How Smart is Your Dog? Smarter Than You Think

Friday, February 8, 2013

How Smart is Your Dog? Smarter Than You Think

We all think our dog is smart. My friend and I are always talking about how our dogs must know what we’re saying. Oftentimes, when we say something within earshot of our dogs, they will respond by doing something related.

For example, our first rescue, Hershey, a tan and black miniature Dachshund, spent the first week in her new home with us chasing our three cats.

“I’m not sure this is going to work, we might have to find her another place to live, Hersey just isn't that smart” I told my husband.

We had peace and harmony in our house from that night forward.

Brian Hare is the founder of the Canine Cognition Center at Duke University and author of the new book, The Genius of Dogs: How Dogs Are Smarter Than You Think. In an interview with USA Today about his new book, Hare said that dogs are smart and are capable of learning thousands of words.

It’s still unknown whether Hershey really understood that we were near our wits end (as were the cats), but the more research is conducted on canine learning, such as the kind Hare has done, the more we’re learning about dogs' truly high levels of intelligence. . 

It’s worth noting that Hershey did have about ten favorite toys and she knew and would retrieve each by name. Pretty smart move by Hershey.

Hare, who co-authored the book with his wife, Vanessa Woods, also says that dogs can make inferences — that is, to correctly guess. “Nature has equipped them with being able to make inferences. They can read our gestures,” says Hare. “They're inferring what we're trying to tell them.”

Other points Hare makes is that the “alpha dog” theory that many trainers use in training dogs is an antiquated myth.

Hare explains the theory was developed from the idea that dogs evolved from wolves. “Evolution” is a key word here. He says domesticated dogs now have a mentality of following the most popular dog in the pack; the one that has the most friends, not the one that dominates.

That leads us to the main point of his book, which is what he calls “Dognition.” 

Hare says if we use what he and researchers like him have learned in the past decade about our canine companions, we can apply their cognitive abilities to our training methods.

It’s what Hare describes as helping us find our dog’s genius.

“We try to point out we need a cognitive approach to training. If you recognize what their strengths are and their biases, you'll be in a much better place,” says Hare.

He also makes a final point in the interview: that we cannot judge a dog by his looks and apply some type of predictor for behavior, because we know that leads to breed discrimination and ultimately to Breed Specific Legislation.

Very good point, Hare. Maybe we all have a smart dog just waiting to show us how smart indeed.

Editor’s Note: Image by Flickr user Adam DeClercq

Do you believe our dogs are smarter than we give them credit for? How smart is your dog?