Anyone who owns a dog likes to think that his or her furry friend is smart, but Dr. Brian Hare knows better: he believes they’re actually geniuses. Dr. Hare first realized there’s was more to the canine brain when he observed that his childhood dog, Oreo, could understand human gestures—gestures that monkeys, in behavioral studies, routinely missed. So he embarked on a 15-year quest to demystify the way dogs think. The result is his fascinating new book, The Genius of Dogs, co-written with his wife, science journalist Vanessa Woods.
Cognition, as Dr. Hare describes it, is the way a dog’s mind processes the world around it. His pioneering research took him all over the world to meet dogs of every stripe, from teensy shelter puppies to the curiously vocal New Guinea Singing Dog to a pack of domesticated silver foxes in Russia. What he learned is that when dogs became domesticated around 40,000 years ago, they began acting and thinking much more like human infants than their wolf ancestors. This social intelligence means that dogs have an innate understanding of how to communicate and get along with humans, enabling them to learn hundreds of spoken words, recognize pictures and facial expressions, learn certain problem-solving skills by example, and infer character-based information about other dogs and about humans.
Dr. Hare, who founded the Duke Canine Cognition Center at Duke University and has been features in a variety of smarty-pants publications and TV shows, wrote The Genius of Dogs not as a training manual, but as a collection of experiments and personal anecdotes that support his theory. He poses questions like, Do dogs feel guilt? and Does my dog want affection or just a snack? It’s pretty interesting stuff that may just help you understand your precious pup a little bit better in daily life. So take this book with you to the beach, to the lake cabin, or on the plane this summer, then head over to Dognition, where Dr. Hare and his colleagues have developed a canine assessment tool that will help you identify your dog’s thinking style and tailor games and exercises toward it.