cover image IF DOGS COULD TALK: Exploring the Canine Mind

IF DOGS COULD TALK: Exploring the Canine Mind

Vilmos Csanyi, , trans. from the Hungarian by Richard E. Quandt. . North Point, $25 (334pp) ISBN 978-0-86547-686-8

In this intriguing book, Hungarian ethologist Csányi approaches the question of canine sentience using more science and less wishful thinking than one usually finds in the pet section of the bookstore. "Individual dog stories or anecdotes must be handled with considerable care when we want scientific proof," he warns. Even with this in mind, however, Csányi is most willing to see intelligence in his own beloved dogs, Flip and Jerry, who romp through the pages in charming anecdotes. So how smart are dogs, really? "The average dog living in a human environment understands at least forty to fifty expressions... and is able to act appropriately even in complicated situations." Csányi draws parallels between human and canine evolution in terms of reasoning ability, visual observations and other brain functions. Just as in early humans, individual bonding and group dynamics are the emotional and intellectual drivers for dogs, Csányi notes—a fact that will come as no surprise to pet owners. He demonstrates that dogs can imitate us, feel emotions, cooperate and obey commands, but he follows Darwin in recommending that we not assign morals to animal behaviors. Dogs will develop morals when they develop speech, he says, and he's actually quite enthusiastic about the prospect, going so far as to recommend a breeding program to produce talking dogs. Illus. (Jan.)