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The Genius of Dogs

Discovering the Unique Intelligence of Man’s Best Friend

By Brian Hare and Vanessa Woods
15-minute read
Audio available
The Genius of Dogs: Discovering the Unique Intelligence of Man’s Best Friend by Brian Hare and Vanessa Woods

The Genius of Dogs (2013) uncovers the remarkable intelligence of man’s best four-legged friend. By first examining human intelligence, the authors go on to explain exactly what makes dogs so smart, which talents they have in common with humans and other animals, and what sets them apart.

  • Dog owners or anyone considering adopting a dog
  • People interested in animal behavior and cognition
  • Veterinarians or anyone who cares for or works with dogs

Brian Hare obtained his PhD from Harvard University and is an associate professor of evolutionary anthropology at Duke University. His research has been cited in articles published in The New York Times, TIME, Wired and National Geographic.

Specialising in animal intelligence and behavior, Vanessa Woods is an Australian scientist, author and award-winning journalist. She has written for The Wall Street Journal, BBC Wildlife and The Huffington Post.

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The Genius of Dogs

Discovering the Unique Intelligence of Man’s Best Friend

By Brian Hare and Vanessa Woods
  • Read in 15 minutes
  • Audio & text available
  • Contains 9 key ideas
The Genius of Dogs: Discovering the Unique Intelligence of Man’s Best Friend by Brian Hare and Vanessa Woods
Synopsis

The Genius of Dogs (2013) uncovers the remarkable intelligence of man’s best four-legged friend. By first examining human intelligence, the authors go on to explain exactly what makes dogs so smart, which talents they have in common with humans and other animals, and what sets them apart.

Key idea 1 of 9

A dog’s intelligence is grounded in its survivalist skills. Picking humans as companions was genius.

If you’ve ever seen a dog perform a series of complicated tricks, you know that these four-legged creatures are clever. But just how clever are they, and how can we measure dog smarts?

Animal intelligence is different than human intelligence, and is better measured in how well an animal has managed to survive and reproduce over time.

Interestingly, many mammals today are in decline, endangered or teetering on the edge of extinction – but not dogs.

So how do we evaluate the genius of dogs? A genius can excel in one area of cognition, but remain average or lacking in another. While dogs may not be all-round geniuses, they can be considered specialized geniuses when compared to other closely related species.

Another signifier of genius is the ability to make spontaneous inferences, which humans do all the time.

For example, if you’re driving toward an intersection and can’t see the traffic light, yet notice a car entering the intersection from a side street, you infer that your traffic light is red. Dogs too have the ability to infer information from their surroundings, as there are few allowances for trial and error in nature.

The lasting relationship between humans and dogs throughout history is based on our shared intelligence.

Initially, people thought early humans raised wolf cubs as companions, animals that evolved into what we know today as dogs. Yet why would our ancestors take cubs away from wolves, wild animals that were intensely feared?

Humans didn’t need the help of wolves to hunt; in fact, keeping wolves as part of the human “pack” would mean we’d have to hunt more, as a wolf needs up to five kilograms of meat per day to survive. What’s more, wolves are incredibly possessive of their food, and a hungry wolf is a dangerous wolf!

So the wolf cub-to-dog theory didn’t make sense. How then can we explain why ancient human graves, from some 10,000 to 12,000 years ago, also included buried puppies?

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