Tuesday, December 13, 2016

The Genius of Dogs: How Dogs Are Smarter Than You Think

By Brian Hare and Vanessa Woods

Authors Hare and Woods, experts in evolutionary development, share many fascinating insights into canine – as well as human – evolution in their book, The Genius of Dogs

While an undergraduate, Hare realized that he was much more interested in studying evolution than in pursuing a career in baseball. He would go on to become a famous anthropologist and author – and also married the research scientist, Vanessa Woods, author of Bonobo Handshake, and co-author of this book.

Brian Hare starts with the story of their family dog, Tassie, who learned quickly how to distinguish between its own dog toys and those of the new baby – through inference. He then goes on to tell the story of how, as a seven year-old, he would play ball games with his dog, Oreo, who developed skill in reading the boy’s pointing signals. Ten years later while helping his university professor with a signalling game with chimpanzees, Hare commented, “I think my dog can do it.” They gave Oreo the test, and sure enough, the dog passed it with ease. Through further experiments, Hare and his professor proved that dogs are capable of inference. For example, a dog can understand that a human is referring to a new, unnamed object if s/he uses a new word to refer to it. 

Hare uses a table to show dogs' cognition relative to other mammals, such as apes and dolphins. He states:

The genius of dogs is their ability to understand human communication and their motivation to cooperate with us. Their genius is why they are so easy to train. But dogs also have biases and limitations to their understanding of how the world works.

A university professor comments on a study of domesticated foxes in Siberia. Hare sees the congruence in the evolution of these foxes, dogs, and prehistoric humans. No animal was harmed in the experiments. 

This book will appeal to dog lovers, especially those who seek to understand better how dogs think and why they behave as they do. The Genius of Dogs may also prove a great read for those interested in evolutionary development.

Find this title in the Library catalogue.