I’m lucky enough to live near some of the best universities in America where interesting studies and programs of all kinds are always going on. There’s one program in particular often featured in the local media that always gets my attention: Duke University’s Canine Cognition Center, which is often looking for people to bring their dogs in for evaluation. Dr. Brian Hare is the director of the program and he has recently published a book titled The Genius of Dogs, so there is now a lot of national and international interest. Personally, I think that if you’re a dog person, once you hear about some of the findings, you’re going to say “Of course, I’ve always known that!” But what I think is really important is that now there’s scientific data to support what dog folks have known all along: dogs are much smarter than most people think. And because of this, maybe people who didn’t give dogs much of a chance before will realize what they’ve been missing out on. Take that, cats!
Basically Dr. Hare has found that unlike any other species (besides us), dogs are able to infer meaning from unspoken communication. It’s true: they watch us, observe us and understand gestures…even when we don’t realize it. Dogs that I’ve had over the years have learned to monitor my intonation when I’m on the phone during long conversations (mother), realizing that when it rises that’s a signal that I’m getting ready to (finally) hang up, which means they’ll get my attention back. Another example from my house would be when Chappie connected that when I groan it means I’m picking up a ball to throw for him, so if he hears me groan any other time he goes long. I didn’t actually realize that I was groaning during playtime after a long session in front of a computer. Thanks for pointing that out, Chappie. Sheesh.
Besides the book, Dr. Hare has been working to develop a website and mobile app with the talented McKinney Advertising agency called Dognition that anyone can use (and he’s hoping everyone will because it’ll help his research studies) to help develop your own dog’s personality profile with details on his cognitive strengths and weaknesses. You can check out the dognition site here. And a good newspaper article about it can be found here.
If you’d like to learn more about the Duke Canine Cognition Center, go here. They are offering summer internships (with a stipend!) if you’re interested, but you’d better make it snappy because application submissions close March 15.
Last but not least, I’d just like to say that I think Dr. Hare must be a cool guy, because how many other Harvard PhD’s feature their portraits rolling around in the grass with their dog and describe themselves as “scientist, author, dog guy”? His own personal site is here. If you’d like to listen to a great interview with Dr. Hare, the local National Public Radio station WUNC broadcast is here.
So dogs can even make science better—now I wonder what they can do for algebra.