The Genius of Dogs by Brian Hare & Vanessa Woods

04 Feb

The Genius of Dogs: How Dogs Are Smarter than You ThinkPremise: Brian Hare, founder of the Duke Canine Cognition Center, is an evolutionary anthropologist and dog researcher. Along with his wife, research scientist, journalist, and author Vanessa Woods, they have uncovered new findings in the cognitive abilities of dogs through their research as they compare canine intelligence to that of other animals, such as chimpanzees, bonobos, rats, cats, coyotes, foxes, and their closest relatives: wolves.

Hare and Woods put our presuppositions to the test as they walk us through vigorous tests with these animals, revealing interesting data that might change our thinking when it comes to understanding and living with dogs. Hare’s research is revolutionary compared to that of previous scientists in how it takes a cognitive approach to how we train and interact with man’s best friend.

Themes: Past research and training for dogs has been behavioral at its core. Behavior correction was the formula to understanding the intelligence of dogs. Hare’s studies challenge this approach as inherently flawed since behavioral training considers evolutionary changes and cognitive understanding as irrelevant for all animals. According to Hare, a cognitive approach takes into consideration the evolution of different animals and breeds, physiological factors, and how they interact socially and within changing environments.

Hare’s research also puts our understanding of different dog breeds to the test. The research pits different breeds against each other as certain cognitive skills are studied through specific tests. The ideas we have that certain breeds are smarter or more aggressive than others might change when we consider the data that is gathered through these tests.

Pros: The Genius of Dogs lays out a comprehensive research approach that challenges the work of previous scientists. The Genius of Dogs doesn’t talk down to the scientific layperson but the data is simplified and it is pretty easy to understand how it was gathered as we are walked through the various experiments. Hare is pretty upfront with conflicting data between different studies and even cites them through extensive notes at the back of the book, allowing the reader to come to their own conclusions in these instances.

Cons: There is a lot of evolutionary information up front that might be difficult for some to wade through. I also felt that in the last two or three chapters Hare and Woods started to repeat themselves. By over-explaining and repeating their research approach in these final chapters, they either needed to better explain the research they were challenging or they should have left some of this out. By my understanding, their arguments were weakened through this repetition.

Recommendations: For a new approach to how we think about the intelligence of dogs, and by default the intelligence of other animals, The Genius of Dogs does a great job in laying the foundation of dog evolution, the findings of past research, and an understanding of how they think to bring us to a better understanding of them. If you know nothing about dogs or dog training, this is a perfect place to start. If you are a dog trainer or owner, from my limited knowledge, this will only broaden your understanding of these beloved pets and family members and strengthen your ability to train and live with them. Extreme dog lovers should read this book.

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I received a copy from the publisher to write this honest review.

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Posted by on February 4, 2013 in Nonfiction


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