I have often wondered why it is my dog is so smart, unless of course I happen to be shaking my head while calling him a knucklehead. Well, today I decided to call someone in the know, I called Marc Hauser, Ph.D. at the Canine Cognition Lab of Harvard University to learn more about how my dog’s mind works.
It turns out you don’t need to own a Poodle to have a dog that can figure things out for themselves. I, like many others, have always believed that certain breeds were smarter than others. It turns out this may not be true. There are other factors that Dr. Hauser and his team have noticed, including dogs that excel while being run through a series of fun tests/games, which measures the spontaneous thought process of your dog, or a dog’s ability to remember and figure things out for himself.
[box style=”red”]Unfortunately, the Harvard Canine Cognition Lab seems to have been closed.[/box]
The two main traits which stand out in a dog who excels in the cognitive tests tend to be very attentive to the handler/owner/you and motivated by reward. It can be argued that certain breeds or types of dogs are more attentive or food motivated than others. What does not seem to be a factor is one breed or type of dog having a superior brain. I had always thought Poodles were just smarter without asking why.
I asked Dr. Hauser, “What is the best tip you could give a dog owner?” He replied, “Get into your dog’s mind, get involved with your dog as you would when you meet another person. When you meet someone new, you take the time to get a better understanding of them and what they are thinking. You should do the same thing with your dog.” It turns out that through the Canine Cognitive Lab you can bring your dog in to be tested. While you and your dog are there, you will both learn and play a few games together. These are games you can also play at home, which will give you that essential opportunity to learn more about your dog.
It also turns out that not only will the team at the Canine Cognition Lab be watching and taking notes about your dog, but you as well. One of the things they have learned through testing is how sensitive dogs are to their owners. So sensitive, in fact, that originally unnoticed owners were guiding there dogs unknowingly. Perhaps the team at the Lab may one day shed a little light on how some dogs can sense when their masters will be having a seizure.
Dr. Hauser is excited to get people involved in the science of studying a dog’s abilities. He noted the the disconnect between the understanding a dog’s life versus a human life, pointing out that even though our worlds have been intertwined for thousands of years, there had been no scientific study of man’s best friend until recently.
Fortunately, we live in Boston where it is easy to help contribute to this study. If you are interested you can sign your dog up at the Canine Cognition Lab website. I have already signed up Moose, hoping to grasp a better understanding for myself on just what the heck he is thinking. Maybe I’ll get lucky and my dog will go to Harvard…