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Good Reads  Mammals  Insectivores to Ungulates  Carnivores  Wolves, Dogs, Foxes & other Canids

A Dog's World Imagining the Lives of Dogs in a World without Humans

By: Jessica Pierce(Author), Marc Bekoff(Author)
227 pages, 17 b/w photos and b/w illustrations
Exploring in all earnestness the question of how dogs would fare in a world without humans, A Dog's World is an intriguing thought experiment that draws valuable ethical lessons for dog owners.
A Dog's World
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  • A Dog's World ISBN: 9780691247748 Paperback Jun 2023 Not in stock: Usually dispatched within 6 days
  • A Dog's World ISBN: 9780691196183 Hardback Oct 2021 In stock
Selected version: £14.99
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About this book

What would happen to dogs if humans simply disappeared? Would dogs be able to survive on their own without us? A Dog's World imagines a posthuman future for dogs, revealing how dogs would survive – and possibly even thrive – and explaining how this new and revolutionary perspective can guide how we interact with dogs now.

Drawing on biology, ecology, and the latest findings on the lives and behaviour of dogs and their wild relatives, Jessica Pierce and Marc Bekoff – two of today's most innovative thinkers about dogs – explore who dogs might become without direct human intervention into breeding, arranged playdates at the dog park, regular feedings, and veterinary care. Pierce and Bekoff show how dogs are quick learners who are highly adaptable and opportunistic, and offer compelling evidence that dogs already do survive on their own – and could do so in a world without us.

Challenging the notion that dogs would be helpless without their human counterparts, A Dog's World enables us to understand these independent and remarkably intelligent animals on their own terms.

Customer Reviews (1)

  • An intriguing thought experiment
    By Leon (NHBS Catalogue Editor) 31 May 2023 Written for Paperback

    At first blush, the question behind A Dog's World could have been lifted straight from the pages of What If? Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions. What would happen to our dogs if we disappeared overnight? Far from being mere whimsy or idle academic speculation, A Dog's World is a serious attempt to scientifically answer this thought experiment. There is also a strong ethical component to it as the authors apply their ideas to the here and now: how can we create better lives for dogs today?

    My second thought when learning of this book was that it sounded an awful lot like the thought experiment journalist Alan Weisman did in his 2007 book The World Without Us. Here, he asked what would happen to Earth and our material legacy if we suddenly vanished. Indeed, the authors open A Dog's World by acknowledging that book, though it did not say much about dogs. A more serious initial attempt was done in a 2018 Time magazine article by Markham Heid titled How Dogs Would Fare Without Us, but this book is a far more thorough foray into speculative biology.

    The authors are particularly well suited to write this book, with Marc Bekoff having written books about dog behaviour, and Jessica Pierce about the ethics of keeping pets. Additionally, they have co-authored three titles that are all relevant to this book. Bring together two such experts and it is no wonder A Dog's World overflows with thought-provoking insights.

    Indeed, the first bombshell the authors drop is to disarm the standard response they encountered to this thought experiment. Surely, if we disappeared, dogs would just go back to being wolves? Not so, they say: "The disappearance of humans would not result in a kind of reverse engineering, where the domestication process rewinds and dogs de-evolve back to who they were before" (p. 9). They reiterate this in their conclusion: "evolution doesn't work backward. It unfolds into the future and there is no going back" (p. 162). The same argument—that feralization is not just domestication in reverse—was made in the excellent The Process of Animal Domestication. One important reason for this is that dogs would inhabit a changed world compared to their wolf ancestors.

    So, if not wolves, what will dogs become then? This question, "who dogs will become on their own" (p. 8), interests the authors most and is at the heart of this book. Relevant, at least in the early stages, are existing studies on free-ranging and feral dogs. The authors mention in particular work by Stephen Spotte, author of Societies of Wolves and Free-Ranging Dogs. I was surprised, though, to find no mention of Raymond and Lorna Coppinger's book What Is a Dog?, which also took an in-depth look at this topic. Although we lack accurate counts, an estimated 80% of the possibly 1 billion dogs on our planet fend for themselves, rather than being well-groomed pooches. If that sounds like a lot, that is because it is, and they are a serious concern in wildlife conservation.

    The core of A Dog's World is the four chapters where the authors discuss scientific studies on dogs and related canids. These provide informed speculation as to how our absence would impact the physical appearance, social behaviour, and inner lives of dogs, and how it would impact the two variables in a dog's life we control most strictly: food and sex. This offers a plethora of interesting ideas of which I shall only mention a few notable ones.

    One recurrent theme is that there will be no single mythical Future Dog. As dogs come to grips with ecological challenges that differ from place to place, variation in appearance and behaviour will be key to success. Context is everything. That said, our breeding practices have produced certain maladaptive traits that will be quickly selected against. Examples include breeds with shortened snouts (brachycephaly) suffering from breathing problems or very large breeds that are prone to hip dysplasia. Without human interference in reproduction, breeds as we know them will rapidly disappear. Expect blending of existing breeds and hybridization with wolves and other canids. Will dogs form packs? Likely yes, though not all dogs and not everywhere. Here, too, variation in cognitive traits such as problem-solving, learning, and intelligence, as well as in individual personality will be conducive to the formation of successful packs. Some traits are more evolutionarily conserved and there seems little scope for change. Examples include animal emotions or reproductive traits such as gestation length, litter size, or offspring sex ratio. One of the biggest impacts regards food: not just pets being fed, but what the authors more widely term "food subsidies", including the vast amounts of human garbage on which many free-ranging dogs live.

