Tonawanda News

April 15, 2013

CRITTER COMPANIONS: 'The Genius of Dogs' a fascinating read

By Kenny Coogan
The Tonawanda News

— In college I took both an animal cognition class and an animal behavior class. Animal cognition studies an animal’s mental capabilities whereas animal behavior looks at the physical, sometimes more measurable, traits an animal performs.

The professors of both classes stated that there is a lot of great research on animal intelligence. They also both stated that performing research on domestic companion animals is very difficult because of the close connection we have to them. They warned that sometimes we might be a little biased based on our relationships.

“The Genius of Dogs: How Dogs Are Smarter Than You Think,” by Brian Hare and wife Vanessa Woods shares new canine research and offers insights on what your dog could be thinking. This book was released early February of this year.

The book’s author, Hare, hopes that when you finish this book, you combine what you have learned with your own observations to help you lead interesting discussions and debates with your fellow dog lovers.

Cognitive science refers to intelligence in animals a little differently then what you might think. Intelligence can be measured by how successful a species has managed to survive and reproduce in as many places as possible. This is the starting point of the book. The first chapter states “dogs have spread to all corners of the world, including inside our homes, and in some cases onto our beds.” This may suggest that canines are quite intelligent.

You can have your crazy cat people, but then you also have your equally passionate dog people.

“People are having less kids and treating their dogs better than ever,” Hare wrote.

Dogs also have more jobs than ever before. There are now service dogs, military dogs, police dogs, customs dogs, conservation dogs that find scat to help estimate populations sizes, bed bug dogs, therapy dogs and dogs that get rid of geese on tarmacs.

In addition to science-based research the book also offers anecdotal stories. Fellow, a German shepherd, was one dog that led to breakthrough understanding of canine intelligence back in 1928. The trainer of Fellow claimed that the dog could decipher hundreds of cues. The dog was asked by two scientists rather than the owner to perform some of these cues. The owner went into another room to make sure they were not giving away subtle tells. Fellow was asked many things including, to speak, stand close to a lady, take a walk around the room, go into the other room to retrieve gloves. The scientists concluded that the dog understood at least 68 cues!

In addition to this fascinating read, Hare and Woods established Dognition.com, a fun, but science-based website to evaluate your own dog’s intelligence. To find out scientifically how smart your canine is, it will cost you. The assessment tool kit starts at $59 and goes up to $129 or $167 depending on if you would like to sign up for a membership. All levels include a Dognition profile report which features your dog’s cognitive style. The report I sampled was a thorough 16 pages.

Hare, along with Kip Frey, the director of the Duke Law and Entrepreneurship Program, produced a video with Duke University on YouTube to explain the purpose of Dognition.com.

“The ‘Genius of Dogs,’ the book, is about all dogs and what we know about all dogs. Dognition allows you to apply that to your dog,” Frey said.

Your companion dogs could fall into nine different categories. Your dog could be considered a charmer, ace, socialite, expert, renaissance dog, protodog, stargazer, maverick or an Einstein. The renaissance dog is good at a little bit of everything, as the name suggestions and what makes a maverick successful is “a cheeky wolfishness and a strong independent streak.”

Frey went on to explain, “You go onto the site, learn about activities and games to be played that we prescribe and teach you how to do. As you are doing it, you press the mobile app on your phone or mobile device and all of that data comes back to our server. We analyze it and provide you with a profile of what the cognitive skills of your dog are.”

Hare hopes this scientific data will allow you to better enrich and interact with your pet dog.

Kenny Coogan has a B.S. in animal behavior. Please email your questions to birdbehaviorconsultant@yahoo.com, or search for "Critter Companions by Kenny Coogan" on Facebook.