Local News

Duke dog study fetches national attention

Posted September 30, 2013 5:35 p.m. EDT
Updated October 1, 2013 5:30 a.m. EDT

— Have you ever wondered what your dog was thinking? Now there may be a way for you to figure out what is going through your dog’s mind.

Studying dogs is a fairly new science. Dr. Brian Hare, an anthropology professor, uses science to help people understand how their dogs think.

“That’s been the big thing in the past 10 years,” Hare said. “Science has sort of woken up and said, ‘Oh my gosh, dogs are a really interesting species to study,’” he said.

Debra Morgan of WRAL first visited the Duke Canine Cognition Lab with her pup in the winter of 2010.

“Anyone could bring in their dogs, so I brought mine here to take part in the initial tests,” Morgan said.

These initial tests were a huge success.

“We had a thousand dogs and a lot of it was due to WRAL,” Hare said. After WRAL ran a story about the study, a lot of people found out about the study and signed up.

"One of the things we learned from that experience was there's a lot of demand. People really want to understand their dogs better, but at Duke of course we can only help people here locally," Hare said.

So he expanded his research to include a New York Times best seller, “The Genius of Dogs,”  and a web site, dognition.com.

Dognition games allow pet owners to gain a fresh perspective on their furry friend’s mind, from how the dog communicates to how he or she solves problems.

"The goal here is not to prove that your dog is smart or not," Hare said. "The goal is to understand what are the strategies that your dog is using in different areas of intelligence and what is your dog's special genius."

Morgan's 6-year-old yellow lab, Harper, uses her memory and learned hand signals to know where to find a treat.

Dogs are very smart creatures. “When they are together with people and they are solving problems socially, they are absolute geniuses,” Hare said. “They can solve problems faster and more effectively than almost any other species. They use [humans] as tools essentially,” he added.