Canine Ergonomics: The Science of Working Dogs

helton copy

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'Canine Ergonomics: The Science of Working Dogs' brings together research from different academic fields on how working dogs can form partnerships with humans.  Anyone interested in canine cognition will know of Peter Pongracz, one of the contributors. Others include Samuel Gosling, on canine personality and temperament, Michael Davis, on canine athletes such as sledge dogs, Natalie Sachs-Ericsson, on service dogs, and Joseph Terkel on canine explosive detection. William S. Helton is a psychologist who has specialised in expertise and attention in dogs and humans.

The book is quite pricey, though, while you could search online for articles on working dogs in different academic fields, having so much research brought together in the same book both saves a lot of time, and makes it easier to see connections between work carried out in one field and another. There are times when contributors give the impression that they believe that only academics within universities can carry out systematic methodical observations of working dogs. Perhaps more recognition could be given to people who train and work dogs using a scientific approach. Academic articles often focus on one particular aspects of behaviour, while people who train and work every day are using knowledge that does not always fit into the currently fashionable academic fields. Pitching a lesson to the dog's abilities, for example, is critical for training dogs, and, though a trainer's view of what a dog understands may come from a gut feeling, developed from  experience, there are signs that tell you if a dog is being taught at a level appropriate to its understanding.

More collaboration between people inside and outside universities could make for research projects that are better designed, as well as more rational training methods, in other words, both sides could benefit by learning from each other. However, that mild criticism aside, this is a fascinating book for anyone interested in working dogs, and indeed, the wider issues of how humans can communicate with other species, and what we can learn from them.