Going to the Dogs - Interview with Stan Coren

Here Rachel Rose interviews mutt maven Stanley Coren who has appeared on Oprah, Larry King and Charlie Rose. Coren has written one of the world’s bestselling non-fiction books about dogs, The Intelligence of Dogs, as well as Why We Love The Dogs We Do. (This interview first appeared in The Ormsby Review.)

As an internationally accepted author on books about dogs, Dr. Stanley Coren of Vancouver has a career that most writers and researchers only dream of; his lectures at UBC routinely attract hundreds of students. With his fifteenth book underway, Stanley Coren has also written seminal books on sleep deprivation and left-handedness.

In the following interview, Coren discusses the dogs that shaped his childhood, his canine research, his bestselling career as a writer and his family life. He arrived to talk with Rachel Rose at a café on Main Street looking dapper in a dark suit and a broad brimmed Australian hat. Nearly three hours later, they were still in the café, still discussing dogs.

As a psychologist, how did you get yourself into the study of dogs?

Most psychologists are trained either to be animal or human psychologists. I wanted to study the human-animal bond, specifically the human-canine bond. I recognized there was a different critter at each end of the leash and you had to understand both of them to understand the relationship. But when I got my doctorate, around 1968, if you’d said to anyone you wanted to study dogs, they would look at you as if you’d descended from a flying saucer.

There was probably zero funding.

Correct. So, I turned to my second love, sensory processing—vision, some auditory work. That’s what led me to studying handedness. I was curious about a phenomenon known as eye dominance. It became quite clear there were some strange things going on with left-handers. The research we had done on handedness was such that when we found the link between handedness and longevity, and accident rates, I had to get it out to the general readership, so engineers could make necessary ergonomic adaptations.

That’s when I published The Left-Hander Syndrome. In today’s parlance, it went viral. I worked with Diane Halpern from UC San Diego, a truly remarkable woman. She and I did much more press than it’s healthy to do.

When did you bring your focus back to studying dogs?

Around the mid-1980’s, two wonderful people, Alan Beck and Aaron Katcher, ran a set of studies that showed if you pet a familiar and friendly dog, your heart rate slows, breathing becomes regular, stress hormones reduced in concentration. Psychologists study behavior, but they believe physiology. Finally, here was legitimate evidence.

As the author of Why We Love the Dogs We Do, obviously you know a lot about dog breeds. In my own book about police dogs, I describe a terrible incident that my son witnessed. A pit bull tore apart a miniature pinscher on our corner. I came out just after it happened, and helped the traumatized owner and her remaining little dog. It was shocking.

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