The Human Side of Animals Informative Summary


This 1918 book, “The Human Side of Animals,” by Royal Dixon, challenges the common perception of animals as mere instinct-driven creatures. Dixon argues that animals possess a wide range of human-like qualities, including intelligence, emotions, communication, and social structures. He supports this claim through numerous observations and anecdotes, highlighting the remarkable abilities of animals across various species.

Dixon explores various aspects of animal life, including their skills in camouflage, music, play, self-defense, home-building, food conservation, travel, and social interactions. He examines how animals adapt to their environments, communicate with each other, and organize themselves into complex societies. Throughout the book, Dixon emphasizes the commonality of human and animal experiences, demonstrating the interconnectedness of all living beings.

Key Findings:

  • Animals possess a level of intelligence and reasoning that rivals humans in many ways. Dixon challenges the notion that animals are simply instinct-driven and provides evidence of their ability to problem-solve, plan for the future, and learn from experience.
  • Animal communication is more complex than previously understood. While animals may not use human language, they communicate through a variety of methods, including gestures, sounds, and even scents, allowing them to express emotions, convey information, and coordinate complex actions.
  • Social structures and organization among animals mirror those found in human societies. Animals form complex communities, establish hierarchies, and collaborate in tasks. They also exhibit a sense of justice, morality, and even religion, suggesting a shared human-animal experience.


  • Animals are not simply instinct-driven machines. They are complex creatures with a range of mental and emotional capabilities. Understanding this can lead to greater respect and compassion for them.
  • The interconnectedness of life: Dixon emphasizes the shared experiences and interconnectedness of humans and animals, highlighting the importance of recognizing their similarities rather than focusing on their differences.
  • The importance of observation: The book encourages readers to engage in closer observation of animal behavior, which can reveal the surprising depths of their intelligence and complexity.
  • The need for ethical treatment of animals: Dixon challenges the human-centric view of the world and argues for a more respectful and humane approach towards animals.

Historical Context:

Written in 1918, the book reflects the changing scientific landscape of the time. Darwin’s theory of evolution had gained widespread acceptance, but the prevailing view of animal intelligence remained limited. Dixon’s work represents a significant shift in perspective, challenging the prevailing scientific dogma and highlighting the complex and often surprising nature of animal behavior.


  • Camouflage: Animals like the lion, tiger, zebra, and giraffe have evolved unique coloration and patterns to blend into their surroundings, providing protection from predators or enabling them to ambush prey.
  • Music: Many animals, including monkeys, apes, dogs, cats, and even cows, exhibit a clear appreciation for music and have been known to engage in musical activities.
  • Play: Animals play for a variety of reasons, including physical and mental development, social bonding, and practice for survival skills.
  • Armour: The pangolin and armadillo represent two of the few remaining examples of armored animals, with their shells offering protection from predators.
  • Burrowing: Animals like moles, badgers, foxes, and prairie dogs demonstrate remarkable engineering skills in building complex underground homes with multiple chambers and tunnels.
  • Mathematics: Animals possess a sense of number and time. Dogs, horses, and even mules have demonstrated an ability to count and distinguish quantities.
  • Language: Animals communicate through a variety of methods, including gestures, sounds, and even scents, indicating a complex system of communication and a shared understanding.
  • Hygiene: Animals are often meticulous about their hygiene and use various methods, including clay baths, water baths, and even mutual grooming, to keep clean and healthy.
  • Medicine: Animals possess an intuitive understanding of natural remedies, seeking specific plants for treating various ailments. They also exhibit remarkable healing abilities.
  • Migration: Many animals migrate seasonally for various reasons, including breeding, food, and climate, demonstrating a strong sense of direction and instinct.
  • Social Structure: Animals often live in complex societies with hierarchies, leadership roles, and a sense of justice.
  • Tools: Animals have been observed using various tools for tasks, including hunting, defense, and construction.
  • Building: Beavers are renowned for their engineering prowess, building complex dams and lodges that demonstrate a sophisticated understanding of hydraulics and construction.
  • Food Conservation: Animals exhibit a wide range of methods for storing and conserving food, often creating elaborate underground storage chambers and larder systems.
  • Scavenging: Animals like jackals, hyenas, and vultures play an essential role in the ecosystem by scavenging on dead animals and maintaining ecological balance.
  • Criminality: Animals also exhibit traits associated with human criminality, including theft, cannibalism, and violence.
  • Allies: Historically, humans have relied on animals as allies in warfare, transportation, hunting, and other tasks.
  • Domestication: The domestication of animals, particularly dogs and horses, has played a pivotal role in human civilization, enabling agriculture, transportation, and societal development.
  • Respect: Dixon emphasizes the importance of respecting and understanding animals as intelligent and sentient beings, challenging the anthropocentric view of the world.
  • Future Life: Dixon challenges the common belief that animals lack a soul and have no future life, arguing that their complex behavior and emotional capabilities suggest a shared spiritual nature with humans.


