By Sarah Vander Schaaff

To hear Dr. Brian Hare speak about the genius of dogs is quite something. In fact, just last week, when I was listening to my local NPR station, I heard a rebroadcast of an interview with him and was still fascinated.

And it was this second-time around that I was able to visit Dr. Hare’s website: Dognition.

If you think I’ve got too much free time, I should add that Dr. Hare is a member of the Center for Cognitive Neuroscience at Duke’s Institute for Brain Sciences, got his Ph.D. from Harvard, and yes, I do have a puppy. My interest was both personal and Mindprint related.

Consider this explanation of Dr. Hare’s cognitive approach to understanding how dogs think as described on his website:

“Dognition is not about ranking dog IQ scores. It’s about discovering which skills your own dog relies on to navigate the world — the ones your dog excels at as well as the challenges. Knowing your dog’s “cognitive style” can help shed light on where your best friend is coming from — and the new places your relationship can go.”

Dognition provides users at home with a “toolkit” of games to play with her dog. Results are entered and the user is given a “Profile” that describes how the dog sees the world in five categories: empathy, cunning, communication, reasoning and memory. The website has a video clip of one game referred to as “Arm Pointing.” It’s designed to demonstrate how a dog communicates on a range between self-reliant and collaborative.


In his interview with Radio Times host, Marty Moss-Coane, Dr. Hare explained that the ability to read human cues (to observe our pointing at a treat and then seek it out) was something the chimps could not do. The dog, he argued, is the second-most intelligent species on the planet. Just think, they’ve evolved to utilize and benefit from the intelligent and powerful human like no other animal.

Dr. Hare reminded listeners that we often think of nature as favoring only the most aggressive traits. But animals such as dogs, he said, show us how one species left behind the hunt and moved into a successful and collaborative relationship with a potential food rival to live the high life. If you understand, as Dr. Hare does, that dogs began their own departure from wolves (and it was not humans who created the species) then the dog’s adaptability is even more brilliant.

How someone navigates the world; how to play on strengths and overcome weaknesses; looking beyond IQ. Examining the cognitive style of dogs was very compatible with themes over at Mindprint. But, I admit, we don’t have a jar of treats.


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