Thursday, March 7, 2013

Brian Hare & Vanessa Woods's "The Genius of Dogs"

Brian Hare is the Director of the Duke Canine Cognition Center and an Associate Professor in both the Center for Cognitive Neuroscience and the Department of Evolutionary Anthropology at Duke University. He is the founder of Dognition, a website where people can discover the genius of their dog, and the author of the New York Times bestseller, The Genius of Dogs.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to The Genius of Dogs and reported the following:
From page 99:
Miraculously, a beach appeared, the kind you would expect to see in the Bahamas. The sand was white and fine, strewn with dried palm fronds. We pulled up and dragged the canoe onto this unlikely shore.

A black form shimmied down a tree trunk and lead her family onto the beach. They were bonobos - our closest but almost forgotten relatives.
Page 99 finds me deep in the Congo basin with our closest living relative – the bonobo. What does this have to do with dogs? It turns out, quite a lot. One of the biggest surprises in my research with dogs was that they have a special kind of intelligence – the ability to read human gestures. Normally, we assume that you have to breed smart animals to get smart animals. But what I found out on a fox farm in Siberia was that actually, dogs were probably bred to be friendly, then got smarter by accident.

It looks like the same thing happened in bonobos. Being much more friendly and tolerant than our other closest living relatives, chimpanzees, has also given bonobos a special intelligence – they are better able to solve a range of cooperative tasks.

This has implications for human evolution. We often assume that smarter humans produced smarter humans. But what if, like dogs and bonobos, we became friendlier first, and then got smarter by accident?

We often think of survival of the fittest as being the survival of the meanest. But in the case of dogs, bonobos, and maybe even humans, it looks like a case of survival of the friendliest.
Learn more about The Genius of Dogs at the publisher's website.

Visit Brian Hare's website and Vanessa Woods's website.

--Marshal Zeringue