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Your Dog May Be Smarter Than You Think

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(CBS4)

(CBS4)

Rhiannon-Ally-600x450 Rhiannon Ally
Rhiannon Ally is the current co-anchor of “CBS4 This Morning”...
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Healthwatch

MIAMI (CBSMiami) – Can a dog empathize with human emotion? According to researchers, they are one of the few species that can express empathy, and thanks to Dr. Brian Hare it’s possible to discover more of what’s hiding behind your dog’s puppy eyes.

Dr. Brian Hare, author of The Genius of Dogs and director of the Duke University Canine Cognition Center is the brains behind “Dognition,” a website which features a series of online tests that can help you gauge your pooch’s intelligence.

“About 10 years ago, science woke up to the idea that dogs are truly remarkable, and there’s been a lot of interest and attention in understanding them better ever since,” said Dr. Brian Hare.

Hare believes that dogs are smarter because they can interpret human gestures and visual cues which something unique to the species.

“It’s an ability dogs are really born with. They’re predisposed to understand people in this pretty remarkable way,” said Hare. “This is something that evolved during domestication — essentially, dogs becoming friendlier. They became smarter.”

Curious dog owner Jen Wehrung said, “It’s very clear that she’s got an agenda. I just don’t always know what it is, and it’s pretty fascinating to watch.”

“I’m always curious the way a dog’s brain differs from ours; how they attach meaning to certain things,” said Andrew Champlin of Astoria.

“About 10 years ago, science woke up to the idea that dogs are truly remarkable, and there’s been a lot of interest and attention in understanding them better ever since,” said Dr. Brian Hare.

But animal behaviorists believe it’s difficult to measure what makes a dog smart. For example, you may think well-behaved and highly-trained animals, such as police and service dogs, would be the brightest, but that is not necessarily the case.

“When we think about intelligence, often the best marker is the idea of the ability to adapt to new situations,” said Dr. Steven Zawistowski, an animal behaviorist with the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. “A stray dog living on the street needs to be intelligent how to avoid cars, how to find food, how to recognize people who are perhaps threatening.”

Caren Geberer also wants to know what her dog, Gracie, thinks, and what goes on in her head.

“What I really wanted was information, so she and I could play more intelligently,” Geberer said, “how she thought and what motivated her.”

Geberer tried the online tests to gain better insight into her dog’s intelligence.

Everyone thinks their dog is smart, so CBS4’s Rhiannon Ally also put her dog, McCoy, to the test.

Ally hid a treat under one cup, then pointed to another cup without a treat. Would McCoy follow her instructions even though they are wrong, or would he rely on instinct and his nose and choose the cup with the treat?

He ended up getting it right half the time.

“You can have a dog that is incredibly communicative, is really reliant on gestures, or you can have a dog that isn’t,” according to Dr. Hare. “There are no right or wrong answers. It’s not about your dog being smart or dumb. It’s just trying to understand them as an individual.”

There is also a test to see if your dog can mimic a yawn. Researchers said it shows empathy — dogs are one of the few species that can express it.

“We know that dogs look at our faces differently than other animals do,” Zawistowski said. “There’s been a co-evolution in many ways — dogs have been with us for so long that they’ve adapted to us, and we’ve adapted to them.”

As for cats, there has been very little research published about them. From a scientific perspective, they are still a mystery.

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