Mariam Motamedi Fraser
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Do dogs work? The labour of ‘the bond’

Chapter 4 is organised around two connected parts. The first analyses two popular scientific books – one by Brian Hare and Vanessa Woods, the other by Clive Wynne – in which the authors seek to explain to their readers what dogs are. The second part explores some of the implications of those explanations, for dogs. The chapter draws on Jocelyn Porcher’s theory of animal labour to do this. Its argument in essence is that dogs’ species story – exemplified in these two books – actively militates against an understanding of dogs as labouring subjects. And because dogs are not perceived to be labouring subjects, it is difficult to identify, let alone challenge, the ongoing exploitation of companion and working dogs, or to recognise their forms of ‘resistance’. As for the creative potentiality that Porcher claims to exist in labour, dogs’ species story allows no leverage for this at all. Although the chapter draws on Porcher’s theory of animal labour to make this case and to explore its implications, the particularity of dogs’ species story, as it is described, for example, by the scientists explored in the first half of this chapter, also constitutes a critique of it, and of Porcher’s implicit assumption that her account of labour applies equally to all domesticated animals. Debates about animal labour are complex and multifaceted, as the conclusion of this chapter acknowledges and discusses.

[F]‌or labour to become a site of interspecies justice, animals must also have the right to enter and exit the labour relationship, to freely choose their work, and not be subject to forced labour. Animals are harmed by unfreedoms to a far greater extent than we currently acknowledge.

(Blattner 2020: 109)

Our Dogs, Ourselves: The Story of a Unique Bond

(title, Horowitz 2019)

This chapter is organised around two connected parts. The first analyses two popular scientific books about dogs, in which the authors seek to explain to their readers what dogs are. The second part explores some of the implications of those explanations, for dogs. I use Jocelyn Porcher’s theory of animal labour to do this. My argument in essence will be that dogs’ species story – exemplified in these two books – actively militates against an understanding of dogs as labouring subjects. And because dogs are not perceived to be labouring subjects, it is difficult to identify, let alone challenge, the on-going exploitation of companion and working dogs, or to recognise their forms of ‘resistance’. As for the creative potentiality that Porcher claims exists in labour: dogs’ species story allows no leverage for this at all. In making this argument, this chapter shows how helpful Porcher’s theory, and other theories of animal labour, are with regard to the task I have set myself, which is to illuminate the political implications of dogs’ species story. It should be noted at the outset, however, that I am not myself an advocate of labour as the only or even the best lens through which to refract animal–human relations. The debates about animal labour are complex, and I will touch on them briefly in conclusion.

The two popular scientific books that I analyse in this chapter are The Genius of Dogs: Discovering the Unique Intelligence of Man’s Best Friend, by Brian Hare and Vanessa Woods (2020a), and Dog Is Love: The Science of Why and How Your Dog Loves You, by Clive Wynne (2020a). These books do more than rehearse the evolutionary theories of dog speciation/domestication that I discussed in Chapter 2. In addition, by providing further ‘proof’ for and embellishment of such theories through their interpretations of contemporary behavioural and biological research, the authors are enabled to draw out, to a greater degree than in their scientific papers, how the dominant dog species story ‘should’ be materially expressed in actual individual dogs. Although they do address the ‘origins’ of dogs as a species, their purpose is more fully to create, for a broad readership, an enduring conception of what a dog is today, how a dog should be understood, and what people who live and/or work with dogs can legitimately – that is, scientifically, objectively – expect from them. While recognising the individuality of dogs, they ultimately seek to account for all aspects (emotional, affective, cognitive, physiological etc.) of all dogs over all time. For these several reasons they are, in my view, exemplary contributors to what Gregory Hollin et al. describe as the ‘vast socio-technical networks’ that instantiate irreversible realities (Hollin et al. 2017: 935). Like the theories of dog speciation that I explored in Chapter 2, these books actively mitigate against ‘other ways of being’ a dog (Van Dooren in Giraud and Hollin 2017: 173).

In rereading these versions of dogs’ species story through the analytic framework of labour, my aim is to bring some clarity to the political implications that follow from them. If these implications are largely disguised, then that is in part because the research cited in these books is mostly conducted on dogs who are well-regarded and well-rewarded ‘family’ members and/or work colleagues, whose every need is often the top priority of the people with whom they live and work. This should not be surprising: for the most part, contemporary canine science focuses on companion and working dogs.1 I will return to the methodological implications of this focus in Chapter 5. Suffice it to note here that, of the estimated 1 billion dogs on the planet, only around 150–180 million live and/or work intimately with humans. Yet, as Raymond and Lorna Coppinger note, this small minority population has come to stand, in science, as representative of the species as a whole (Coppinger and Coppinger 2016: 21). In science, what they are is what all dogs are (see Chapter 2).

What dogs are

The two books that I will (mainly) be addressing in this section are representative of the genre of popular science writing about dogs. Like other books in this genre, The Genius of Dogs (Hare and Woods 2020a) and Dog is Love (Wynne 2020a) read like scientific adventure stories, stories that are characterised by trials and tribulations, wrong turns, revelatory moments, and ultimately satisfactory closure (which in this case means the satisfaction of firm scientific knowledge). The cultural references and normative expectations with regard to dog–human relations in these books indicate that they were written for audiences in the Global North, most probably for people who live with dogs and who at least know about working dogs, if not have some experience of them.

With regard to their authors: Hare trained originally as an evolutionary anthropologist, Wynne as a behaviourist. Hare is now Professor in the Center for Cognitive Neuroscience and in the Department of Evolutionary Anthropology at Duke University, where he founded and co-directs the Duke Canine Cognition Center and where he also plays an important public-facing role in the commercially funded ‘citizen science’ data collection platform Wynne is Professor of Psychology at Arizona State University, and director of the Canine Science Collaboratory. Both emphasise the dog–human ‘bond’ over and above any other aspect of what a dog ‘is’, and both consider that bond to have been a key part of dog speciation.

Vanessa Woods, who has a background in research with bonobos and chimpanzees, is a science writer and author of children’s books. She also handles the media side of Hare’s Canine Cognition Centre. This is probably a substantive job, given that Hare, like Woods herself, is a high-profile figure, one of a handful of canine scientists who have acquired some celebrity status. Hare and Woods have recently co-authored a second book together, entitled Survival of the Friendliest: Understanding Our Origins and Rediscovering Our Common Humanity (2020b), which expands on and extends some of the themes of The Genius of Dogs. It is worth noting, with regard to commentaries on The Genius of Dogs, that Hare is often considered to be the principal – if not the only – author. This is probably because the book takes the form of a first-person narrative, with Hare being the first person. I too find myself obliged on occasion to discuss this book as if it was written solely by Brian Hare.

I have chosen to focus on Hare and Woods’s The Genius of Dogs because Hare is one of two researchers who are understood by many scientists working in the field of canine research to have kickstarted the interest in dog cognition in the late 1990s.2 For Hare and Woods, the most interesting thing about dogs is their ‘genius’ cognitive abilities, the parameters of which, as I will illustrate, are strictly defined by their evolutionary and on-going relationships with humans. Wynne, very much by contrast – and this is the reason why I have chosen Dog Is Love as my second text – focuses on dog emotions, specifically dog ‘love’. Unlike Hare, with whose work Wynne engages at length in his book, Wynne’s argument is that dogs are not especially ‘genius’ at all. Instead, dogs’ evolutionary distinction lies in their ability to form affective bonds with humans and other species. In keeping with the genre, Hare and Wynne trace the origins of their insights into dogs as a species to ‘enlightening’ experiences they had with dogs of their own. I begin with their accounts ‘of how it all started’, since these ‘new destiny’ stories (Despret 2015a: 97) encapsulate the authors’ arguments in a nutshell, which they subsequently go on to illustrate through scientific experiments. (The subsection that follows the recounting of Hare’s ‘destiny story’ is titled ‘The importance of experiments’ (Hare and Woods 2020a: 41).)

