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wolves and dogs at skeptics in the pub

Books + Ideas, — September 2011

I went along last Wednesday to an Oxford Skeptics in the Pub meeting, held in the COPA bar on George St. John Bradshaw gave a talk "A sheep in wolf's clothing?", which basically summarised his book In Defense of Dogs (published in the US as Dog Sense: How the New Science of Dog Behavior Can Make You A Better Friend to Your Pet).

A key part of his thesis is that dogs are not wolves. Both dogs and wolves are highly selected "remnant" populations, descended from a much more variable ancestral population not adapted either for life in harsh environments hostile to man or for life as a human associate.

So drawing conclusions about dogs based on wolf behaviour is dubious, especially since much of our thinking about wolves has been based on "unnatural" zoo populations or, more recently, on American timberwolves, which differ from Eurasian wolves.

He goes on to apply this understanding of evolution and behaviour to practical issues in dog training and management. See an NPR story on this for more details.

Anyway, it was a good talk and I am tempted to buy Bradshaw's book. I also plan to go along to more SitP events, though they seem to mostly cover atheism and medical quackery, which aren't always such interesting topics.

Oxford SciBar is another group that does science in pubs. There's also Science Oxford. And that's before starting on the university, with its undergraduate science societies as well as actual research.


  1. The pub scene is quite different here in Sydney. Your Nanna's old place used to be right next door to a popular water hole. I observed many goings-on but never as a public forum. Oxford is indeed different.

    Dogs? I used to like them. My preferred non-human companions are chooks. They don't demand much, are excellent recycler and waste disposal unit. It is so soothing just to watch them clucking away. Anyone in need of stress, tension reduction/ management, relaxaion, or beset by brain-wracking problems ; try watching the chooks in the yard. It is very therapeutic.

    Comment by DL — September 2011
  2. They have skeptics in the pub in Sydney, too! I think pubs have changed a lot in the last thirty years.

    Comment by Danny — September 2011

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