Dog’s Eye View: How well do we know dogs | SteamboatToday.com

Dog’s Eye View: How well do we know dogs

Sandra Kruczek For Steamboat Today

Dog's Eye View: Sandra Kruczek

The canines of the world have lost one of their most ardent advocates, Dr. Raymond Coppinger, professor emeritus of biology at Hampshire College in Amherst, Massachusetts and distinguished biologist of animal behavior.  He, with his wife, Lorna, biologist and science writer co-authored "The World of Sled Dogs,” "Dogs, A Startling New Understanding of Canine Origin, Behavior and Evolution,”  "How Dogs Work," with Mark Feinstein and most recently, "What Is A Dog?".

In the late 1970s, after traveling the world researching livestock guardian dogs, or LGDs, Coppinger developed the Livestock Dog Project at Hampshire College.  He shipped livestock guardian puppies from Yugoslavia and Italy and studied their growth and behavior. One result of this study was "Livestock Guarding Dogs For U.S. Agriculture" a booklet written by Lorna and Dr. Coppinger. 

In April 1982, Smithsonian magazine published a lengthy article also written by the couple titled, "Livestock-guarding dogs that wear sheep's clothing."  Inside the article is a photo of a Komondor at the O' Toole Ranch in Baggs, Wyoming.

I was introduced to Coppinger, Lorna and their son, Tim, at The Village Inn Restaurant in Craig in the 1980s.  They were traveling in Northwest Colorado talking to ranchers about the possibility of using non-lethal (i.e. not poisons or ballistics) methods for protecting sheep from predators. They were introducing the concept of using LGDs.  You've probably seen these large, generally white dogs in pastures with sheep or may see them walking along the highway next to sheep with their herders.

Although Coppinger is well known for this work with LGDs it really exemplifies his often creative approach to problem solving.  He asks the hard questions and often provokes his students and readers to think more creatively.  He piques the psyche and teases us to examine commonly held beliefs about dogs.

In an article published in The New York Times on April 18, 2016, by James Gorman, "The World Is Full of Dogs Without Collars,” Lorna and Coppinger are quoted as saying, "… there are about a billion dogs on Earth, according to some estimates. (250 million dogs with collars)  The other 750 million don't have flea collars.  And they certainly don't have humans who take them for walks and pick up their feces.  They are called village dogs, street dogs and free-breeding dogs, among other things, and they haunt garbage dumps and neighborhoods of most of the world."

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Gorman said, "In their new book, ‘What Is a Dog?,’ Raymond and Lorna Coppinger argue that if you really want to understand the nature of dogs, you need to know these other animals.  The vast majority are not strays or lost pets, the Coppingers say, but rather superbly adapted scavengers — the closest living things to the dogs that first emerged thousands of years ago."

I've had occasion to consult with Coppinger about current issues surrounding livestock guardian dogs.  At the meeting at the Village Inn in Craig, I noticed that he stood by the table part of the time and when he spoke, he leaned in and held me with his piercing blue eyes. 

I leaned back a bit and told him he reminded me of a  border collie with the intensity of his gaze.  He laughed and said that he was coached by faculty at Hampshire College to sit down when he taught.  They said he intimidated the students.  I believe that he was so passionate about what he taught, wanting his students to seek and find new understanding, that he could hardly contain his enthusiasm.

This gives you some idea of how Coppinger encourages us to open our eyes and mind to a fresh perspective on man's best friend.  I have read and re-read most of his books.  My friends laugh at my highlighting of interesting and important facts and ideas in them.  Generally, much of the books are yellow.

Sandra Kruczek is a certified professional dog trainer at Total Teamwork Training LLC with more than thirty years of experience.

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