  • Giraffe Camouflage: Native tribes often mistake giraffes for trees due to their color and patterns.
  • Tiger Camouflage: The striped tiger blends perfectly with tall grasses, making them virtually invisible in daylight.
  • Prairie Dog Towns: Prairie dog communities can cover vast areas, with hundreds of burrows packed closely together.
  • Vizcacha Cities: Vizcacha burrows can extend up to 6 feet deep and 200 square feet wide, creating complex underground cities with interconnected passages.
  • Gopher Storehouses: Pocket gophers can store nuts, roots, and even potatoes in underground larders.
  • Woodchuck Burrow Length: The typical woodchuck burrow is 20 to 30 feet long.
  • Polar Bear Snow Hut: The mother polar bear digs a snow hut for herself and her cubs, providing warmth and protection during the harsh winter months.
  • Aardvark Claws: The aardvark’s claws are so powerful that they can destroy giant ant-hills.
  • Lemming Migration: Lemmings often migrate in massive numbers, traversing long distances and ending with a mass suicide in the Atlantic Ocean.
  • Beaver Dams: The average beaver dam is 20 to 30 feet long, but some can be up to a quarter of a mile in length.
  • Beaver Lodge Walls: Beaver lodges have walls four to six feet thick, providing insulation and protection.
  • Muskrat Houses: Muskrats build houses out of grass and mud, often constructing them on piles in the water.
  • Jerboa Burrow System: Jerboas create elaborate burrow systems with multiple entrances and tunnels that provide escape routes from predators.
  • Coral Reefs: The Great Barrier Reef off the coast of Australia extends 1,000 miles long, with a breadth ranging from 10 to 90 miles.
  • Chipmunk Storehouses: Chipmunks store vast quantities of nuts and seeds, often hoarding much more than they can consume.
  • Vole Raids: Voles can devastate entire cornfields in a single night, removing every stalk.
  • Hamster Barns: Hamsters build underground barns adjacent to their homes, providing storage space for winter food.
  • Harvest Mouse Nest: A harvest mouse nest can be as small as a marble, yet accommodate six baby mice.
  • Camel Loads: Camels can carry loads weighing 400 to 500 pounds.
  • Wartime Camel Losses: The British Army lost over 50,000 camels during the Afghan campaign.
  • Oxen for Military Service: The French Army has used oxen for transportation, particularly for heavy loads.
  • Elephant Military Value: British military forces have used elephants from India to clear forests and disrupt enemy lines.


  • Camouflage: The art of concealment, often achieved through coloration, patterns, and behavior, allowing animals to blend into their surroundings.
  • Mimicry: A form of camouflage where an animal imitates the appearance or behavior of another, often a more dangerous or poisonous creature.
  • Autotomy: The spontaneous amputation of a body part, typically a tail, to escape a predator.
  • Hibernation: A state of prolonged sleep, often accompanied by a decrease in metabolic rate, allowing animals to survive harsh winters or periods of food scarcity.
  • Gregarious: Living in social groups or herds.
  • Frugivorous: Feeding primarily on fruits.
  • Carnivorous: Feeding primarily on meat.
  • Graminivorous: Feeding primarily on grasses.
  • Nocturnal: Active at night.
  • Sentinel: An animal stationed on guard duty, often watching for predators or intruders.