    This is but a sampling of the many ideas discussed in this book. The overall conclusion is that dogs would keenly feel our absence and the initial transition would be tough with many individuals perishing. In the long run, however, dogs would survive and likely even thrive. So far, so speculative, but what makes this book relevant are the last three chapters. Looking at this thought experiment through an ethical lens, what lessons can we draw from it and apply to create better lives for dogs today? Could you prepare your dog for doomsday? Answers range from amusing to, as the authors underline, objectionable. And—a sobering question—would dogs be better off without us? Humans are the main cause of death of dogs through e.g. exploitation or (road) accidents. And we insufficiently acknowledge the suffering of homed dogs living, essentially, boring lives in which they cannot express species-typical behaviours. Symptomatic, the authors think, is the number of owners in the USA reporting as problematic what are actually normal dog behaviours. "Without humans, dogs would be freed from the constraints of being square pegs forced into round holes" (p. 150). All that said, they add that "a posthuman world won't be like one great big dog park" (p. 151), but it would not be nearly as bad as you think.

    In conclusion, A Dog's World makes a serious and interesting exercise out of this intriguing thought experiment and is highly relevant to anyone who owns or has been around dogs. One question occurred to me while reading it, and Bekoff and Pierce hint at it in closing when writing that "coevolution, by definition, goes both ways" (p. 163). Indeed, what would happen to humans if dogs disappeared overnight? Though we have domesticated many species, our bond with dogs is particularly strong and that alone should give us pause when it comes to our treatment of them.
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Jessica Pierce is a faculty affiliate at the Center for Bioethics and Humanities at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical School. Her books include Run, Spot, Run: The Ethics of Keeping Pets.

Marc Bekoff is professor emeritus of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Colorado Boulder. His books include Canine Confidential: Why Dogs Do What They Do.

By: Jessica Pierce(Author), Marc Bekoff(Author)
227 pages, 17 b/w photos and b/w illustrations
Exploring in all earnestness the question of how dogs would fare in a world without humans, A Dog's World is an intriguing thought experiment that draws valuable ethical lessons for dog owners.
Media reviews

"This book is an evolutionary thought experiment – untestable, informative and great fun [...] A Dog's World appears to have all four paws on secure scientific ground as Ms. Pierce and Mr. Bekoff start from basic evolutionary and ecological principles to develop powerful predictions and insights into dogs as we know them today."
– David P. Barash, Wall Street Journal

"This thought-provoking book examines what the world would look like if all of us annoying, treat-wielding, doggie-day-care arranging grown-ups suddenly disappeared and dogs could run free. We might like to believe our dogs would be lost without us, but the reality might surprise you."
– Zibby Owens, The Washington Post

"I love creative approaches to science writing and this book – an imagining of what would happen to dogs if humans disappeared – delivers it all: fresh perspectives, top-drawer science and an original thought-provoking hook."
– Jules Howard, Big Issue

"Jessica Pierce and Marc Bekoff are in top form in A Dog's World as they explore the fate of dogs on a planet from which people have suddenly vanished. The genius of this book lies in the way it reveals how fact-based knowledge can lead to a richer, deeper understanding of the unique talents and abilities of our fellow creatures. This is a perfect read as we attempt to sort out the COVID-19 pandemic's legacy."
– Mark Derr, author of Dog's Best Friend

"We think we know our dogs, but who are they, really? By imagining their world without us, A Dog's World helps us understand what dogs need – and don't need – from us to live their happiest, most fulfilling lives. This entertaining and challenging book will enlarge our respect for beloved creatures we too often take for granted."
– Sy Montgomery, author of How to Be a Good Creature: A Memoir in Thirteen Animals

"Not only a fascinating flight of imagination into what dogdom might become in a world without people, this book will make you see your own dog in a new and more objective light."
– John Bradshaw, author of the New York Times bestseller Dog Sense

"Decentering humans from dogs' lives will help dogs thrive – what a fascinating theme Pierce and Bekoff develop! Their speculations about a posthuman world offer us innovative and profoundly compassionate ways forward for living with dogs right now. This is a must-have book for all animal lovers."
– Barbara J. King, author of Animals' Best Friends: Putting Compassion to Work for Animals in Captivity and in the Wild

"We often imagine what life would be like without our dogs, but Pierce and Bekoff brilliantly reimagine what it would be like for dogs without us. Reading A Dog's World is like seeing clearly through their eyes for the first time. If you love dogs, this is the most important book you will read."
– Brian Hare, coauthor of The Genius of Dogs: How Dogs Are Smarter Than You Think

"A riveting, deeply thought-provoking book that prompts us to question who dogs truly are and what could enable them to have satisfying lives, with or without human companions. A Dog's World is an important book that is likely to change our perspective on dog guardianship."
– Lisa Tenzin-Dolma, founder of the International School for Canine Psychology and Behaviour

"Are dogs really so dependent on us, or could they get along very well without us? Pierce and Bekoff lead you on an unexpected journey to a hypothetical world of posthuman dogs, offering a completely new perspective on our canine friends. This engaging and passionate book will stimulate you to revise your concept of dogs and your ideas about your relationship with them."
– Simona Cafazzo, ethologist

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