Hare’s story is as follows: in his second year at university, he was working with the comparative psychologist Michael Tomasello, who was studying infant psychology. Specifically, Tomasello was investigating human infants’ ability to understand communicative intentions. Since ‘[i]‌ntention reading provides a cognitive foundation for all human forms of culture and communication’ (Hare and Woods 2020a: 37), one of Tomasello’s aims was to establish whether this skill developed before or after the Pan–Homo split, some 5–7 million years ago (the answer to this question was to be deduced from whether chimpanzees share this skill, or not). During a session of signalling games with chimpanzees, and in the light of the chimpanzees’ difficulty in understanding the experimenters’ intentions, Tomasello suggested to Hare that humans uniquely ‘spontaneously and flexibly use gestures, such as pointing’:

I blurted out, ‘I think my dog [Oreo] can do it.’

‘Sure’. Mike was amused. ‘Everybody’s dog can do calculus.’

‘No, really. I bet he could pass the tests.’

Seeing I was serious, Mike leaned back in his chair.

‘Okay’, he said. ‘Why don’t you pilot an experiment?’

(Hare and Woods 2020a: 40–41)

And the rest, as reported on the website, is history. By ‘challenging him to prove it’, Tomasello sent Hare ‘on a 15-year odyssey to unlock the cognitive and evolutionary mysteries of our four-legged friends’.3

Where Hare and Woods insist on Oreo’s ‘genius’ – I will discuss their understanding of ‘genius’ in a moment – Wynne is intent on underscoring, in Dog Is Love and elsewhere (e.g. Wynne 2020b), that his ‘lovable little mutt wasn’t very smart’ (Wynne 2020a: 56). Xephos was adopted from a shelter in north Florida in 2012 as a birthday surprise for Wynne from his family (Wynne 2020a: 13). Once she arrived at the house, Wynne describes how Xephos had trouble with stairs, trouble with the dog flap, trouble with the leash (Wynne 2020a: 56–57). She did, however, have a ‘superpower’, and ‘that superpower, naturally, we called love’ (Wynne 2020b). What Xephos ‘worked very hard to make sure I grasped’, writes Wynne, was ‘that there was indeed something unique about dogs’ (Wynne 2020a: 58):

I could spend all day at the office reading and writing scientific papers about dog behaviour, poking holes in the scientific literature about dogs’ supposedly unique cognitive abilities, yet when I came home to Xephos, her wild enthusiasm on seeing me again … made it impossible for me not to recognize that there was something quite extraordinary about these animals, something that set them apart from all other creatures.(Wynne 2020a: 58)

Xephos’s affection led Wynne, he writes, ‘to question some of my most basic convictions as a behavioural scientist’ (Wynne 2020b): first, that emotion is not relevant to the scientific study of animals; second, that ‘the simplest explanation for a phenomenon is always to be preferred over others’ (Wynne 2020a: 59; for more on these and other behaviourist convictions, see Chapter 3 of this book).4 Again, the rest is history: Xephos ‘left a behaviourist … in a bit of a bind. So I did the only thing I could do: I kept digging’ (Wynne 2020a: 90).

For the sake of brevity, I will concentrate on only the core aspects of Hare and Woods’s and Wynne’s arguments. These are Hare and Woods’s claim that dogs have evolved a particular ‘genius’, and Wynne’s claim that dogs are hard-wired for ‘love’.


I begin, somewhat counterintuitively, with the only chapter in The Genius of Dogs that argues that dogs are not geniuses. The essence of this seventh chapter, entitled ‘Lost dogs’, is that dogs are lost without humans – literally lost. In it, the authors refer to a number of experiments that are intended to illustrate that dogs are not as skilled as wolves at navigating barriers and detours, nor as skilled as rats at using and remembering landmarks (Hare and Woods 2020a: 149–154). Dogs also have a poor understanding of ‘physics’, by which Hare and Woods mean the ‘principle of connectivity’ (155) and the ‘principle of solidity’ (158). With regard to the former, and in an echo of C. Lloyd Morgan’s disparaging view of his terrier Tony’s inability to ‘perceive relations’ (see Chapter 3 of this book), the authors show how dogs apparently struggle to identify how things are connected to each other (e.g. that if a rope is pulled, a dish containing food will slide forward within reach (Hare and Woods 2020a: 155–157)). Although dogs have some understanding of ‘the principle of solidity’ (e.g. the sound of rattling indicates there is kibble in the tin), this is not especially profound. A dog can infer that food falling down a straight tube will land in the box below it, but not which of the boxes will receive food that falls down an angled tube (Hare and Woods 2020a: 158–160). Dogs fail the mirror self-recognition (MSR) test (although see Horowitz’s (2017) dispute of this claim),5 and are not as good at associative learning as are chimpanzees and wolves (Hare and Woods 2020a: 163–164). As Hare and Woods later summarise: ‘The most important lesson about dognition is that when dogs are left to their own devices, they are completely unremarkable’ (Hare and Woods 2020a: 164).

Hare and Woods’s ‘Lost dogs’ chapter, which addresses the ways in which dogs are unremarkable, serves two important purposes in the book as a whole. First, it supports their argument that ‘intelligence’ or ‘genius’ are not concepts that can be applied in the abstract. Thus: ‘[a]‌sking if a dolphin is cleverer than a crow is like asking if a hammer is better than a saw. Which is the better tool depends on the task at hand or, in the case of animals, which challenges they must regularly confront to survive and reproduce’ (Hare and Woods 2020a: 233; see also Miklósi 2017: 29). ‘Genius’, in other words, is species-specific. Indeed, tracing the genealogies of different kinds of geniuses, in Hare and Woods’s book, looks suspiciously like identifying histories of speciation. When explaining why scientists test the cognitive abilities of a species against an out group, for example, Hare and Woods write: ‘if one species has a special ability that a close relative does not, we can not only identify their genius but also, more interestingly, ask how and why that genius exists’ (Hare and Woods 2020a: 8). This was the purpose of Tomasello’s research on intention reading in chimpanzees, which I mentioned earlier: to distinguish the genius of humans from chimpanzees, to use the distinction to date that genius, and to use the date to try to identify an evolutionary reason for it.

The relation between ‘genius’ and ‘species’ is so tight here that they could almost be substituted for each other. ‘Wolves’, Hare and Woods write, ‘have their own kinds of genius’ (Hare and Woods 2020a: 59). Since ‘[d]‌ogs are not meant to be lone wolves’ (Hare and Woods 2020a: 165), they have not acquired, over the course of their evolution, the cognitive skills to solve problems in social isolation. Or more accurately – and this is the second reason why the chapter ‘Lost dogs’ is important – they have not acquired the cognitive skills to function independently of humans, when humans are available to them. Hare and Woods illustrate this point with reference to an experiment in which some hand-raised wolves showed themselves easily able to find a toy whose position had been changed by a human, in full view of the wolves, from one spot to another. So too could the dogs in this study, but only when the toy was transported by transparent strings. If the toy was moved by a human, the dogs returned to the toy’s original spot to find it. The reason? ‘The error is caused by the social context [the presence of humans], not a lack of memory … [The experiment] shows how relying on humans too heavily can get dogs confused in some situations’ (Hare and Woods 2020a: 165).

Such confusion, however, is also dogs’ ‘genius’, for theirs is ‘a basic understanding of human communicative intentions’ (Hare and Woods 2020a: 60). This means, among other things, that dogs are able to understand human pointing and gestures, distinguish between communicative and non-communicative cues, draw inferences from human behaviours, and pay attention to what humans are paying attention to – all of which developed through evolutionary domestication (Hare and Woods 2020a: 60).6 From as young as six weeks of age, with relatively little exposure to humans, puppies ‘are already so good with human gestures that there is little room for improvement’ (Hare and Woods 2020a: 55). In keeping with some of the speciation/domestication theories that I discussed in Chapter 2, Hare and Woods consider these skills to be especially interesting because they are the very skills that may have secured the evolutionary success of humans too. The ability and willingness to ‘co-operate and communicate [that is witnessed] in foxes, dogs, and bonobos … may also have catalysed [in humans] an evolutionary chain reaction leading to the evolution of completely new cognitive abilities – not just the expression of old cognitive skills in new contexts’ (Hare and Woods 2020a: 114; see also Hare and Woods 2020b). As other canine scientists have argued, Hare and Woods too propose that ‘[d]‌ogs may have civilised us’ (Hare and Woods 2020a: 121).

