What do we know about dog cognition? It seems they may be almost as smart as people, but not as bright as wolves. This is the claim that Dr. Brian Hare, an associate professor at Duke, makes in his recent study on dog cognition in Science. Well, sort of.
Dr. Hare is studying the cognitive functions of dogs, something that pet parents do every day as they stare into their loved one’s eyes. Sure your pooch ate an entire carpet and got sick for three days but he also knows that when Grandma comes over he has to slow down and not jump on her.
How Humans May Have Changed the Doggie Brain
While dogs are great at relating to humans they don’t do as well as their closest relatives, wolves, in tests that require general survival skills. Dr. Hare is interested in the ways that dog brains have evolved since they began to co-exist with man. Is it possible that only those dogs who were most keyed into human behaviors survived, and in doing so forced the species to evolve? It certainly makes sense.
Dr. Hare ran a study for which pet parents volunteered their loved ones’ time for some safe and fun experiments on dog cognition and canine behavior. A ball was placed under one of two cups and to successfully find it the dogs had to follow their parent’s pointing finger. Let’s just say those dogs got a lot of treats.
The results of Dr. Hare’s study show that dogs have gotten worse at some of the basic wilderness survival skills that we still see tied into a wolf’s DNA, but dogs outperform almost every other animal at reading the signs and social cues of people around them.
So What Has Your Dog Learned From You?
To test your dog’s empathetic ability, practice a variation on the point test. Try pointing when you say a directional command. Move the food bowl into different corners of the room and say “go get dinner,” pointing to the corner of the room where the chow is. Once your dog becomes acquainted with the benefits of paying attention to your pointer, you can incorporate that skill into your daily routine.