An Exceptionally Informative Dog Book – Based on Science

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I just read again a wonderful book on dogs, The Genius of Dogs, by Brian Hare and Vennessa Woods. It is a survey and synopsis of the past decade of research on dogs and various aspects of their learning, intelligence and nature. According to Dr. Hare there has been more dog behavioral research accomplished in the past 10 years than was accomplished in the previous 100 years. We have some catching up to do. The book is a great read. It has tons of new information for those interested in being better dog trainers and owners. It is on the New York Times Bestseller list. It has an excellent list of source documents for the source studies and papers. It is refreshing to find a dog book so well-based on science and research. It is packed with useful information which will require several readings to digest fully.
Below are some excerpts:

“In wolves, with the exception of very large packs, a single breeding pair is dominant to everyone else. This pair uses their dominance to suppress the breeding of other pack members. Dominant female wolves are aggressive all year round and use unprovoked attacks to prevent other females from mating.”
“Younger and subordinate pack members are usually the offspring of the breeding pair from previous years.”
“To earn their keep, juveniles help their parents raise the next generation. Juveniles bring back food to pups after a successful hunt and protect the pups while their parents are hunting.”

“Feral dogs have a different system. While some feral dog groups have a dominance hierarchy that predicts priority of access to resources such as food and mating partners, this hierarchy is not as strict as in wolves. There is no dominant pair that leads the group. Instead, the leader of a feral pack is the dog who has the most friends. When the pack decides where to go, the do not follow the most dominant dog; instead, they follow the dog with the strongest social network. “

Dogs cognitive ability relative to other animals
(Relative to other animals dogs are):
Genius (at)
– Comprehending visual gestures
-Learning new words
Remarkable (at)
-“Talking” through vocalizations and visual signals
`- Understanding an audience’s perspective
-Copying others’ actions
– Recruiting Help

“Wolves might be better than dogs at trial-and-error learning, but no one would argue that wolves are easier to train than dogs.”

“A dog will always learn from a human faster than a wolf, because dogs have evolved skills to read our communicative signals. While working dogs might be more skilled at using human gestures as a result of either training or human selection for this skill, all dogs are skilled at using human gestures. Even shelter dogs and breeds not intentionally bred by humans are skilled at using human gestures.”

“If working breeds were selected for their cooperative and communicative abilities, they should be better at following human gestures than non-working breeds. Victoria Webber and I chose huskies and shepherds as our working breeds, since both respond to verbal and hand signals when transporting humans or herding animals. As our non-working breeds, our control case, we chose Basenjis. From my introduction to them in Congo, I know that while Basenjis help their owners hunt, they are more like sight hounds – they simply chase and corner their prey and do not rely on human signals to hunt (similar to hunting behavior observed in the dogs of the Mayangna people of Nicaragua). As our other non-working breed, we chose toy poodles, since they were largely bred based on their appearance.
The results were that while all four breeds were skilled at using human gestures, huskies and shepherds were more so than Basenjis and toy poodles. Working were three times more successful than non-working dogs at using multiple types of human gestures to find hidden food. It seems that while all breeds (including New Guinea Singing Dogs and dingoes) can use human social gestures, working dogs are the most skilled of all.”

“It was suspected that dogs are more socially skilled than primates and wolves because they (dogs) are heavily exposed to people throughout their lifetime. In a surprise finding, young puppies with little exposure to humans are as skilled at using human gestures as adult dogs are.”

I highly recommend The Genius of Dogs to any and all dog trainers. It may show you a new and valuable perspective on dog training.

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