The veracity of these contested claims is not my concern here. What is significant is that Hare and Woods are telling a story that illustrates not merely that dogs have acquired the cognitive skills to understand some forms of human communication, but that dogs are inconceivable, as dogs, without humans. Returning to Morgan’s experiments with Tony and the latch, the mechanics of which, Morgan argued, Tony never understood (see Chapter 3), Hare and Woods write:

Morgan would be pleased to learn that while Tony did not understand how the latch worked on the gate, scientists have discovered that dogs do not solve this type of problem only by means of trial and error. A recent experiment has shown that dogs can solve the latch problem immediately if they see someone else [a human someone] solve it first. Tony’s case demonstrates how experiments can reveal where animals are geniuses and where they are not.(Hare and Woods 2020a: 44)

In other words, there is more than one way of solving a problem, and the genius of dogs – of all dogs, Hare and Woods argue – is to solve it by turning to humans. Probably, Hare and Woods chose the concept of ‘genius’ to make their work accessible to a public audience. Nevertheless, the scientific take-home message is clear. Specific skills (‘genius’) are largely definitive of a species. Because dogs are not geniuses without humans, the species ‘dog’ must be understood in relation to humans. There are no dogs qua dogs without humans.


I will leave aside Clive Wynne’s point-by-point (or rather, method-by-method, experiment-by-experiment) objections to Hare and Woods’s thesis that dogs have evolved unique cognitive skills. It is enough to record here that much of this refutal turns on experiments, Wynne’s own and others’, that demonstrate that wolves and other animals can also read human intentions (so dogs are not cognitively unique in this regard), and that an individual dog’s life experiences play a significant role in shaping their cognitive skills (so ‘dognition’ is not given solely by evolutionary adaptation). Dogs do indeed have an ‘essence’ that marks them out as special, Wynne argues, but this specialness pertains not so much to cognition as to their affective capacities. Dogs have ‘an emotional engagement with our species’, Wynne writes, which is written into ‘their bodies’ (Wynne 2020a: 118). ‘Scientists are digging deeper and deeper into the biological essence of the dog, finding more and more evidence that their bodies are programmed for emotional connections’ (Wynne 2020a: 114). This ‘programming’ can be identified in ‘a range of neurological, hormonal, cardiac and other physiological markers’ (Wynne 2020a: 118).

Wynne draws on a number of studies to support this argument, including Gregory Berns et al.’s well-publicised functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) research, which first illustrated that the ‘reward system’ in two dogs’ brains became activated when the dogs anticipated a food reward (Berns et al. 2012) and then, later, that the caudate activity in thirteen out of fifteen dogs was more intense in anticipation of social praise than in anticipation of food (Cook et al. 2016; Wynne 2020a: 121–130).7 Having also outlined cardiac studies, which seem to show that the hearts of dogs and humans will synchronise when the human is stroking the dog (Wynne 2020a: 119–121), and chemical studies, which focus on the role of neurochemistry and especially oxytocin in developing and maintaining social bonds (Wynne 2020a: 130–138), Wynne turns finally to genetics, ‘to the most basic building blocks of their (and our) biology – their genetic code’ (Wynne 2020a: 139). Here Wynne draws on the work of three scientists: Mia Persson and Anna Kis, both of whom investigated genes that code for oxytocin receptors and, in Kis’s case, their possible relations to dog breed; and Bridgett vonHoldt, whose controversial argument is that the significant difference between wolves and dogs is not cognitive but social, and that this sociability – in fact, this ‘exaggerated gregariousness, referred to as hypersociability’ (vonHoldt et al. 2017: 1) – is connected to the ‘orthologous [chromosomal] region that has been mapped to human WBS [Williams-Beuren syndrome]’ (vonHoldt et al. 2017: 2).

Williams-Beuren syndrome (WBS), or Williams syndrome (WS), is a rare, non-hereditary, congenital disease affecting 1 in 18,000 people in the UK. The Williams Syndrome Foundation UK writes that it ‘causes distinct facial characteristics and a wide range of learning difficulties … WS people tend to be talkative and excessively friendly towards adults’ (Williams Syndrome Foundation 2023: para. 1). Wynne reports that when he first learned of vonHoldt’s results, he became somewhat concerned about the implications of the alleged genetic connection between dogs and people with WS: ‘for all that I was thrilled to be involved with such an exciting scientific breakthrough, I was anxious that parents of children with Williams syndrome might be offended by our discovery that there are genetic similarities between their offspring and dogs’ (Wynne 2020a: 153). Apparently, he ‘needn’t have worried’ – a board member of the United States Williams Syndrome Association, when commenting on vonHoldt’s study, told a journalist that ‘the connection made immediate intuitive sense … “If they [children with WS] had tails, they would wag them”’ (Wynne 2020a: 153).

In her discussion of the gestures and expressions of sign language, disability scholar and activist Sunaura Taylor argues that sign has been both racialised and animalised through its association with the ‘primitive’ and ‘rudimentary’, such that ‘the gestural language could no more be called a language than expressive animal movements like the wag of a dog’s tail’ (Taylor 2017: 51). The racialised history of ableism goes some way to explaining why the claim about children with WS – ‘[i]‌f they had tails, they would wag them’ – might make one feel not less but more uneasy about the WS–dog association. Nevertheless, the parallels between dogs and disability – not only in his discussion of the genes associated with WS in humans, but also throughout the book – is the prompt that enables Wynne to organise his argument in terms of ethics.

Wynne makes clear, for example, at the start of Dog Is Love, that his objection to Hare and Woods’s canine research is not solely scientific. Hare and Woods’s claim that dogs’ cognitive skills are independent of their life experiences (hence the importance of their emphasis on the already-established skills of puppies in recognising human gestures) implies, Wynne fears, that dogs who do not exhibit an ‘innate capacity’ to understand human intentions have ‘some sort of deep cognitive deficits’ (Wynne 2020a: 36). The significance of this for potential companion dogs who are waiting to be rehomed in shelters is serious: ‘[a]‌ny qualities that might help to determine whether a dog stays in a shelter or goes home with an adoptive family could literally be the difference between life and death’ (36). This is why Wynne conceives of his and Monique Udell’s research on shelter dogs to be partly an ethical project. Wynne and Udell sought to understand ‘what the implications of their [shelter dogs’] handicap were’ (37), with the intention of ensuring that the dogs ‘could find fulfilling lives in human homes’ (36). Having trained these dogs to understand human pointing in under half an hour – i.e. having ostensibly illustrated that this skill is ‘learned, not inherent’, and that these dogs were not ‘handicapped’ after all – Wynne writes: ‘[t]his was such a thrilling result: these dogs obviously were not beyond saving!’ (39). As for his own position on dogs – this too has an ethical dimension. For if ‘[t]he essence of dog is love’ (155), Wynne writes, then to ignore this ‘need [for love] … is as unethical as denying them their need for food and exercise’ (9, emphasis in the original).

Wynne is not the only canine scientist to craft an ethical position on dogs that derives from dogs’ perceived relations with humans. Berns et al. also suggest that dogs’ orientation toward humans renders them ‘particularly vulnerable to exploitation’ (Berns et al. 2012: 3), which is why the authors include in their first article on dogs and fMRIs some ethical guidelines for future research in this area (Berns et al. 2012: 3–4; see also Berns et al. 2017: 2–3). Because dogs are likely to do what they are asked, scientists must place ‘the dogs’ welfare above all else’ (Berns et al. 2012: 3–4). There are points of resonance here with Eva Giraud and Gregory Hollin’s analysis of research Beagles at University of California, Davis, who, as they note, were bred to be ‘amenable’ (Giraud and Hollin 2017: 170). In addition to this breeding, Giraud and Hollin also show how the care practices at Davis were intentionally designed to manipulate the Beagles, to mould them into ‘“experimental dogs”’, and to pacify their ‘objections and desires’ (Giraud and Hollin 2016: 36). The common argument here is that, when it comes to their affective relations with humans (however those relations come about), the agency of dogs, and especially their ability to object, is compromised. It is only ethical, therefore, to account for this. But where Giraud and Hollin confine their concerns to the breeding of research dogs, and where Berns confines his to his experiments,8 the ethical implications of Wynne’s claim that ‘dog is love’ necessarily extends to the entire membership of Canis familiaris, for all dogs are ‘love’. This is why Wynne is obliged to find evidence for his argument in research conducted not only on companion dogs, but also on the ‘un-owned dogs’ (Wynne 2020a: 75) that he finds living in Moscow and in and around Kolkata (Wynne 2020a: 75–83).

