John Paul Scott was the Sigmund Freud of dog psychology.
On the first day of puppy class, instructors repeat endlessly “socialize your dog.”
“Virtually everything any puppy owner is told about socialization comes from this man,” says Marge Gibbs, behavior columnist at the American Kennel Club (AKC) Gazette, and a trainer in suburban Chicago (Riverwoods, Ill.) for 28 years. “He was the best friend canines ever had.”
Scott coined the terms, “Critical period of socialization’ and ‘sociobiology.’ Through his groundbreaking research, he pinpointed kennel dog syndrome, the difference between competitive aggression and social dominance and described separation anxiety in dogs.
Today, the AKC Health Foundation is mapping canine genetic geography, the explorers of modern day genetics are revealing ways to control, treat and eliminate genetic diseases. Some of their work is crossing over to human medicine. Scott’s exploration was akin to Columbus proving the world isn’t flat. His research remains the foundation to today’s findings that will ultimately cure dogs – even people – of various inheritable illnesses.
There’s a holiday for Columbus, people know Sigmund Freud – but few have any idea who John Paul Scott was.
Scott passed away quietly on March 26 at age 90 near Bowling Green State University – Ohio, where he was a professor emeritus of psychology. He served as a faculty member there for more than 25 years, and as the director of the center for research on social behavior. Even the obituary in the local paper was only a few lines.
“That’s the way science is, initial researchers rarely receive popular praise,” says behavioral scientist Carmen Battaglia of Atlanta, Ga. Battaglia, who is on the Board of the AKC, consulted with Scott several times in the 1970s. “It’s the people who apply that research who generally get all the credit,” he adds.
One of ‘those people’ who got the credit is revered behaviorist Dr. Ian Dunbar, Berkeley, Calif.-based founder of the Association Pet Dog Trainers. Aside from authoring many books and hosting videos and TV shows seen by millions in both England and the U.S., Dunbar is arguably the most influential trainer in the world. He teaches the teachers who teach the dog trainers, ultimately reaching hundreds of trainers and countless dog owners.
“I can still picture where I was sitting in the college library (at the Royal Veterinary College of London University) when after reading ‘Genetics at the Social Behavior of the Dog,’ by Scott and (the late John L.) Fuller, I thought, ‘that’s what I want to do. I wouldn’t be who I am today if it weren’t for Scott,” Dunbar says.
In a 1994 interview (with this reporter), Scott offered his own explanation for his lack of notoriety. “So much of what I’ve done has become common knowledge. No one realizes someone had to document when puppies first open their eyes. It’s actually gratifying that so many are familiar with my results – even if they don’t know how they came about.”
Gibbs, who affectionately calls Scott her mentor, says, “This was before the days of pop culture dog books, besides, first and foremost he was a scientist.”
Those days began in 1945 after the Rockefeller Foundation awarded the Roscoe B. Jackson Laboratory in Bar Harbor, Maine, and it’s founder, the late C. C. Little, a grant to study genetics in dogs in hopes of relating their findings to human genetics and childhood behavior. “It seemed like a dubious affair at the time,” said Scott, who ran the lab. “But I figured, why not gamble?”
What he ultimately learned about childhood genetics and behavior was minimal; what he learned about canine genetics and behavior proved to be monumental. Scott selected five breeds to research, the basenji, beagle, cocker spaniel, Shetland sheepdog and wire fox terrier. He chose those breeds carefully; from various groups and with assorted reputations for temperament. At the time, virtually no science on dogs was documented, so at Jackson Lab Scott opened his now famous school for dogs (a precursor for the idea of puppy school).
From the moment litters were born, each puppy was observed at 10-minute intervals through one-way glass for 16 weeks. This was the first study to note differences between breeds, and how individual pups within a litter vary. At different ages, starting at four weeks, Scott began isolation tests. He removed some pups from their parents to observe development under various conditions. This is how he discovered the critical period of attachment in dogs, similar to imprinting found in geese uncovered by ethologist Konrad Lorenz.
Lorenz, who authored the classic “Man Meets Dog” in 1955, won the Nobel Prize for Science in 1973, in part, for his work on imprinting. “Who lives with geese? Scott figured all this out with dogs; he should have also won a Nobel Prize,” Gibbs says.
Scott proved from three weeks to 12 weeks, pups will bond easily with people, other animals, strange objects (street signs, fire hydrants, whatever) and various locations. In fact, from three to 12 weeks, socialization takes no effort – just a brief positive encounter will do the trick for a lifetime. Without socialization to other people, animals, objects and places by 14 weeks, a dog will be damaged for life.
After 20 years at Bar Harbour, he moved to Bowling Green, where a facility had been designed specifically suited to continue his work.
In 1976 applied animal behaviorist John Wright wrote his doctoral dissertation at Miami University – Oxford, OH. “It was all based on Scott’s work,” says Wright, a professor of psychology at Mercer University and author of “Is Your Cat Crazy” and “The Dog Who Would Be King.”
“His books (Scott authored four books) contain the principals of applied animal behavior,” says Wright. “In other words, if you require an answer from a behaviorist, a vet, or for that matter a columnist for a problem dog – whether you know it or not, Scott probably laid the ground work for that answer.”
Gibbs was assigned to interview Scott in 1977 for the AKC Gazette. They stayed in touch through the 1990s when Scott gently cajoled Gibbs – who admits to being a bit past middle aged – to return to school for her Master Degree. In fact, his last work is the forward he authored to her yet to be published book tentatively entitled “People and Dogs 101.”
In the early 1990s Scott served as an advisory board member of the Assistance Dogs Institute of California. He took a controversial stand – maintaining temperament and health have become undependable and erratic for nearly all breeds. “It’s wiser to breed golden retrievers and Labradors with one another and their progeny be used for assistance work (as service dogs to those with visually impaired or with physical limitations) rather than purebred puppies.”
He continued, “This solution doesn’t threaten the future of using pure bred dogs for assistance work. Purebred dogs are still required to create these first generation hybrids.” Scott explained the cost of treating health problems of service dogs is something that many of their owners simply won’t be able to afford. Nearly ten years later, it turns out Scott was right. Too many service dog partners just can’t afford increasing veterinary care, and the American Veterinary Medical Association is now investigating this problem.
In 1993, a top selling book was “The Hidden Life of Dogs,” authored by Elizabeth Marshall Thomas. Scott didn’t read her book, but he suggested one reason for its popularity was the title itself. “Of course, everyone wants to know what their dogs are really thinking,” said Scott in a 1994 interview. “We learned about body language, behavior patterns, that sort of thing. But we never could figure out exactly what dogs think. How could we; we’re not dogs.”
Scott once said, “There is no friend as loyal as a dog.” Indeed, the canine world has lost their best friend.
Scott is survived by Mary-Vesta Marston-Scott, herself a Ph.D. in psychology.
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