Jeffrey Masson: Dogs Have Greater Sense of Friendship than People

Andy Ross | 10/06/10

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Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson first gained attention as projects director at the Freud Archives. Jeffrey's research led him to the conclusion that Freud erred in turning away from his insight that human misery was fueled by childhood sexual abuse. Masson speculated that Freud gave in to peer pressure rather than acknowledge a truth that would have harmed his career. Jeff accused the psychoanalytic establishment of covering this up for decades. For such heresy, he was excommunicated from the psychoanalytic profession and treated to numerous public burnings by its members. Since then, Jeff's insightss have become conventional wisdom in psychotherapeutic circles. In spite of some important contributions to our understanding of the human psyche, Freud has been discredited for his therapeutic ideas in no small account because of Jeff's work. And Freud's thought has been relegated primarily to the intellectual dustbin of literary critical theory.

For the last 20 years, Jeff has turned his formidable intellect to the study of emotions in animals and in animal rights. His newest book on this subject: The Dog Who Couldn't Stop Loving: How Dogs Have Captured Our Hearts for Thousands of Years, has just been released. Andy Ross sat down with Jeff to talk about this very special human-animal bond.

Andy: We are in the same family as the great apes.  We share 98% of our DNA with them.  We are not remotely related to dogs. So how can you claim we are more like them than like chimps, for example?

the-dog-who-couldnt-stop-loving.jpgJeff: We may resemble primates physically, but when it comes to certain emotions, I think we have more in common with dogs than with the great apes. The ability to reach out to other species, for example, is pretty much unique to humans and dogs.

Andy: Why are we so attached to dogs, and so much less attached to, say, pigs or cows or sheep?

Jeff: Partly because we can read their emotions so easily. We know when we do something they like. How do you know if a cow finds you loveable? Dogs tell us. They rarely have a reason to fear us. Pigs, cows, and sheep are simply food for us. That is why I am a vegan!

Andy: You say dogs are the only animal who has benefitted from domestication by humans.  What about cats, though?  We don't eat cats or otherwise exploit them.  And they, too, seem to have chosen us.  So what is the difference?

Jeff: The difference is that in spite of domestication cats have not changed their nature to the extent that dogs have. Dogs want to spend all their time with us, cats only occasionally. If they decide we are doing something they don't like, they simply walk away. Dogs try to find a way to interest us. They are obsessed with us in a way that cats rarely are.


Andy: How old do you think the connection with dogs is?

Jeff: Well, this is a hotly debated point at the moment. I am no geneticist, so I can only answer in terms of what seems reasonable in the many conflicting accounts I have read. The range is very wide: from 15,000 years, to 125,000 years. Most scholars seem to think that somewhere in the middle, around 40,000 is a good compromise. I would agree. But the important point is that dogs have been with us longer than any other domesticate, animal or plant!

Andy: Do you believe that barks are an attempt to communicate with us?

Jeff: I do. And I believe in the next ten or twenty years we will have deciphered their meaning. There is already work on this.

Andy: Are pit bulls different?

Jeff: Different than other dogs you mean? In their aggression? I have not lived with a pit bull, but when I see them on the street, I am always a tiny bit nervous. When I tried to analyze why, I realized that I was nervous of the "owner", not the dog! Dogs pretty much give us what we want. If we want them to be sweet and gentle, they generally are. If we want them to terrify our neighbor, they do. But it does seem true that pit bulls have been bred to feel no pain and to fight. I would not recommend them to a family with small children, but, you know, my ignorance is beginning to show here!

Andy: Do dogs display temperament differences from birth?

Jeff: They do. Whether that can be changed completely over time through socialization is an open question. I tend to think it can.

Andy: Are some dogs "naturally" aggressive?

Jeff: They can be bred that way. Are humans naturally aggressive? We can certainly become that way. But I don't believe that a dog raised in a happy gentle home from birth will remain aggressive even if born with that temperament. I could be wrong!

Andy: Do dogs have any kind of moral system or ethical beliefs?

Jeff: Yes, I would say they do. They have codes of honor; you can see it when they play. You do not attack a dog who has submitted for example.

Andy: Do you believe dogs have any sense of death?  

Jeff: Yes. Think of dogs in a shelter waiting to be euthanized (if not adopted). They seem to know that you are their last best chance. Also, they definitely get depressed (or if that word is too strong, deeply sad) when a companion, human or otherwise, dies.
Andy: Why are some dogs able to attach to just about any species, not just humans and other dogs?  Does any other animal do this in the wild?  How about domesticated animals?

Jeff: That question is at the heart of my new book. I think humans and dogs are the only two animals who consistently make friends across the species barrier, and I wonder if this is merely a coincidence, or if this is something we have taught each other? I think the latter. We reinforce a certain tendency in one another until it becomes a trait. So it is an example of mutual domestication. Other domesticated animals only rarely exhibit this gift. Cats, from time to time, but not reliably and consistently, the way dogs do.

Andy: Do dogs have any moral qualities we lack?  

Jeff: Yes, dogs have a greater sense of friendship than we do. They are also able to enjoy life in daily events to a greater extent than humans: their joie de vivre is unmatched. They attach for life: have you ever heard of a dog divorcing his human companion? As for loyalty, well, I rest my case. I do feel that in the future we will learn about some emotions dogs have that are beyond humans.

Andy: Do you believe dogs can be exploited?

Jeff: Yes, and it is one of the saddest things to see an animal who wants nothing but love treated with cruelty. Without believing in an afterlife, I believe there is a special place in hell reserved for humans who do this.

Andy: Have you ever met a dog you did not like?

Jeff: Yes, but usually I look up from the leash and see the source.

the-dog-who-couldnt-stop-loving.jpgAndy: Is our relationship with dogs unique?