The implicit argument of Dog Is Love is that the ‘genius’ of dogs is disability. In the opening pages of the book, Wynne writes that dogs ‘have an exaggerated, ebullient, perhaps even excessive capacity to form affectionate relationships with members of other species. This capacity is so great that, if we saw it in one of our own kind, we would consider it quite strange – pathological, even’ (Wynne 2020a: 8). It is no accident, in a book devoted to pathological love, that Wynne should be preoccupied with ‘disorders’ of affectivity. In addition to his identification of dogs’ ‘pathology’ as genetically akin to Williams syndrome, Wynne reports on genomic and behavioural research that suggests dogs more oriented toward humans have genetic markers that are associated in humans with autism (Wynne 2020a: 153). Although he does not say it in the book, the genetic research that he cites here was conducted on highly bred laboratory Beagles (Persson et al. 2016).

One reason why the connections Wynne makes between the subjects of disability, animals and ethics might be read as controversial is on account of the influence of Peter Singer’s work, which has done relations between the disability and animal liberation movements no favours (Taylor 2017; Chapter 12; Salomon 2010). In his anti-speciesist ethics, Singer argues that the criterion for moral consideration should rest not on any ostensibly human species-specific capacity (such as ‘reason’), but rather on the capacity for suffering, which is shared by all sentient creatures, human or animal. Although this argument has enabled Singer to dispute the moral value attributed to humans solely on the basis of a prejudice in favour of that species, his own prejudices, and especially the normative value that he ascribes to autonomy, self-governance, agency and activity, have intensified discrimination between humans. Using suffering as ethical leverage, Singer has argued that ‘[m]‌ental capacities’ make a ‘difference’ to suffering and therefore to the moral worth of a life and indeed the moral significance of a death. ‘Some deaths’, he writes, ‘are more tragic than others’ (Singer 2006: 6).

As many critics have argued, Singer’s calculations of tragedy (the greater tragedy of the death of a ‘full person’, the conception of disability as ‘tragic’, the ‘tragedy’ of suffering) are underpinned by an ableism that defines for Singer not only quality of life, but also what is a good life, a life worth living. Although Gary Francione often takes issue with Singer (e.g. Francione and Charlton 2015; Francione 2010), his abolitionist approach arguably represents the logical, if extreme, conclusion of their shared ableism. Francione and Anna Charlton argue that domesticated species are so vulnerable to human exploitation and abuse that the only ethical response available is the forced sterilisation of all extant animals, with the ultimate goal of extinction (Francione and Charlton 2015: 23–28). As Taylor argues in her critique of Francione, the ‘pitiability’ of domesticated animals is intelligible only to the extent that dependency/co-dependency is seen to be diminishing. ‘In a parallel to the “better off dead” narrative of disability’, Taylor writes, ‘domesticated animals are viewed as “better off extinct”’ (Taylor 2017: 215). In response to both Singer and Francione, Taylor argues that ‘[t]‌he challenge is to understand dependency not simply as negative, and certainly not as unnatural, but rather as an integral part of our world and our relationships’ (Taylor 2017: 210).

It is not the case that Wynne’s argument reveals or exposes relational co-dependency, however, for the direction of (biological) ‘need’ flows principally and most powerfully from dogs to humans. (Herein lies the ethical obligation, in the affective asymmetry.) Nor does Wynne’s understanding of dogs as pathologically sociable – pathologically relational, one might say – challenge the ‘able’ human subject. On the contrary, his ethics takes that subject for granted. This is the normatively capable, and now also normatively caring, human who, because they are capable and caring, should look out for dogs, because dogs, so devoted are they to humans, cannot look out for themselves. Such is the vulnerable underbelly of Wynne’s paternalistic ethics, which relies on a benevolent perception of ‘disability’ and on ‘good will’ toward dogs’ dependence on humans. Rather than deploy dependency to challenge the relations between ability and disability, as Taylor seeks to do, in Wynne’s analysis ‘disability’ serves only to intensify the otherness of dogs. Not only are dogs other to humans because they are animals; not only are dogs aligned with humans who, on account of their ‘disabilities’, are themselves perceived to be other; dogs are in addition other among animals, for as a species they are uniquely ‘disabled’ by their affective dependence on humans. In Wynne’s account of what dogs are, dogs are deeply disadvantaged by that affectivity, and also inescapably tied to it, for it is definitive of their species.

So, what does the reader learn from Hare and Woods, and from Wynne, about dogs? First, the degree of interspecies relationality that is evident between dogs and humans, be it cognitive (Hare and Woods) or affective (Wynne), is unique. Second, they learn from Hare and Woods that it is natural – literally, that it is given by natural selection – for dogs as a species to be able to engage in sophisticated communication with humans. From Wynne, the reader learns that it is given by genetics (and neurochemistry, and hormones, and …) that dogs, regardless of whether they can or cannot communicate successfully across species (which is anyway something that can be taught), can and do love humans: that dogs, in fact, cannot help but love humans, given the opportunity.

What is the immediate implication of these stories, for dogs? It is that dogs are not unique, special or genius without humans, for one reason or another. For one reason or another: this is an aspect of Wynne’s argument that he himself omits to address – the straight substitution of one definitive feature of dogs, their ‘genius’ for communication with humans, with another definitive feature, their unparalleled capacity for ‘love’. Such is the mark of a species story. What these two versions of dogs’ species story have in common is that they both perceive dogs to be, inherently, creatures of ‘the bond’. Whether they tell of a bond that is communicative, or of a bond that is affective, these stories bind dogs to humans. I am returned to my discussion of Stanley Coren’s intelligence ranking, in which dogs bred to work independently were listed least ‘intelligent’ (see Chapter 1), and to the story of Beth, as it is described by Harlan Weaver, who was euthanised for her ‘disinterest in humans’ (see introduction). Both can be explained by Hare and Woods’s and Wynne’s versions of the species story. For who is an unintelligent dog? They are a dog without the genius to look to humans. And who is a ‘problem’ dog? They are a dog without the love to show to humans.

In the next part of this chapter, I want to consider some of the more profound implications of dogs’ species story.

What dogs are not

In this second section, I use Jocelyn Porcher’s analysis of animal labour to understand and explore the implications, for dogs, of these scientific stories about them. The question as to whether animals can or should be described as workers (is such a description possible? Is it desirable?) is complex, and Porcher’s contribution to this debate is somewhat controversial. I will return to both these topics in the conclusion. First, I zoom in on the nuts and bolts of Porcher’s theory – specifically ‘the link’, the ‘interface’ between worlds and species – to illustrate how she understands animal labour to operate in practice, and from where, in her view, it accrues its value. Second, I demonstrate how dogs’ species story dismantles the relations between these nuts and bolts, and how this leads inexorably to the conclusion that dogs, while certainly doing things for/with humans, are not truly working. Interestingly, this exercise highlights not only how deeply bound up with the concept of species is dogs’ perceived non-labour (as one would anticipate), but also how bound up in species is Porcher’s theory itself, which would not be intelligible without it.

Porcher’s conception of labour, and especially the link between humans and animals that is built through it, promises much to domesticated animals. Among those promises is the opportunity to transcend what Karl Marx called their ‘species life’, their ‘mere doing’, as one might put it. Numerous critics have illustrated, however, how unlikely this promise was to be realised in practice historically (for example Delon 2020: 166), and how unlikely it is to be realised today (for example Eisen 2020). To these empirical critiques I would add a theoretical one, which is that labour’s promise does not bear identically upon all domesticated animals, because these animals are made into species differently. Most obvious, in the context of Dog Politics, is the difference between the significance of ‘the link’ for cows, as Porcher understands it, compared to its significance for dogs, as it is understood in dogs’ species story. Herein lies the usefulness of Porcher’s theory for my own analysis, and the problem: while her concept of ‘the link’, established through ‘living together’, enables me to expose the limitations that dogs’ species story imposes on dogs, her valorisation of it prevents me from identifying, in her work, a way for dogs to escape those limitations. Like the link or ‘the bond’ itself, therefore, the limitations on dogs are binding.

