with their tail and do not sniff the dominant individual.• Expression of dominance: Can be accomplished in several ways, apart from the various forms of aggression. For example, the dominant animal may place a stiff leg on the subordinate's body or may stand stiff-legged over a prone subordinate.• The greeting ceremony: Two members of the pack will greet each other even after a brief absence. The greeting is actually a form of active subordination. The subordinate animal will excitedly lick, nip, and sniff the mouth of the dominant animal. Greetings often take place in a group; for example, when a previously exiled animal rejoins the pack. In such a case, the returning animal will attempt to touch the leader with its nose even from a distance, lick it, and take its cheeks in its mouth. Subordinate wolves behave exactly the same way when the pack discovers new tracks of prey during a hunt. According to David Mech, the famous wolf researcher, this is the common gesture for begging for food.10• Vocalization: The wolves' inventory of sounds is surprisingly large and consists of growling, whimpering, whining, snarling, howling, barking, and tooth clacking. Growling and snarling convey aggressive feelings, while the varied forms of whimpering and whining convey friendliness. Barking, which may be more like yips, can mean an alert for the pack and can be threatening if an intruder approaches. The clacking of teeth is a signal to synchronize the departure of the pack. Howling can last from half a second to eleven seconds and is a continuous and fairly melodic sound that has important social functions. The howling of solitary individuals is often heard when the pack has become dispersed. When the pack members howl together for a long time, they are asserting their property rights over their territory and such howling often lasts half an hour. The synchronous howling of the pack is preceded by friendly greetings. It seems that wolves like to howl.• The sharing of food: We mentioned that under certain circumstances wolves share food with one another. The pups beg for food by biting the lips of other wolves, and this is how a young wolf pays its respects to the leader. Grown wolves do the same when they ask the alpha individual to go for a hunt.• Sexual behavior: Sexual behavior, birthing, the caring for the young, the forms of the mother-child relationship, and the various forms of comfort behavior are all part of the wolves' characteristic behavior patterns, but these differ from the corresponding traits of dogs only slightly and I shall not describe them further.• More complex behavioral forms: An example is deception, which is well known among monkeys. It occurs sometimes among adults that an individual under attack attempts to defuse the attack by an invitation to play or tries to divert its companion's attention from a tasty morsel by playful behavior.The older ones usually see through these ruses, and in these cases the mood can be tense.Another example might be called "picking a scapegoat," a behavior whose role we do not entirely understand. At times, four or five individuals attack a subordinate one, the scapegoat. This attack often ends with the scapegoat being ejected from the pack. The most plausible explanation is that this behavior assists in population control, since it is not the young and strong that leave the pack when they grow up, but those that are defeated and weak. Thus, the most effective combination of individuals remains in the pack.11A peculiar form of the wolves' food-gathering behavior is their herding or following groups of larger animals and periodically stampeding them. When they find a weak or older or wounded individual among their prey, they set upon it and kill it.Summarizing what is known about the ethology of wolves, we can conclude that wolves are the most differentiated among the canids, because they live socially, while most of the others live alone or in small family units. For this reason, the wolves' social intelligence is particularly well developed and the events in the pack continually affect the individuals' ranks. Conflicts about gaining in rank or keeping one's position are frequent, and it is therefore very important that individuals observe not only their immediate superiors, but the whole pack, because opportunistic interests and alliances are very important in the battle for rank. But it would be erroneous to believe that fights occur every minute, since that, too, would prevent the formation of a stable rank order. The fact is that wolves watch each other closely and do not miss an opportunity for advancement. It is possible that no conflict will arise for weeks, but if a highly ranked individual is injured or develops some weakness, the others will take immediate advantage of this condition for improving their own position. This behavior differs markedly from human behavior. Humans also like to advance in standing, but in general they do not immediately and mercilessly exploit the weakness of their superiors. If the leader of a human group sprains his ankle, the members of the group would normally help him and would not use the impairment to demote him to the bottom of the rank order.An attacked individual is able to correctly analyze the various formsof aggression only if it correctly understands its own and the aggressor's position in the rank order and is able to evaluate what the objective of the aggressor's behavior is in the given situation; and in its reactions it has