The Evolution of Canine Cognition

Ádám Miklósi and József Topál

in The Oxford Handbook of Comparative Evolutionary Psychology

Published in print February 2012 | ISBN: 9780199738182
Published online September 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Library of Psychology

The Evolution of Canine Cognition


There has been a marked interest in the socio-cognitive abilities of dogs and their wild relatives. This change after basically total neglect of more than 50 years took place after researchers have recognized that evolution has acted to alter the social behavior set of the dogs in such a way to increase their chances of survival in the anthropogenic environment. Evidently, dogs evolved a social behavior set, which in some respects is functionally equivalent to respective human traits. In this review, we provide an evolutionary description of this process and also contrast different approaches that aim to grasp the key aspects of this change. Contrasting models invoke increased ability for cooperating, utilizing social cues, or modifications in specific social traits (e.g., fear). One key factor seems to be the increased sensitivity of dogs to react to the human social environment in general. They need much less social experience for achieving high levels of social skills in anthropogenic environments in comparison to wolves. We propose a model of social competence that facilitates the comparison of dogs and wolves, but, in addition, it could be utilized for dog-human (infant) and dog-chimpanzee comparisons.

Keywords: Comparative ethology; behavioral convergence; social competence; caninization; dogs; wolves; apes

Article.  15327 words. 

Subjects: Psychology ; Social Psychology

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