 Living together

In her article with Sophie Nicod, Porcher argues that frameworks that seek to dominate and instrumentalise domesticated animals give rise to generic conceptions of them: ‘bovine for tractive power, sheep for wool, cow for milk, pig for meat and fat’ (Porcher and Nicod 2020: 251, emphasis in the original). Across her work, Porcher deploys her understanding of labour to challenge this idea that domesticated animals are reducible to their roles in production (or to their roles as products). Animal labour, and the labour of humans who work with animals, are not primarily about production, she says. Instead, they are about relations. ‘[P]‌roduction is not its [labour’s] first and sole purpose … Working is production, but it is mainly living together’ (Porcher and Nicod 2020: 252).

‘Living together’ with humans – or, more specifically, ‘the link’ (which is sometimes translated as the tie, the connection or the bond) – is a key element in Porcher’s theory. Labour, as Nicolas Delon explains, ‘on this view, implies a dyadic or collective relation between human and non-human co-workers. Its value is inherently relational. Indeed, it’s “the link” that Porcher considers worth preserving for its own sake’ (Delon 2020: 164). Porcher’s position, Delon continues, is cleaved from both history and anthropology: ‘in a nutshell: we are happier together and have always lived together … The empirical premise implies an axiological one: work uniquely embodies the intrinsic value of living together’ (Delon 2020: 165). The link between animals and humans is forged through work, the link is the reward for animals when they work and the link is the main criterion by which animals judge their work. ‘The judgment on the link’, Vinciane Despret explains, ‘or judgment on the conditions of living together – makes the difference between work that alienates and work that creates, even in situations that are radically asymmetric between farmers and their animals’ (Despret 2016: 183). In work that creates, animals ‘collaborate intentionally’ (Porcher in Delon 2020: 163). In work that alienates, ‘[a]‌nimals do not say thank you; they can even sabotage the work’ (Porcher in Delon 2020: 163). This is why industrial-scale food production is not an example of ‘living together’, for either human or animal workers. Rather, it represents ‘the breakdown of relations’ (Delon 2020: 163).

Porcher’s definition of domestication – ‘the insertion of animals into human work’ (Porcher and Schmitt 2012: 40) – is of consequence for this book because it displaces species as a mode of classification. As I understand it, for Porcher domestication is a way of organising animals’ lives and experiences and, therefore, domesticated animals of different species may have more in common with each other than domesticated and non-domesticated animals of the same species.9 Yet, even though it is not immediately obvious, species plays an important role in Porcher’s analysis of the link. For it is in the ‘interface between their own world and the human world built by labour activities’, Porcher and Nicod write, ‘that domesticated animals find purpose in their existence and enjoy a richer, more interesting, surprising and challenging life compared to a life outside of the human’ (Porcher and Nicod 2020: 256).10 What are these ‘worlds’? In an article written with Tiphaine Schmitt on cows, Porcher argues that farm animals inhabit three worlds: ‘the “natural” world’; ‘their own world – that of their species’; and ‘our human world’, in which they ‘live, from birth to death’ (Porcher and Schmitt 2012: 40). The intersection among these worlds is important, because it is here that the richer, more interesting, surprising and challenging life is engendered. For example: cows ‘have a need that is not entirely natural, a need for recognition. It is with speech and petting that the farmers recognize their animals, and it is with trust and proximity that animals recognize their farmers’ (Porcher 2014: 7). The cows’ need is not entirely natural, because it is located not in the natural world or in the cows’ species world, but in the human world of work.

Can this understanding of animal labour be transposed to dogs? In my view, there are two characteristics of domesticated dogs, ascribed to them by dogs’ species story, that disrupt the operations of Porcher’s model. First, dogs are not bred primarily for production-related traits, but for behavioural traits. Second, dogs’ species story collapses the distinction between worlds (in this case, the dog world and the human world) that subtends the power of the link, as Porcher conceives of it. With regard to the former: insofar as these behavioural traits support ‘an extraordinary variety of working and social roles’ (Serpell and Duffy 2014: 32), one might argue that the on-going process that is ‘living together’ is the dog product. Sheep for wool, cow for milk, dogs for living together. Consider again Beth, touchstone for this book, who could not live together ‘well’ with humans and who did not bond with them successfully (from the perspective of humans). This ‘failure’ brought an end to Beth’s life, precisely because, at least in the Global North, domesticated dogs supply no other purpose or product than living together with humans.

With regard to the latter: true, dogs inhabit a world that is sense specific. But dogs’ species story comes dangerously close to suggesting – and Clive Wynne’s version of the story is exemplary here – that the near totality of the biological, genetic, neurological, physiological, cognitive, communicative and affective processes that give rise to that dog Umwelt have evolved in relation to/are organised around humans. Unlike domesticated cows’ need for recognition from farmers, therefore, which Porcher describes as ‘not entirely natural’, dogs’ species story, by strong contrast, insists that nothing could be more natural than dogs’ need for recognition from humans. Indeed, Wynne goes so far as to suggest that dogs would die without it (recall his claim, which I quoted above, that a dog’s need for human love is equivalent to their need for food and exercise).

How might these challenges to the conceptual architecture of Porcher’s theory of animal labour transform its direction and implications? Oddly, I want to answer this question by reflecting on an article written by Porcher and Élisabeth Lécrivain, in which the authors criticise the belief of French shepherds that Patou dogs do not work, while sheep dogs do.11 This is odd, because it means I will be deploying an analysis of dogs to demonstrate why dogs, ultimately, are an exception to that analysis (!). So let me remind the reader that, in the first instance, I am comparing Porcher’s analysis of the shepherds’ conception of Patous’ work with my analysis of the conception of dog labour that emerges, albeit implicitly, in dogs’ species story. Although they have much in common, dogs’ species story goes much further. Not only does it claim to account for all dogs, it also transforms the characteristic of ‘doing but not working’ into an existential and political limitation for dogs.

 Doing but not working

Patou, originally known as the Pyrenean Mountain dog, is the generic term for the large white dogs who are now almost entirely responsible (they constitute 85 per cent of the dogs responsible) for protecting herds of sheep against wolves in France (Porcher and Lécrivain 2019: 116–117). Although Porcher and Lécrivain consider the work of the Patou to be on a par with that of police or military dogs, the shepherds conceive of their protective activities as ‘not work’. One reason for this is that these dogs have for generations, from a young age, been raised with sheep. Their activities, therefore, are considered by the shepherds to be genetic and instinctive (Porcher and Lécrivain 2019: 119). This means that not only do the shepherds have nothing to do with it – ‘[n]‌ous, on n’y est pour rien’ (Porcher and Lécrivain 2017: 71) – neither, apparently, do Patous. In the eyes of the shepherds, because this work is ‘innate’, it is ‘work without a subject’: ‘[l]e travail de la chienne patou est un travail sans sujet puisqu’il est renvoyé à des caractéristiques innées’ (Porcher and Lécrivain 2017: 74).

If the work of the Patou is opaque to the shepherds, Porcher and Lécrivain argue, then this is because the shepherds consider the activities involved in protection to be proper to the species world of the dog, which is distinct from the human world of work (Porcher and Lécrivain 2019: 122). In other words, wherever a dog appears to be doing something that belongs to their species world – i.e. something that, as a member of their species, they would be doing ‘naturally’/anyway – then those activities cannot be considered to be work. If the activities belong to the world of human work, however – indicated by the fact that for such activities, dogs require training (because they would not do them naturally/anyway) – then work they are. This is the difference between Patous and sheep dogs, according to the shepherds. The sheep dogs’ work, by contrast with the Patou dogs’, is only partly genetic and instinctive (and therefore not work), and partly trained (and therefore work) (Porcher and Lécrivain 2019: 122).

There are recognisable echoes of the shepherds’ schema, as Porcher and Lécrivain describe it, in dogs’ species story. The shepherds consider ‘innate’ activities to be not work. Similarly, if ‘living together’ with humans, or the ‘link’, is ‘innate’ to dogs – as Hare and Woods and Wynne propose – then any dog activity that involves humans cannot ultimately be considered to be work. Since there is no work as such being done by dogs (they are doing but not working), the analytical consequence is perhaps better described not in terms of ‘work without a subject’, which is how the shepherds see Patous’ work, but rather in terms of a subject without work. Of course, scientists will protest that dogs do work, as evidenced for instance by the fact that dogs need to be socialised and trained to work. This is, after all, one of the reasons that so much funding is invested in research on the socialisation process, as I indicated in Chapter 1 of this book: to ensure that dogs can be trained to work, whether as companions or workers, as economically, efficiently and ‘successfully’ as possible. Moreover, neither Hare and Woods, nor Wynne, nor Berns, ever describe, or even imply, that the things dogs do are ‘natural’ in and of themselves (in the way that the shepherds imagine that Patous’ protective activities are ‘natural’). What they do assume, however, is that it is natural for dogs to do for/with humans things that humans often call work, but which a dog would call ‘being a dog’.12 This is everywhere evident in the assumptions that underlie these scientists’ understandings of dogs.