to take into account the status of the other individuals in the pack. Such understanding is greatly assisted by the wolves' rich body language, which always needs to be interpreted within the particular context.While other animals communicate with behavioral signs, the meaning of which is genetically fixed, wolves need to interpret the signs; in other words, the meaning of the wolf's response is not unambiguous and is not conveyed exclusively by the form of the response, but by the context as well. This behavior presupposes appreciable brain activity and it is not an accident that wolf behavior exhibits a great deal of individual variation. We can actually speak of personalities in a pack, because learning also plays a significant role in the formation of individual behavior.According to H. Frank, we can easily distinguish two different guiding principles in the behavior of wolves.12 The first, the older and more primitive instinctual system, consists of genetically fixed behavioral templates and provides the guiding principles for the most important survival mechanisms, such as breeding, food gathering, and defense. The cognitive system, which is to some extent independent of the former, is the more recent system and depends on learning, on the problem-solving ability of the mind, and develops in the course of hunting in groups. In the conflict between the two systems, the first always triumphs, which is why it is problematic to teach wolves, although they have excellent independent problem-solving abilities. It is difficult to train wolves and to handle them, because it is hard to have an impact on their independence and to influence their wild instincts with teaching and learning. According to Frank, the two guiding principles coalesce into a single mechanism through the domestication of the wolf into the dog. The fundamental characteristic of this unified mechanism is that the animal can be taught and its behavior can be modified.Tame WolvesWe know a fair amount about the behavior of tame captive wolves.13 If a pup is taken from its mother before its eyes open, and is thenconscientiously cared for and fed, it becomes tame fairly easily (but not always). It will learn inhibited biting, gladly follow its master, and be able to use in its relations with humans patterns of behavior familiar in the pack. For example, it may greet a person as it would its pack mates: it will jump on the person and attempt to take his nose in its mouth. It will frequently push its nose into the person's eye and kiss him with large licks. But the tame wolf is not a dog. It will pay no attention to human speech and is not interested in what people are talking about, and when it hears its name, it will not run to its master. According to the German scholar Eric Zimen as well as others, if a tame wolf runs away and becomes a stray, it will never return home, but it will react to a well-imitated wolf howl by joining in the howling.14Tame wolves will occasionally follow their master but will not obey him. Pups are positively afraid of humans carrying objects15 and even wolf-dog crossbreeds exhibit timidity and cautiousness toward humans. Only wolves of the polar region have no fear of humans, and they are gentler with one another as well.16 There is good reason for the wolves' fear: humans have been exterminating them mercilessly. This probably has been accompanied by some natural selection: the surviving wolves are the descendants of timid, mistrustful individuals that tended to avoid humans.It happens frequently that wolves socialized in a human environment attack their master. Eric Zimen mentions several exaxnples.17 One wolf, which was entirely used to humans, started to abruptly attack visitors around the time of its sexual maturation and would bite male visitors in the area of their genitals. The wolf knew the attacked persons well and used to be gentle with them. A tame wolf belonging to a couple used to be taken regularly to school demonstrations because it was so peaceable. Suddenly, at the age of four it attacked its male owner when the latter started to limp as a result of some spinal problem.18 The wolf probably thought that this was an opportune moment for trying to become dominant. The tame wolf therefore retains its unpredictable, wild animal behavior. The fight for position in the rank order is such a fundamental characteristic of wolves that the self-control imparted through taming is unable to erase it from the wolf's behavioral mechanisms. The tame wolf that bonds with humans accepts them as a members of the pack, and for that reason they are fair game in the struggle for position.David Mech noted that his eleven-month-old tame female wolf escaped one night with one of his dogs and spent half the night running around. When both of them returned in the middle of the night, Mech chained up the wolf, which then started to struggle wildly to get free. As Mech said:19She was still tame and gentle with me, but she had finally gotten a taste of what it was like to act as her heritage had dictated, to be wild and free. As I watched Lightning straining desperately at her chain, pacing, whining, and jumping frantically, I realized how very wrong it is to tame a wolf.Copyright © 2000 by Vilmos Csányi Translation copyright © 2005 by Richard E. Quandt


Excerpted from If Dogs Could Talk by Vilmos Csányi Copyright © 2005 by Vilmos Csányi. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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