The special bond between humans and dogs has existed for centuries. But while people undeniably love their four-legged housemates, they don’t always think of pups as intellectual powerhouses. The Genius of Dogs: How Dogs Are Smarter Than You Think (Dutton, $28), by Brian Hare and Vanessa Woods, will help humans see past their loyal companions’ soulful eyes and damp noses to discern their cerebral canine nature, here termed “dognition.”
As a new book attests, your pooch’s IQ may be higher than you think.
Husband-and-wife team Hare and Woods, respectively the founder of and a research scientist at the Duke Canine Cognition Center in Durham, N.C., recount how dogs have evolved from wolves to become man’s best friends. But the taming may not have been a one-way street.
“Dogs may have civilized us,” Hare and Woods note.
The science is fascinating, but it’s the personal anecdotes that provide spark. Hare owes his career to Oreo, the Labrador puppy he got when Hare was 7 and named after his favorite treat. As a college student, Hare became interested in human-brain development and began to play games with chimpanzees to measure their ability to pick up on cues. When Hare mentioned to a professor that Oreo could pass the test, the professor challenged him to videotape experiments with his dog. The results proved that canines share some cognitive abilities with human infants. Hare gives a heartfelt account of how, as an adult, he adopted 60-pound Milo, who resembled a polar bear, from a shelter and then discovered the dog was unusually anxious.
“I was a ‘dog expert’ unable to train my own dog to sit on command,” he relates. (Milo’s thick coat had concealed the fact that he had not been neutered, and once fixed, he calmed considerably.) Hare and Woods also describe how their current dog, Tassie, differentiated between his own toys and those belonging to their new baby.
Tassie has appeared on major television networks simply by virtue of being present (and freshly groomed) at the Duke Canine Cognition Center when reporters arrive. His star power has earned him a new nickname. “We call him the Kim Kardashian of dogs,” they write, “because like many socialites, he is famous for exactly nothing.”