Berns, for instance, is concerned with the ethics of putting dogs into an fMRI machine (it is not natural, nor is it work). He has no ethical qualms at all, however, about using fMRI technologies to identify dogs who are more likely to succeed at service work: at work, that is, that supports humans. Yet ‘[m]‌ost dogs’, as Berns and his colleagues themselves confess – up to 70 per cent of dogs in fact – ‘are not suited to be service dogs’ (Berns et al. 2017: 1). This statistic – like the statistic I quoted in Chapter 1 of this book, which suggested that, in a study of over 4,000 dogs, 85 per cent of them had behavioural ‘problems’ – might be the cue to ask whether dogs really are as accomplished at their ‘non-work’ (which is living with humans) as they are said to be, and what the experiential consequences of that might be, for dogs. The cue passes unnoticed, however. Because for Berns et al., the statistic is relevant not to dogs, who of course do things for/with humans, but to the economics of service-dog programmes, which can cost up $50,000 per dog (Berns et al. 2017: 1).

The assumption that it is natural for dogs to engage with humans in activities that humans might call work is the de facto position of Hare and Woods’s book, and indeed provides much of the rationale for the Duke Canine Cognition Center. In an interview with Maggie Spini, Hare describes the aims of the Duke Canine Cognition Center thus:

What we’d really, really love to see is some of the things that we learn here at the Duke Canine Cognition Center be applicable to real-world problems. Either helping people teach dogs to be better at finding bombs, or to be better companion animals to, say, children with autism or helping people with disabilities. The medical community is also getting more and more excited about using dogs in different ways to help people. There’s a huge supply problem – there are not many dogs available, and it’s very labor-intensive to train these dogs to help people. So, if we could understand dog psychology, we might make the whole process easier and there would be more dogs that are better at helping people.(Hare in Spini 2010: para. 1)

This, then, is what a centre dedicated to dogs’ psychology is for. It is not for helping dogs per se; it is for helping dogs to help humans. How is it possible, once again, for the politics of this to pass unremarked and perhaps, even, unnoticed? Arguably, because dogs’ species story renders the politics invisible by naturalising dogs’ ‘living together’ with humans. This is probably why the name of a centre dedicated to enabling dogs better to help humans need only refer to dogs. At the end of the day, dogs helping humans is all about dogs; or, it is what dogs are all about. ‘What’s in it for the dogs?’, asks Lisa Rabanal (personal communication), following Lynda Birke (2009). What’s in it for dogs is humans. To the extent that this is reassuring for humans, dogs’ species story can be understood to be a pseudo-ethical balm, applied to a political wound.

A further consequence follows from the naturalisation of dogs’ ‘living together’ with humans, and therefore of their labour: it is that labour does not and cannot offer dogs – as Porcher argues it potentially offers other domesticated animals – the opportunity of a ‘second nature’.

 Labour as a route (or not) to a ‘second nature’: species life and species being

In the Economic and Political Manuscripts of 1844, Marx (1988) argues that species life means a life determined by the dictates of the species, without – and this is the important part – any consciousness of being a species. According to Marx, this is how animals live: ‘[t]‌he animal is immediately identical with its life-activity. It does not distinguish itself from it’ (Marx 1988: 76). Socialised humans, by contrast, are capable of species being, which means they are capable of making species life ‘the object of [human] will and of [human] consciousness’ (76). As Tim Ingold explains:

They are aware of what they are doing, and they are aware that it is they who are doing it. As agents, they can separate themselves out from their activity and, by the same token, they can imagine themselves doing all kinds of different things, including even the things that other animals do.(Ingold 2013: 17)

The shepherds’ view of the Patou bears a striking resemblance to Marx’s conception of species life. According to the shepherds, the Patou do what is typical of/natural to their species, without recognising that this ‘doing’ is something that they, as a species, do. For this reason, the Patou’s protective activities count as work to the shepherds, but as being a dog to the Patou. This is how, in the minds of the shepherds, there can be a Patou form of work without a Patou working subject.

Porcher and Lécrivain raise a formidable objection to the shepherds’ conception of the Patou, and in doing so pose a challenge to Marx’s assumption that animal life is species life. They argue that Patous’ work could not be carried out successfully if the dogs were not able to distinguish between different species, and to adopt appropriate relations toward each of them. In other words, the Patou do not form things only ‘in accordance with the standard and the need of the species to which it belongs’ (Marx in Porcher and Lécrivain 2019: 124). Patous know that to the shepherd they should show obedience and trust; to sheep, protection and respect; to herding dogs, respect and trust; to wolves and stray dogs, aggression; to tourists, passive observation; and to tourists’ dogs, distance without aggression (120). Every one of these differing relations presupposes that Patous understand their work, and what it entails. In order to be respectful to and confident about the sheep dogs, for instance, Patous must recognise what is the sheep dogs’ job with regard to the flock, and how it differs from their own (120). ‘A dog’s activity’, Porcher and Lécrivain conclude, ‘goes beyond the needs of the species they belong to, and they know how to produce according to the standards of other species, whether they be human, sheep or cattle’ (124).

If the shepherds recognised the Patou’s labour, then labour could become for them, Porcher and Lécrivain argue, a way to acquire a second nature: ‘[w]‌hen the animals engage with us at work, as animals and as individuals, they also transform nature, and their natures … [D]omestication gives them a second nature’ (Porcher and Lécrivain 2019: 123). Not only, then, are Porcher and Lécrivain using Patous’ work to dispute Marx’s distinction between human species being and animal species life, they are also arguing that labour beyond capitalist alienation could be for animals, as Marx argues it can be for humans, a privileged site for the realisation of potentialities (Porcher and Lécrivain 2017: 76).

The conflation of the dog world with the human world in dogs’ species story arguably presents an obstacle to this optimistic vision. To recall: for Porcher, it is the movement between worlds, and especially the movement out of their species world and into the human world of work, that enables animals to enjoy larger, more expansive, lives. This is why Porcher describes the need that domesticated cows have for recognition of and from humans as ‘not entirely natural’ – because it is not a need that is natural to their species world. The very fact that ‘living together’ is not natural to cows’ species world, however, is what enables domesticated cows to secure for themselves a ‘second nature’. Compare to dogs’ species story. The long and short of Hare and Woods’s argument is that, for evolutionary reasons that remain singularly relevant today, dogs can only ‘find their way’, both literally and metaphorically, with humans; the long and short of Wynne’s is that dogs’ ‘withness’ with humans is so basic it is biological. The ‘link’ between dogs and humans, as it is cast in dogs’ species story, is perhaps thus best described not as a relational need for recognition on the parts of both animals and humans, but as the possessive inscription of dogs into humans. It is the mechanism by which dogs’ undoubtedly multiple worlds are absorbed into the human world, such that barely a whisker of a difference can be identified between them. Canis familiaris. Of the household, defined by the household.

It follows that, in dogs’ species story, dogs’ need for living together, for human recognition, for the link, is entirely natural. The ‘link’ with humans is not acquired through labour; rather, it is constitutive of dogs’ ‘nature’. It is not the vehicle through which dogs can transcend their species life; rather, it is definitive of dogs’ species life (of what dogs are and do, as a species). Since the Patou dogs, for similar but not entirely identical reasons, are denied their way into a second nature by the shepherds, I look to them, again, to learn what are the consequences. ‘The most acute consequence’ of the misrecognition of Patous’ labour as not labour – of the conception of their activities as ‘natural’ to their species world – Porcher and Lécrivain argue, is that it is a denial ‘of the dogs’ agency, intelligence and capacity to make decisions, which results in a lack of recognition of the work by the shepherd and, potentially, in the Patous becoming demotivated about their work’ (Porcher and Lécrivain 2019: 119).