  • Lion Camouflage: The lion’s sandy-colored fur blends perfectly with the desert sands, allowing it to ambush prey.
  • Zebra Camouflage: The zebra’s black and white stripes create an illusion of dappled sunlight, making it difficult to distinguish individual animals in a herd.
  • Monkey Orchestra: Apes and monkeys in Central Africa gather together for musical gatherings, beating on leaves and branches, creating a rhythmic symphony.
  • Kitten Play: Kittens engage in playful chases and wrestling, practicing their hunting skills and developing coordination.
  • Badger and Dog Play: A badger and a dog are observed engaging in mock fights, wrestling and chasing, demonstrating a playful bond.
  • Fox’s Clever Escape: A fox is able to outsmart hunters by slipping into a hole in a rocky cliff, where the pursuing dogs cannot reach him.
  • Prairie Dog Cities: Prairie dogs create extensive underground cities with thousands of interconnected burrows.
  • Vizcacha Village: Vizcachas construct remarkable underground cities with multiple entrances and passages, creating a sophisticated system of tunnels and chambers.
  • Beaver Dam: Beavers work together to build dams that control water levels and create suitable habitats.
  • Muskrat House: Muskrats construct houses out of reeds and mud, providing shelter and warmth.
  • Polecat Larder: A polecat is known to bite through the brains of frogs, paralyzing them, and store them alive in a larder for its young.
  • Chipmunk Hoard: A chipmunk is a notorious hoarder, filling its underground storehouse with acorns, nuts, and other food items.
  • Wolf Pack Strategy: A pack of wolves coordinates its movements to chase and corner prey, demonstrating sophisticated teamwork and communication.
  • Hippopotamus River Highway: Hippopotamuses create paths through thick reeds and canes to access feeding and watering areas.
  • Rabbit Road System: Rabbits build extensive road systems through underbrush and muskeg, providing paths for movement and escape.
  • Otter’s Cave Home: Otters often utilize pre-existing caves or rock crevices for shelter and raising their young.
  • Elephant’s Intelligence: An elephant is observed understanding its keeper’s accusations of theft, revealing its keen sense of justice and understanding of human language.
  • Skunk’s Defense: Skunks employ their potent and offensive odor as a defense mechanism against predators.
  • Chamois Coasting: Chamois engage in snow-coasting on mountain slopes, practicing their agility and honing their survival skills.
  • Gorilla’s Family Life: Gorillas maintain harmonious family units, with the father playing an active role in domestic life and caring for offspring.
  • Raccoon’s Surgery: A raccoon is observed amputating its own injured leg and cleaning the wound, demonstrating an intuitive understanding of healing.
  • Fox’s Fire Making: Foxes are known to create artificial heat by covering green leaves with dirt, creating warmth for themselves during cold weather.
  • Monkey’s Grief: A group of monkeys exhibits a display of grief and mourning after one of their members is shot, suggesting a complex understanding of death and loss.
  • Dog’s Loyalty: Dogs are renowned for their unwavering loyalty and obedience to their masters, a trait that has historically been essential to human civilization.
  • Horse’s Intelligence: Cavalry horses are able to recognize and obey complex bugle calls, demonstrating a high level of intelligence and a clear understanding of musical pitch.


“The Human Side of Animals” provides a compelling case for recognizing the intelligence, emotions, and social complexity of animals. By debunking the myth that animals are simply instinct-driven, Dixon encourages a deeper understanding and appreciation for the richness of animal life. He highlights the interconnectedness of all living creatures and emphasizes the shared nature of human and animal experiences, advocating for a more humane and respectful approach to our animal companions. While Dixon’s work is rooted in a specific historical context, his observations and arguments continue to hold relevance, urging readers to challenge their preconceived notions and embrace a more holistic view of the animal kingdom.

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