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Book Review: The Genius of Dogs
How Dogs Are Smarter Than You Think
The Genius of Dogs

The Genius of Dogs is written in a pleasant, conversational style that is enjoyable to read. Its strength lies in the sections on the history of canine-specific research, which are easy-to-read, informative summaries of the progression of particular lines of study.

Among the well-covered topics are Belyaev’s genetic studies on foxes; the vocal communication of dogs; and Rico and Chaser, the dogs famous for knowing the names of hundreds of objects. Other sections of the book are less successful. More than once, I found myself puzzled by conclusions that didn’t follow logically from the available data. This gave me the impression that the authors already had opinions about how dogs’ minds work and were trying to force the data into supporting those viewpoints.

A notable weakness comes in the discussion of Hare’s own research. Although the authors say they will include work that contradicts Hare’s results, they fail to mention any of the reputable studies disputing his major findings about dogs’ responsiveness to human gestures. Notably absent are the well-known research studies challenging Hare’s conclusion that dogs are better than wolves at following human gestures.

Hare has reason to be proud of both the volume of research into canine cognition his experiments have inspired as well as his trailblazing open-mindedness in using his own pet dog as a subject at a time when such use was discouraged. His innovative work has motivated a new generation of scientists to ask new questions about how dogs think and communicate. I’d love to see him embrace the full range of studies that expand on his original work with dogs, as these are part of his legacy.

This article first appeared in The Bark,
Issue 73: Spring 2013

Karen B. London, PhD, is a Bark columnist and a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist specializing in the evaluation and treatment of serious behavior problems in the domestic dog.

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Submitted by Mona Lindau-Webb | March 4 2013 |

I really like this book. The combination of a scientist's autobiography and description of his research is informative and very entertaining to read. And the book give great summaries about the huge amount of research on canine cognition over the past 20 years of so.

I absolutely LOVE the section on training where Hare discovers that trainers discovered behaviorism about 30 years after it was discredited. As a graduate student in linguistics I was weaned on Chomsky's devastating review of Skinner's take on learning languages and learning in general and I have never understood why trainers worship behaviorism. True, operant conditioning is a powerfully efficient training tool, there is no arguing with results. But there are so many other ways of training dogs. And many behaviors are hardwired and self-reinforcing and clickers and treats are more contra-indicated for all these behaviors. Also, of course, there is so much more to the dog than operant behaviors. I love the way a thinking dog argues with me, or learns the behaviors I teach, meditates on it, and the next day tells me: "I have a better way!".

This book finally showed me why human pointing gestures and gaze are selected in testing canids and primates (babies start communication with gaze and pointing!).

But there are details where Hare just does not seem to know what most dog people know.

For example it sounds a little bit like Hare discovered that dogs understand human pointing: this is of course well-known for the past couple of centuries in hunting circles. Hunters use pointing to "mark" the direction of the dog's retrieve. Also, pointing has been part of obedience trials in the Directed Retrieve since they started.

Also, the current monstrosity of a bulldog was not created from the strong bull-baiting dogs. In fact, when bull-baiting was made illegal in the mid-1800s, these dogs lost their function and their numbers decreased a lot. Then as people got together to recreate the bulldog, it was all about looks and dog shows, and even the early show type bulldogs were pretty non-functional and more of a deformed caricature of the early fully functioning dogs.

And the chapters on domestication are fascinating, particularly stringing out the logic of domestication to include humans as domesticated chimps. WOW!

Submitted by Dickie brewer | January 12 2014 |

If nothing else was gained but the more acute insight into our furry companion's thought processes, this read would be successful for it's furrowing a wonderful database of what just might be Pooch's way of getting their best friend to join their peaceful way of communicating.