Going to the Dogs

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Science  28 Aug 2009:
Vol. 325, Issue 5944, pp. 1062-1065
DOI: 10.1126/science.325_1062

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Dogs are fast becoming the it animal for evolutionary cognition research. Our canine pals, researchers say, are excellent subjects for studying the building blocks underlying mental abilities, particularly those involving social cognition. Their special relationship with humans is also seen as worthy of study in its own right; some researchers see Canis familiaris as a case of convergent evolution with humans because we share some similar behavioral traits. And because all dogs are descended from gray wolves (C. lupus), they can reveal how domestication has altered a species' mental processes, enabling the dog to survive in its new habitat, the human home. Some researchers even think that dogs may teach us more about the evolution of some aspects of our social mind than can our closest kin, the chimpanzee, because Fido is so adept at reading and responding to human communication cues. But not everyone agrees, arguing that the skills dogs share with humans are a matter of learning rather than evolutionary change.