Jeff: So much so, that I would argue that dogs make us who we are. We are human in the way we are human because dogs have been our companions for thousands of years. We would be a totally different species without them. I cannot imagine life without dogs.

Andy: Have dogs taught us to love?

Jeff: Yes.



7 Comments | Leave a comment


Tell those human animals who keep "pet" pigs, chickens, and other domesticated and free roaming animals that they are not as "emotionally" expressive as dogs. Human selective attention and self centered desires determine who and what we will (because we can) exploit, by describing some as less or more than, and not because of emotive level variations among species of animals. Another Speciesist interview


I think that in order to completely understand what Masson is saying about dogs, it's necessary to read the book. He is not the first person to write about our coevolution and mutual domestication, which are indeed unique. He presents a vegan message and doesn't think any sentient nonhuman is on this planet for our use and his recent books make that clear. And though I don't believe the cats in his home are vegan (and I have no problem with that), the other animals are.

With that said, it is true that the average individual in our culture values dogs more than chickens, and this book could very well appear to be just another "why dogs are different and more valuable" book. It's simply not the case that we--humans--have evolved to have the relationship with cows that we have with dogs, though. He does address the stories (like sanctuary and other rescue stories) that may indeed reflect the love he's talking about with humans and dogs (I've had my own, with Muscovy ducks). He's not saying they don't exist. But those are individual exceptions, and he's not talking about exceptions in this book. He's talking about tens of thousands of years (and perhaps more) of evolution, and his theory (which you might disagree with in the end) that dogs make us human.

I hope that helps.


Human animals have not "evolved" in order to "relate" in any meaningful manner with cows as we do with dogs for a very good reason. We consciously and deliberately domesticate a cow for HER milk which is designed for HER offspring and not for us or our offspring. Currently, goat's have become a food fashion and are exploited for their milk designed for their offspring and cruelly killed for food now that goat flesh and milk is perceived as a "better" animal food health choice. If people could MILK dogs, they would and that is evolution my dear. I daresay, another shill for a book author.


I'm new to commenting here, and I thought the exchange would be a little less, dare I say, rude.

Perhaps if you read the book you would be less defensive. I don't disagree that we domesticate other animals for our benefit. I don't think Masson would disagree either. He's exploring *that* we have done so, and other authors before him have also explored the idea that dogs chose us, to their benefit, as well.

There's no argument for treating dogs any differently than cows in the book. It is part memoir--an homage to one dog in particular--and part creative nonfiction in that it discusses the reality that dogs have played a unique role in our lives. I'm not sure what all of the anger is about.


Yes I am outraged and unless one suffers from deadened sensibilities, others ought to be as well. Right now in the U.S., dogs, cats, and other domestic and free roaming animals suffer more pain and death in spite of large wealthy animal welfare organizations who solicit money and make false claims by which they take credit for progress in improving the lives of animals. Dogs and cats are property and, therefore, slaves to humans. Right here in RI, The State Veterinarian proposed bringing back the gas chamber for the growing numbers of unwanted dogs and cats.As you may know, gas is a cheap alternative to euthanasia. Can one imagine a more aberrant and cruel death for an innocent being. Now, imagine a gas chamber with 60 dogs and cats locked inside. It happened right here. Furthermore, none of the large animal welfare organizations have made any difference in improvements or protection in the lives of animals.

My objection to Masson's book is that it is yet another example of a romanticized notion of dogs seen as human partners. Yes, dogs are dependent on humans for food and companionship in large part because canines, like humans, are pack animals and abhor isolation. Yet every day I witness dogs left alone without companionship of any kind for hours on end. So, I need to buy a book to learn this fact? Also, the breed of dog illustrated on Masson's book appears to be a popular and desirable breed of "pet" for families with children: a white Labrador Retriever. I suggest a visit to your local temporary animal shelters where you will find large numbers of black Labrador Retrievers that are dumped and no longer perceived as a desirable "pet." Consider too, that nearly half of the dogs killed in Rhode Island last year were Pit Bulls; many that were lost, neglected, or allowed to roam freely.

Consequently, while some dogs and cats will be treated with kindness and love like Masson's, and yours and mine, annually, millions upon millions will live short horrible lives at the hands of humans. Therefore, as long as animals are property of humans their pain and loss is measured only in monetary terms and waste. Please read: Gary Francione, Animal Rights, Abolitionist

My concern with Jeff Masson's book and similar books, is that they create a disturbing illusion which is bought into by the public regarding our relationship with animals. In truth, animals are not on this earth for any human purpose including having endless love for humans or any other desirable characteristic trait to be exploited by us, other than those we have forced upon them in the same way we enslaved humans after the decimation of other humans already living in our country. Whether or not certain individuals treat certain animals kindly does not justify allowing gross suffering to other less desirable animals - ask continue to be enslaved and can, at human whim, lose their safety and lives.


I have read Gary Francione (and Best and Dunayer and Regan and Adams and Hall) and I am an abolitionist, although I am not in the Francione-style abolitionist group. I have blogged since 2006 at Animal Person (and daily for over 3 of those years), often about speciesism, human exceptionalism and property. Also I spent way too much time mired in the welfare versus rights debate.

This is tiresome. I can only recommend you read the book, as I don't think you and Masson, from what I've seen thus far, would disagree on much.

Remember that non-vegans read these comments and, fair or not, make judgments about vegans (and abolitionists) based on the comments. This is exactly why I rarely comment anymore. I'd rather spend my time speaking with omnivores and vegetarians than being rude to other vegans.

Good day.


Figures. Your apparent self consciousness toward some who may object to and judge others comments on animals as property serves only to strengthen your own ambivalence. Have a Nice Day.

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