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Dog Smart: Exploring the Canine Mind
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Dog-care professionals are taking note of this growing body of research. In 2004, APDT began including a science track at their yearly conference. Their mission is not simply to saturate trainers with research, but also to provide education about research methods and the nuances of study design. APDT leadership hopes that as more research hits the press, trainers will read studies with a critical eye and make informed decisions about their application for training. As Blake points out, “One study simply advances a hypothesis, and ongoing research is needed to improve our understanding of dogs.” “Research helps broaden our view of what is possible,” add Nitschke. “The fact that cognitive studies sometimes disagree with each other is wonderful, because it means there is more for us to look at. Different studies with different results broaden our vision of what is possible.”

Research also has application in the classroom. “My students were blown away,” reports Johnna Chamberlain, who teaches at the Lang School in New York City, a school for gifted children with learning differences. That’s how she describes her students’ reaction to “Dogs Decoded,” the NOVA special on dog cognition. “[My students] hadn’t considered that dogs were communicating through their barks, bodies or tails. Since [my students] might have social or emotional delays in relation to perspective taking, it was a big deal for them to consider their own relationships with pets and realize that dogs are communicating and thinking in their own unique way.”

Thompson looks at the breadth of cognition research from a different angle; she wonders whether owners are providing for their dogs’ mental needs. “It’s important for owners to realize that dogs have real mental abilities and needs. Putting food in a dog’s bowl is just wasting his brain. It’s the little things — Kongs, Tug-a-Jugs, hiding kibble around the house — it’s not hard, and it’s a simple way to engage their natural abilities.”

“How you interact with dogs often depends on your impression of their abilities,” notes Juarbe-Diaz. Reframing our expectations, with a little help from research, could set up dogs to succeed in our primate world. As Gertrude Stein said, “I am because my little dog knows me.” Shouldn’t we do the same for dogs?

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This article first appeared in The Bark,
Issue 69: Mar/Apr/May 2012

Julie Hecht, MSc, is a canine behavioral researcher and science writer in New York City. She writes a behavior column for The Bark. She would really like to meet your dog. Follow on Dog Spies at Facebook and Twitter @DogSpies | DogSpies.com

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Submitted by Anonymous | July 20 2012 |

I got my dog when she was two weeks old. She is now 19 months. I've nearly spent every hour with her since first I held her. She was very sick when first I held her tiny body. She now weighs 78 pounds and is a beautiful and loving animal like I am. The only difference is that she's a German short-haired pointer and she thinks I am her mother.:)

The article states: "Thompson looks at the breadth of cognition research from a different angle; she wonders whether owners are providing for their dogs’ mental needs. “It’s important for owners to realize that dogs have real mental abilities and needs. Putting food in a dog’s bowl is just wasting his brain. It’s the little things — Kongs, Tug-a-Jugs, hiding kibble around the house — it’s not hard, and it’s a simple way to engage their natural abilities.”"

My comment to the above mentioned quote is rather simple. My little girl likes to play with the laundry that I take down from the clothes line then proudly runs around in circles while I chase after her. It's a game she has made-up. She surely keeps me fit! When she finds her favorite small ball I do think she purposely rolls it under the bed then runs to me and whimpers while running back to the bedroom. I follow her and she knows I'll get a broom and get the ball rolling again with it. She is a very smart and lovable dog. I love her and she loves me. We have lots of fun together because she thinks I am her mommy.:) I think she is my sweet and precious adorable little girl and she knows that to be the truth. She loves to snuggle up with me all the time more than likely because I first held her in the palm of my hand when first I got her. She was very sick when I first held her in the palm of my hand. Tiny little thing she was. I do think we animals cling to love and attention.

Submitted by Anonymous | June 5 2013 |

Dear Julie,
I'm going to update you on my little girl that now weights 84 lbs. She is a little over 2 1/2 years old since last I wrote the above.:) She was socialized immediately after having her first rabies vaccine by taking her to dog parks, walks along the beach and neighborhoods, camping, and just introducing her to the world we live in. She travels well in the car and enjoys the company of friendly creatures.:)I'm constantly told that she is beautiful and sweet. I nod my head in agreement.

This past Christmas I received by mail a magazine "Southern Living" that had an article with a picture which looks very much like her(1)only that her shinny coat is white with a tan diamond on her forehead, tan ears, tan swirls on her behind, and a few tan spots on one side of her. She has black spots under her white coat and on her belly. She is a fox hound, which is rare to find in my neck of the woods! I'm still trying to figure out how she turned out to be the breed she is since back when I first told you about her I was told by the vet she was a German short-haired pointer though when she was first given to me I was told she was a spaniel. It doesn't really matter what breed she is since I love her no matter what. She is extremely intelligent and will forever remain my baby girl though I must tell you that she is my protector. She guards me. An example is when I went camping. A wolf came into the campground and her growl was darn frightening. I feel safe with her when she is with me. I love her and she loves me.:) Life is filled with surprises and blessings. Bye the way, humans and dogs are placental mammals.(2)

Thank you for allowing me to share a small piece of our life with you and others.

1. http://thedailysouth.southernliving.com/2012/12/01/virginias-holiday-fin... (Scroll down the page to the town of Middleburg.)

2. http://www.ucmp.berkeley.edu/mammal/eutheria/placental.html

Submitted by Anonymous | June 5 2013 |

Dear Julie,
I'm going to update you on my little girl that now weights 84 lbs. She is a little over 2 1/2 years old since last I wrote the above.:) She was socialized immediately after having her first rabies vaccine by taking her to dog parks, walks along the beach and neighborhoods, camping, and just introducing her to the world we live in. She travels well in the car and enjoys the company of friendly creatures.:)I'm constantly told that she is beautiful and sweet. I nod my head in agreement.

This past Christmas I received by mail a magazine "Southern Living" that had an article with a picture which looks very much like her(1)only that her shinny coat is white with a tan diamond on her forehead, tan ears, tan swirls on her behind, and a few tan spots on one side of her. She has black spots under her white coat and on her belly. She is a fox hound, which is rare to find in my neck of the woods! I'm still trying to figure out how she turned out to be the breed she is since back when I first told you about her I was told by the vet she was a German short-haired pointer though when she was first given to me I was told she was a spaniel. It doesn't really matter what breed she is since I love her no matter what. She is extremely intelligent and will forever remain my baby girl though I must tell you that she is my protector. She guards me. An example is when I went camping. A wolf came into the campground and her growl was darn frightening. I feel safe with her when she is with me. I love her and she loves me.:) Life is filled with surprises and blessings. Bye the way, humans and dogs are placental mammals.(2)

Thank you for allowing me to share a small piece of our life with you and others.

1. http://thedailysouth.southernliving.com/2012/12/01/virginias-holiday-fin... (Scroll down the page to the town of Middleburg.)

2. http://www.ucmp.berkeley.edu/mammal/eutheria/placental.html