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Ray Coppinger, PhD

Raymond Coppinger, PhD majored in literature and philosophy as an undergraduate at Boston University. His Ph.D. thesis in biology (at the University of Massachusetts) is on the effect of experience and novelty on avian feeding behavior. He joined the founding faculty at Hampshire College in 1969, where he is professor of biology. He teaches and does research on animal behavior, especially the behavior of canines.

Ray’s first professional studies of dogs occurred on the runners of a dog sled. During a twelve-year mushing career, he progressed from a five-dog to a sixteen-dog team, won many races on the northeast (USA) circuits, and developed a new strain of fast, responsive sled dogs. Many of these were sold to drivers bound for the Alaskan championship races. His research projects with sled dogs include responses of racing dogs to the stress of heat retention, and the amount of energy required to pull a sled and driver.

In 1976, Ray and his wife Lorna founded the Livestock Guarding Dog Project at Hampshire College. This long-term investigation into the behavior of a new kind of dog for farmers and ranchers in the United States has resulted in greater understanding about early developmental behavior of dogs, and how early experience (or lack of it) can affect adult behavior.

For the past several years, Ray has turned his attention to assistance dogs. His first-hand knowledge of harnesses for dogs, the mechanics and physiology of pulling, and the relationship between experience, training and behavior give him a unique insight into the lives of the dogs which are being asked to enhance the lives of people with special needs.

Ray (and his colleagues and students) have published over fifty papers on his dog research. His favorite publication, however, is the book Fishing Dogs, a humorous and iconoclastic look at dogs, fishermen and professors. His latest book, co-authored with Lorna Coppinger, is DOGS: A Startling New Understanding of Canine Origin, Behavior, and Evolution, to be published by Scribner, NY, in 2001. His lecture trips around the world to talk about dogs are always supplemented by a day or two searching the waters for the perfect fish.