The social dog: history and evolution

Sarah Marshall-Pescini*, Juliane Kaminski

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter (peer-reviewed)peer-review


The recent explosion of studies on dogs' social behaviour and cognitive abilities are impressive, opening a new field of studies on a species that has economic, social, and emotional significance to humans across the globe. The origin of domestic dogs has been firmly established to be from an ancestor common to wolves, but the 'where, when, and how' of domestication, as well as the effects of this event on the dogs' mind and behaviour have engendered lively debates in journals and at conferences. In this chapter, we aim to introduce the reader of this book to some of the more salient and some of the more neglected aspects in the field. Hence, in the first part of this chapter (Section 1.1), we set dogs within the framework of their canine family, presenting some of the intriguing features that appear to set canids apart from other mammal families and that may have set the ground on which the wolf-human encounter took place. We also highlight areas where more research is needed because so little has been carried out to compare different canid species from a behavioural and cognitive perspective. In the second part (Section 1.2), we focus more on the dog-human story, summarising the archaeological evidence and genetic data helping us to draw the picture of the early history of men and dogs and presenting a brief overview of the different hypotheses put forward as regards the effects of domestication on dogs' social behaviour and cognition. Finally, in this section, we also outline some of the key issues that need to be addressed to assess the competing hypotheses and move the field of canine cognition forward. We conclude (in Section 1.3) by suggesting that dogs' sociality and their potentially 'special' socio-cognitive skills likely emerge both from the specific characteristics of their canid ancestry and the unique event of having encountered and started living alongside humans. We further present an overview of the chapters in this book, highlighting how contributions cover studies looking at both dogs' social behaviour and cognitive skills directed at both conspecifics and humans, because both are equally necessary for a well-rounded understanding of our four-legged companion.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Social Dog
Subtitle of host publicationBehavior and Cognition
EditorsJuliane Kaminski, Sarah Marshall-Pescini
PublisherAcademic Press Inc.
Number of pages31
ISBN (Print)9780124078185
Publication statusPublished - 2 May 2014


  • Canine family
  • Cognition
  • Defence strategy
  • Domestication
  • Evolution
  • Genetic revolution
  • History
  • Pair bonding
  • Self-domestication
  • Social behaviour
  • Social dog
  • Sociality
  • Socially driven phenomenon
  • Socio-cognitive ability


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