I would argue that dogs’ species story similarly diminishes domesticated dogs’ agency, their ‘intelligence’ beyond humans, and their capacity to make decisions. I realise that my claim here goes against the grain of much popular and scientific thinking about dogs. Dogs receive considerable ‘recognition’ from humans, both for their work and for their companionship, and this recognition usually includes all the things the Patous are denied by the shepherds (the enrichment that follows from interspecies ties, intraspecies play, petting, rewards etc.). As I write this chapter, Kaiser, a German Shepherd police dog, is being hailed across the UK press and on social media for his ‘immense bravery’ (Superintendent Emma Richards in Davis 2021: para. 12). Kaiser held on to (‘subdued’, ‘detained’) an intruder in the back garden of a house in south London, while simultaneously being violently attacked. When I say that dogs’ species story diminishes dogs, I do not mean to deny how agential, ‘intelligent’ and capable dogs are with humans. My point is that this kind of agency, this kind of ‘intelligence’ and capability, does not, and should not, represent the limits of what dogs ‘are’ and what they could become.

For sure, some domesticated dogs may sometimes benefit from what the biologist Heini Hediger described as the ‘catalytic effect’, ‘whereby contact with human beings potentialises and augments animal capabilities’ (Chrulew 2018: 492). Equally, however, their contact with humans may erode such capabilities. Consider, for example, the tightening behavioural and physical constraints on dogs’ lives, the ongoing deployment of basic stimulus/response models of learning and training, conditioning and counter-conditioning, all those eternal repetitions, or the myriad ways in which companion dogs, in particular, are infantilised. Alexandra Horowitz’s book title Our Dogs, Ourselves: The Story of a Unique Bond (one of the epigraphs to this chapter) bears testimony, in its appeal to a general audience, to the widespread belief in the dog–human ‘bond’. But her account of dogs’ lives, as she describes it herself in this book, is ‘humorless’ (2019: 251). ‘The dog sleeps all day’, she writes elsewhere, in an eviscerating summary of domesticated dogs’ lives in captivity, ‘because we give them nothing to be awake for’ (Horowitz 2014a: 18). Dogs’ capabilities may or may not be augmented by their relations with humans. Either way, I think it remains important to ask whether Kaiser’s actions were exemplary of species being, or whether they point to a deep unfreedom. It is important to ask because the key achievement of dogs’ species story, i.e. the achievement of claims such as those found in Hare and Woods’s and Wynne’s books, is, as I have been arguing, the obliteration of any conceptual, biological, affective and/or political ‘outside’ for dogs. This renders this most fundamental question, this question as to whether dogs would or could live a flourishing life if they were not living their lives with humans, not only unnecessary to ask, but also, even, unintelligible. And so it must be asked.

What compelled Kaiser to hold on to that intruder, while being stabbed five times in the face and head with a kitchen knife? It is not my aim to unpack what for Kaiser was dog world or human world; what was determination, loyalty or fear; what was breed; what was training; what was work; or what about Kaiser’s behaviour was natural or unnatural. Because in the end, there is no need. For whatever reason, Kaiser did what dogs are believed to do, which is to do for humans, which is what dogs are. Porcher argues that ‘when the working relation collapses, so does the domestic relationship with the animals’ (Porcher and Nicod 2020: 252). One has to wonder, though, whether and how such a collapse could come about where dogs are concerned. For without the link (or the bond), so most dog species stories tell, a dog simply would not be a dog. It is this tautological bind that explains why Kaiser was in no position to refuse ‘the link’, even if he had wanted to. For to refuse the link or the bond would be to refuse to be a dog, with all the deathly consequences that follow. To call this heroism is to tighten the false legitimacy of ‘the bond’ still further. This profound unfreedom is the price dogs pay for ‘living together’.

It is the naturalisation of this unfreedom, I think, that accounts for the strong human resistance to recognising dogs’ judgement on the link/bond that is said to define them. For judge it they surely do. Marc Bekoff and Jessica Pierce, to whom I will return in the following chapter, find in the ‘high demand’ for ‘dog trainers and veterinary behaviorists’ evidence of dogs’ resistance to living with humans on human terms (Bekoff and Pierce 2019: 7–8). The high percentage rate of dogs who fail to qualify as service dogs (the 70 per cent of them, according to Gregory Berns et al., whom I cited earlier), who fail ‘even’ to qualify as ‘problem-free’ companion dogs (a startling 85 per cent, as I discussed in Chapter 1), also suggests that dogs may not be as keen to go along with ‘being a dog’ as their species story implies they should. It must have been easier, or more convenient, to euthanise Beth than to accommodate her judgement on the bond, which was that she would prefer not to be bound by it. But Beth is hardly the exception (see for example Guenther (2020), especially chapter seven). Today, dog ‘resistance’ is often misrecognised as a problem of the individual dog, as a problem with that dog, rather than as a problem with the story that proposes to define all dogs.13


The choice of how to frame work and workers is always political (Besky and Blanchette 2019: 14). In particular, the idea that human beings work on the world in order to transform it according to their designs has served many ideological causes. Sarah Besky and Alex Blanchette show how it ‘formed and [gave] flesh’ to the ‘aspirational European category of “Man”’ during the Enlightenment; how the ‘improvement of “nature”’ justified in John Locke’s mind individual property; and how it provided a rationale for colonialism and the ‘[t]‌he displacement and murder of Native peoples deemed incapable of durable and transformative work’ (Besky and Blanchette 2019: 2). Also, there is the cause of human exceptionalism, as demonstrated by Marx’s distinction between species being and species life, which Besky and Blanchette neatly summarise as: ‘human beings plan their laboring endeavors, creatures such as honeybees or spiders do not’ (Beksy and Blanchette 2019: 2). Marx’s distinction is undoubtedly informed by a long tradition of western thinking – inaugurated, Cary Wolfe argues, by Aristotle – that conceives of ‘the difference between human and nonhuman animals in terms of the human’s ability to properly “respond” to its world rather than merely “react” to it, an ability made possible (so the story goes) by language’ (Wolfe 2010: 63).

Today, the idea that animal behaviour is confined to reactions is too reductive to be persuasive. Yet, as both Porcher’s analysis of the shepherds’ view of the Patou and my analysis of dogs’ species story illustrate, the role ascribed to species in conceptions of animal labour – and especially the role ascribed to species-typical behaviours and species-typical environments – continues to contribute to the idea that animals do not really work; rather, they do what they do instinctively, or programmatically (because they have been trained), and sometimes that doing is co-opted, for better or for worse, by humans. Herein lies a reason for identifying animal activity as labour: not only does it move beyond ‘the language of rights and welfare that has largely dominated animal ethics’, it also, as Dinesh Wadiwel notes, ‘offers the opportunity to understand the specific roles of animals as active forces within various productive circuits, and as forms of value creation’ (Wadiwel 2020: 183–184). Cows, Porcher argues, actively participate in work, and invest their affectivity, intelligence and subjectivity in it.

Yet one instinctively recoils from some of Porcher’s claims here, in view of the relations of domination that characterise much animal labour, especially in the agricultural industry, and the conditions that support such relations, which include the deaths of animals (see Delon (2020) for a discussion). It may be, for example, that so deep is the instrumentalisation of animals, and so oppressive the conditions under which they ‘work’, that the labour model is at best ‘inappropriate’ (Eisen 2020: 141) and at worst normalises, legitimises and/or whitewashes the extreme exploitation of animals (Eisen 2020: 139–140, 146). The history ‘of factory farms, labs, and circuses describing animals as willing partners and workers’ (Blattner et al. 2020: 9) is long, and assumes ever new forms. In the conclusion of their important analysis of dog welfare in the conservation sector, for instance, Renée D’Souza, Alice Hovorka and Lee Neil note that the idea that the dogs ‘“seem happy” doing conservation work means that welfare measures of enjoyment and suffering may reproduce the use of dogs as conservation labourers’ (D’Souza et al. 2020: 82; see also Chapters 1 and 7 in this book on the welfare of companion dogs).

