Is a bird stupid because it can’t swim? Is a pig stupid because it can’t climb a tree? Which is the better tool, a hammer or a saw? Nature or nurture? These are all questions leading us
to question how we work, and how can we most accurately see one another. How do we measure the potential of a living being? And how can we use that measurement? Is it possible one measurement is more accurate but less meaningful and/or useful than another? In modern society it seems parents, children, and educators are in a constant battle arguing the applicability of standardized testing and using IQ as a meaningful measurement. Thanks to Brian Hare, that battle has made its way to our dogs.
Brian Hare is a professor of cognition at Duke University. He proclaims himself as “scientist, author, dog guy”. He is the writer of the book “The Genius of Dogs”, a founder of the Dognition website and citizen science project, and the instructor
of a course I’m taking called “Dog Emotion and Cognition”. He has been studying dogs and how they think for 17 years. During that time he has developed his system of figuring out just how to sort dogs mentally called “Dognition”. Dognition is a series of games testing five psychological aspects that make up the individualization of each dog. It helps to illustrate the idea that Fido isn’t stupid because he isn’t good at fetch, because Fido might be really good at sniffing for animals, protecting your home, or being a companion to your child. Fido is geared by nature towards a particular set of internal skills and preferences he wants to rely on to solve problems. It’s a system to help you learn the natural strengths of your dog so that you can communicate better, understand more, and have a healthier relationship.
What is Cognitive Science? **(Nerd Alert! Skip Paragraph if you hate science!)**Cognitive Science is the idea that we use information processing as a means of explaining how we perceive, remember, and understand the world around us. It leans heavily on the side of nature in the nature nurture spectrum of psychology. On the opposite end lies Behaviorism. Suppose a dog comes to it’s owner when every time they say “come!”(He’s definitely not my dog). Behaviorism would argue the sole reason he came was because of a previous mechanism (the command), which was ingrained into his behavior through a series of shaping techniques. We can then look solely at shaping and how best to shape as the primary concern for education. On the other end Cognitive science would argue the reason the dog came was because he recognized the mechanism, processed the mechanism alongside potential responses, and made a decision based both on the mechanism and a unique predisposition that makes your dog who he is. Those unique predispositions are the nature side of the argument, there is nothing you can do to ever change them. So how would we then sort those characteristics, find them, and use our findings? Enter Dognition.
Dognition breaks the inherent characteristics of dogs into 5 categories: empathy, communication, cunning, memory, and reasoning. Each of these categories has a set of associated games, and from the data gathered during these games your dogs personality is placed on a spectrum. The empathy category measures how individualistic or bonded your dog is. Communication measures how self reliant or collaborative your dog is. Cunning measures how trustworthy or wily your dog is. Memory measures how present-minded or retrospective your dog is. Reasoning measures how impulsive or logical your dog is. Your dog is never entirely one or the other, rather he impulsively relies more heavily on one side of the spectrum.
There are 20 tests in total and they can all be found on the dognition website. The tests are laid out as games for your dog. It’s a fun way to see how your dog thinks, and it can be a fun way for your whole family to spend some time together. And all of the games can be played using items found around your house!
Each game is based on the idea your dog has never before seen the games. Your dog will use a particular and noticeable characteristic to make decisions throughout the games. Throughout the course of 20 games, each being done at least 5 times, there will be enough data to begin to decipher just exactly who your furball is. Where your dog lies in each spectrum combined will put your dog in a general category. And even cooler than that you can compare it with other dogs from around the world!
Once you are finished your games you are given a full report about your dog. It gives you easy to read charts and descriptions of each characteristic, as well as an eerily accurate description of the category your dog falls into. Your dog could be a “star-gazer”, “socialite”, an “Einstein”, or “maverick”, or one of 8 other categories!
The really cool part about Dognition is that it is a citizen science program run through the cognition center at Duke University. This means that they are taking all the information from you and other Dognition users and putting it in to their database to use it to further their studies on dog intelligence and Cognitive Science. Already we’ve begun to unravel the threads. For example it’s recently been found that dogs with training services, extensive training, or other extreme levels of “humanizing” and human socializing scored on average in the exact same dispersion as those without. This means there are the same percentage of Einsteins in bomb sniffers and dogs that can skateboard as there are in your common house pet! There are the same percentages of Socialites, Stargazers, Mavericks, etc! In fact there were also no noticeable differences in dog breed. That’s not to say there aren’t unique aspects of certain breeds; collies like to herd and hounds like to sniff. In fact the only things that noticeably differentiated cognitive behavior was age, size, and male or female. We had to know guys and girls would think differently am I right?
All these tests combined and the information from them can be used to find out just what your dog is telling you. The idea is that two dogs staring into your eyes are saying totally different things depending on who they are, not what you’ve taught them. Understanding your dog can help you figure out what he’s telling you and why! We did the tests this past week with Jack and it was fun for us, and him. He had a great time doing all of the puzzles, and of course getting all of the cookies! It was a really fun to get a better understanding of his mind. Some of his test results we were very surprised with and some of them made perfect sense! For example we were both surprised that Jack scored off the charts as “retrospective” in the memory games. Neither one of us were aware that he was so reliant on his memory, but as we read the description it made sense because when he goes to the woods he can always remember where the burrows of animals he sniffed out before are. Overall Jack got rated as a “Maverick”, a very individualistic dog, which was not surprising because he has always been somewhat of a natural “lone wolf” and is very reliant on his sense of smell.
We all had a great time doing Dognition and I would recommend it to any one who wants to learn more about their fur baby! I certainly learned lots about mine. If you are interested in learning more about the intelligence of dogs and Cognitive Science I highly recommend reading the “genius of dogs” by Brian Hare. Also if you are interested more about just exactly how Jack did in each category and what that means, or more about the program, feel free to leave a comment!
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