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Bookmarks: Dog dreams and other canine behavior

They may be called "man's best friends," but dogs remain mysterious to their human companions. What do we really know about them except that they love us? Or is even that an illusion?

No, says Stanley Coren, author of "Do Dogs Dream?: Nearly Everything Your Dog Wants You to Know" (W.W. Norton: 290 pp., $23.95), a professor emeritus of psychology at the University of British Columbia.

"Science has progressed, and we have now come to understand that dogs have all of the same brain structures that produce emotions in humans," explains Coren, although he also cautions us not to make too much of this. "[I]t is important," he adds, "not to go overboard and immediately assume that the emotional ranges of dogs and humans are the same."

In other words, when Fido starts wagging his tail wildly as you walk up the driveway at the end of the day, don't misunderstand: That pooch is definitely thrilled to see you. It's just that his notions of attachment are a little different than ours.

Coren explores many areas of canine behavior — including whether they sweat or dream. "[I]t would be more surprising if dogs didn't dream," he writes, considering those similarities in their brains.

At the same time, he addresses various myths and anecdotes that have arisen around canine behavior. Can dogs, for instance, detect cancer? Some medical tests seem to suggest that their noses can uncover lung, bladder, breast and other cancers. "Perhaps sometime in the future, that 'lab test' you get for possible cancer may well come in the form of some educated sniffing by a Labrador Retriever," Coren muses.

Maybe so, but for now I think I'll put my trust in a CT scan.

—Nick Owchar

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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