And then there is the broader question of to whom labour actually matters. On the grounds that labour and labour relations matter primarily to humans, Jessica Eisen suggests developing alternative, richer versions of ‘the link’ that are based on ‘social categories that focus on the social relationships that animals value themselves’ (Eisen 2020: 154). Her own research, for example, reveals ‘ample evidence that cows care deeply about their friends and offspring’, and that the social relationships of most significance to cows, and the priorities currently most devastatingly frustrated by the conditions of industrial agriculture under which they work, are those of parent and friend (Eisen 2020: 153). As for dogs, Eisen writes:

While there is certainly evidence that many dogs, in particular, enjoy aspects of their work for people, I am sceptical that work for people is a core priority for dogs – and even more sceptical that this would be so absent the systems of reproductive control and intra-species isolation that characterize contemporary human uses of dogs.(Eisen 2020: 152, emphasis in the original)

I share this scepticism and would emphasise that ‘work for people’ includes being the ‘best friend’ of a human, and/or a member of their family. I am not advocating a ‘species apartheid’ (Acampora in Blattner et al. 2020: 4), only anticipating how difficult it will be to conceive of dogs differently, and to conceive of dogs’ lives ‘free from human imagination and domination’ (D’Souza et al. 2020: 82).14 ‘The standpoint that matters’, Nicolas Delon writes, ‘is that of animals themselves’ (Delon 2020: 167). Yet, in part on account of the power of dogs’ species story, it is possible that humans in fact know relatively little about what the core priorities of their ‘best friends’ might be.

In my view, no single kind of a ‘link’ can or should account for all animal–human relations. But as my use of Porcher’s theory has hopefully illustrated, labour does potentially offer some valuable analytic tools with which better to understand the reality of animals’ lives and ‘work-lives’, as Kendra Coulter puts it. Coulter develops this term, ‘work-lives’, in order to encourage attention not only to the quality of an animal’s life while they are working, but also to ‘their physical, intellectual, and emotional well-being before and after formal work’ (Coulter 2020: 41). These basic temporal distinctions are important and helpful, so how do they apply to dogs’ lives? Do they apply to dogs’ lives? Drawing on Wadiwel’s analysis of time ‘as a productive focus for thinking about animal labour, and developing strategies for change’ (Wadiwel 2020: 183), I ask: how long is a companion dog’s working day? When, if ever, do working and companion dogs get ‘time away from their duties’ (Wadiwel 2020: 191)? Are domesticated dogs managed episodically, or is their management continuous (Wadiwel 2020: 190–191)?15 And: at what point in their life does a dog start working? Should the socialisation process, which may begin the very moment a dog is born (see Chapter 1), count as time dedicated to labour? Should socialisation be seen as ‘training’ for employment? ‘Enrichment’ as on-going training?

Contra Porcher, Wadiwel asks whether labour really is ‘a positive activity that contributes to flourishing’, or whether, alternatively, labour should be understood ‘as something that stands in the way of our capacity to flourish’ (Wadiwel 2020: 186). Flourishing, Wadiwel argues, occurs mainly in ‘free time’ (186), and yet, he writes,

it is as if humans regard animals as lacking interest in free time, in time outside of the time we require from them as part of their utilization. Indeed, in this context, one may assert that the nature of our anthropocentric violence is marked by the fact that it is almost without limits or regulation when it comes to time: there is no apparent social limit on the time we demand from animals.(Wadiwel 2020: 193)

One of the reasons this matters is that the lives of individual animals are finite. As Wadiwel notes, ‘as organic subjects our time as living subjects has a definite end, and this means the question of how much time we labour, versus how much time we spend doing other things, is important for us, for our flourishing’ (Wadiwel 2020: 189). In asking about the free time of working animals, Wadiwel is not seeking to contribute to a debate about how much time off animals ‘deserve’. Instead, he is using time as a way to make the domination of animals more clearly visible, and as an opportunity to imagine what a flourishing life for animals might look like (Wadiwel 2020: 197). This seems especially important to me, in view of how dogs’ species story – as I have illustrated in this chapter – renders invisible the labour of the bond, and therefore also the time, the life time, that dogs are obliged to dedicate to it.

Charlotte Blattner argues that ‘we typically see and encounter animals only in highly restrictive environments, and this, in turn, influences our judgement of their agential capacities’ (Blattner 2021: 69). In this chapter, I have argued that we typically see and encounter dogs in highly restrictive relations. In the following chapter, I explore how these restrictive relations do indeed shape our conceptions, as Blattner argues, of dogs’ agency.


1 A large number of these studies are conducted on dogs in shelters, which I assume is in part because shelters provide a ready and available source of research subjects. I include these shelter dogs under the categories of companion and working dogs because this is ultimately their ‘ideal’ destiny. Although there is some research on dogs who partner homeless people (for example Williams and Hogg 2016), and on free-ranging and feral dogs (for example Boitani et al. 2017; Bonanni and Cafazzo 2014; Coppinger and Coppinger 2016), ‘cultures where dogs function mainly as food or pelt’ are seriously underrepresented (Kubinyi et al. 2011: 260; although see Serpell (2017: 305–307) for a review of the literature on dogs as food, and also Dugnoille (2018)).
2 The other researcher is Ádám Miklósi, who has yet to write a popular book. I will address this new field of research, and Miklósi’s scientific contribution to it, in Chapter 5.
3 (accessed August 2023).
4 Despite Wynne’s claim to have abandoned at least two of his behaviourist convictions, Dog Is Love bears many of the hallmarks of behaviourism, not least its author’s focus on research topics that can be pinned down empirically. Behaviourists have historically bracketed out emotions because they consider them to be unobservable. If Wynne feels able to ‘take on’ emotions, I suspect it is because they have been rendered ‘visible’ and measurable, in his view, through technologies of genetics, neuroimaging, and neurochemistry.
5 Devised by Gordon Gallup in the late 1960s, the MSR test is a test for self-recognition (which is often conflated with self-awareness). See Despret (2016: 97–104) for an insightful and humorous critique of the MSR test.
6 Note that domestication (intentional or not) is not for Hare and Woods selection for ‘cleverness’ (Hare and Woods 2020a: Chapter 4). Rather, selection against aggression produces ‘cleverness’ – understood as dogs’ ability to understand human intentions – as an unintentional by-product (Hare and Woods 2020a: 88).
7 Berns has always been clear about his positive methods of training dogs to lie still in an fMRI scanner – the first dog he trained was his own dog, Callie – and the dogs’ comfort/discomfort is obviously a high priority for him (see below). Nonetheless, one cannot but wonder how the context (a dog in an fMRI machine) shapes their preference in that moment for social praise or, perhaps, social reassurance, over food.
8 See below, where I offer a possible reason as to why Berns would consider dogs’ relations to humans to have ethical significance in the context of his experiments, but not more widely.
9 This definition also has implications for the perceived difference between ‘pets’ and other domesticated animals. For Porcher, this difference inheres not in the animals themselves – all of whom are domesticated – but rather in human distinctions (Porcher and Nicod 2020: 251). And as she also notes, ‘the market for pet animals is worldwide, and resembles in many ways that of farm animals. There are dog breeders, but there are also those who farm dogs industrially, as a product’ (Porcher 2017: 20).
10 Porcher is not alone in believing that the lives of animals can be expanded through work. Both Donna Haraway (2003, 2008) and Vicki Hearne (1991) argue that work with humans offers profound rewards for animals and that ‘plumbing the category of labor more than the category of rights’ is the route to ‘nurtur[ing] responsibility with and for other animals’ (Haraway 2008: 73) and/or is the route to animal ‘happiness’ (Hearne 1991).
11 This paper was first published as a journal article in French (Porcher and Lécrivain 2017) and later as a chapter in an edited collection in English (Porcher and Lécrivain 2019). I will use both versions interchangeably.
12 This may explain why ‘companionship’ is rarely considered to be work. Not because it is the most natural thing that a dog could ever do, but because companionship is not usually seen by humans to be a form of work.
13 My analysis here is addressed to the specificity of the reasons as to why dog ‘resistance’ is difficult to see and, more importantly, to accept. I am not suggesting that the challenges of recognising and identifying animal resistance – however resistance is articulated (see Chapter 5, this book) – are unique to dogs.
14 I will return to this issue, of ‘our own ability to think beyond ourselves’ (Fudge 2002: 27), in Chapter 5.
15 It is salutary to remember that, as recently as the 1980s in the UK, a dog could take himself out for a walk on his own (Bradshaw 2012: xvi).
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Dog politics

Species stories and the animal sciences


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