Every once in a while I venture off into the world of non-fiction, and I never know what will intrigue me. This time I saw this book on the list of new releases from Penguin audio and, being the owner of a too-smart-for-his-own-good Jack Russell/Beagle mix, I had to see what it was all about. I was surprised by the material contained. Not only did this book talk about the cognitive abilities of dogs, but also the reason dogs are smart and how dogs compare to other animals thought to be smart.
Brian Hare is a dog researcher, evolutionary anthropologist, and founder of the Duke Canine Cognition Center, and Vanessa Woods is a Research Scientist at Duke University, and has worked in the Democratic Republic of Congo studying bonobos, and the People’s Republic of Congo studying chimpanzees. Together they uncover the intelligence of dogs and how they became intelligent.
The gist of the findings is that dogs domesticated themselves and thanks to being around humans they are smarter than their ancestors, wolves. While that sums up the book into one short sentence in no way does it reveal the depth of the information covered in this book. The book doesn’t just talk about dogs. With Vanessa Woods studying bonobos and chimpanzees one can expect some comparisons between dogs and the intelligence of the primates, and as a listener to this audiobook I enjoyed hearing about the intelligence of all the animals mentioned. One of the points made is that intelligence cannot be measured the same for all species, for example if a bird has the ability to crack a nut to get to the tasty morsel inside the shell that is a sign of intelligence, but just because a dog cannot crack a nut does not mean the dog is not intelligent. Testing has to be relative and the tests discussed throughout this book are very intriguing.
Along with dogs, chimps and bonobos the authors discuss the domestication and intelligences of foxes and wolves, so all around this book provides a great study in animal cognition and sociology. With all of that information this book also discusses the ways in which dogs interact with humans and why they so eagerly want to please us.
Taking in all the information from this book one could gather some really good hints and tips as to how to train your dog and why some methods work and others don’t. Some of the discussion of the training methods also includes a bit of a philosophy/psychology discussion about behaviorism and cognitivism. Like I said enjoyed the plethora of information and discussions in this audiobook. I just thought I was going to find out more about why my dog is “too” smart, but ended up getting a general liberal arts education.
This is a very informative book containing some great anecdotes that any dog lover will enjoy as well as create a better understanding for man’s best friend.