Wallis Annenberg PetSpace Leadership Institute Publishes White Paper Exploring Human-Dog Relationship and its Environmental Consequences

Group of international scientists suggest a broad multi-disciplinary framework for human-animal-environmental research in scientific journal, Animals

Wallis Annenberg PetSpace this week published a white paper entitled, “Humanity’s Best Friend: A Dog-Centric Approach to Addressing Global Challenges” in the international peer-reviewed journal, Animals.

Three years ago, at the invitation of the Annenberg Foundation, a group of seventeen scholars from numerous academic disciplines including Archaeology, Anthrozoology, Human-Animal Studies, Dog Cognition, Genetics, Animal Law, Linguistics, History, Sociology, and Urban Ecology convened as the first class of Annenberg PetSpace Leadership Institute Fellows. They met to develop a broad new multi-disciplinary framework for human-animal-environmental research that explores human-dog relationships through time and space.

The paper is a product of those discussions and traces the early domestication of dogs more than 15,000 years ago to their eventual dispersal to every continent, save Antarctica. The paper suggests dogs were instrumental to the success of human hunter-gatherers by helping them locate prey, by guarding their settlements, and by facilitating travel with canine-drawn sleds. Now both dogs and humans are ubiquitous although the extent of that mutual relationship has varied over time and across cultures.

“This new paper written by our first class of the Wallis Annenberg PetSpace Leadership Institute discusses the expanding role dogs have played in the lives of humans over the past 15,000 years,” says Dr. Donna Fernandes, Director of the Wallis Annenberg PetSpace. “At a time when we are contending with the COVID-19 pandemic and witnessing firsthand the inherent risk of zoonotic disease when we have close contact with another species, it is important to recognize that the human-dog relationship has withstood the test of time and been mutually beneficial.”

Human’s close proximity with dogs over millennia has resulted in shared diets, as well as shared parasites and pathogens. Dogs suffer from many of the diseases that humans do, including cancer, diabetes, epilepsy and arthritis. With a health care system second only to humans, dogs provide a great model for human health studies. The paper suggests that an extensive examination of veterinary data from companion animals could supplement studies on the environmental and genetic factors affecting both disease risk and healthy aging.

The paper also touches on the some of the adverse effects from the proliferation of canine companions. Substantial food resources that could feed malnourished human populations are diverted to pets with the pet food industry contributing to the decline of marine pelagic fish stocks. Moreover, in the last 100 years, free-roaming dogs have become one of the most harmful invasive mammalian predators on a global scale. They have been implicated in the decline of many threatened and now extinct species in Australia and New Zealand and are now impacting biodiversity on many Caribbean Islands. The encroachment of dogs is also accelerating the decline of many wild canid populations in Africa through the spread of canine-distemper and dog-transmitted rabies.

Despite some negative outcomes, the paper also explores some of the modern benefits of Canis familiaris including their role as social companions, as service animals for the blind and hearing-impaired, and as detection dogs for law enforcement along with other applications for their sensitive snouts.


The authors conclude that no other animal has a closer mutualistic relationship with humans than the dog and propose a new dog-centric approach to future academic inquiry into human global expansion and environmental impact. Understanding the evolution and impact of the human-dog relationship may be fundamental for addressing the global challenges that humans and dogs have co-created.

Authors of the first class of Wallis Annenberg Leadership Institute Fellows include: 
Piers Beirne, University of Southern Maine 
Katherine Grier, University of Delaware 
Alexandra Horowitz, Barnard College 
Linda Kalof, Michigan State University 
Elinor Karlsson, University of Massachusetts Medical School 
Tammie King, Waltham Centre for Pet Nutrition 
Greger Larson, Oxford University 
Jonna Mazet, University of California, Davis 
Neil Pemberton, University of Manchester 
Daniel Promislow, University of Washington 
Andrew Rowan, The Humane Society of the United States 
James Serpell, University of Pennsylvania 
Peter Stahl, University of Victoria 
Eric Strauss, Loyola Marymount University 
Naomi Sykes, University of Exeter 
Jamshid Tehrani, Durham University 
Clive Wynne, Arizona State University

The second class of Annenberg PetSpace Leadership Institute Fellows convened this past February 2020 to expand upon the positive roles that dogs play in contemporary society from family pets, to therapy animals, to working dogs deployed to assist the military, law enforcement, and even medical researchers by sniffing out cancer in blood samples.

Topics included the medical and psychological benefits of dogs as well as the role of dogs as social facilitators in promoting human-human interactions. In addition, the Fellows addressed the selection, training, performance and welfare of working dogs.

About Wallis Annenberg PetSpace 
Wallis Annenberg PetSpace is a unique community space featuring an interactive place for pet adoptions, an education center, and an academic leadership institute. The mission of Annenberg PetSpace is to strengthen and promote the human-animal bond.

Annenberg PetSpace represents the latest extension of Wallis Annenberg’s philanthropic work, which has long supported organizations and projects dedicated to improving the wellbeing of people and communities in Los Angeles, surround regions, and throughout the world.

Learn more at http://www.annenbergpetspace.org


Wallis Annenberg PetSpace

At a time when we are contending with the COVID-19 pandemic and witnessing firsthand the inherent risk of zoonotic disease when we have close contact with another species, it is important to recognize that the human-dog relationship has withstood the test of time and been mutually beneficial.