There is little question that dogs play a huge role in the lives of many people. They aren't just pets - instead, they oftentimes are important and beloved members of their human families.
For dog researcher and evolutionary anthropologist Brian Hare, the close bonds between dogs and humans are far from surprising. In his book, "The Genius of Dogs: How Dogs Are Smarter Than You Think," Hare and his wife, Vanessa Woods, describe how the evolution of dogs from wolf to "man's best friend" refined a unique intelligence and skill set that make dogs the second-most successful mammal species on the planet.
"The Genius of Dogs" provides a thoughtful and entertaining account of the last decade's explosion of research and understanding about where dogs came from, how they think and why they have become such cherished and beneficial companions to humankind.
Starting with the discovery of a puppy's seemingly innate and unique ability to understand human gestures and body language, "The Genius of Dogs" explains the generations of domestication and skill-building that allow dogs to be so successful in a human world. The book also explores how humans benefit from this relationship and what that relationship might look like as it continues to evolve.
Hare studies dog and primate intelligence at the Center for Cognitive Neuroscience at Duke University's Institute for Brain Sciences and is co-director of the Duke Canine Cognition Center. He has published dozens of empirical articles in peer-reviewed scientific journals, and his publications on dog cognition are among the most heavily cited papers on dog behavior and intelligence.
Since the publication of their book and in order to expand their research, Hare and Woods created a website - dognition.com - where for a subscription fee, dog owners can test their own dog's types of intelligence. In return for contributing the data gleaned from the test for ongoing research, dog owners will receive a detailed account of their dog's skill levels for empathy, communication, cunning, memory and reasoning, and how their dogs compare to all of the other dogs in the database.
Engaging and conversational, "The Genius of Dogs" offers compelling reading for anyone interested in the intellect shining behind the eyes of their pooch, as well as those interested in the science of measuring it.
Bob Kustra is president of Boise State University and host of Reader's Corner, a weekly radio show on Boise State Public Radio, at 6 p.m. Fridays; it repeats Sundays at 11 a.m. on KBSX 91.5 FM. Previous shows, including an interview with Hare, are available for podcast at http://boisestatepublicradio.org/programs/readers-corner.