The Genius of Dogs: How Dogs are Smarter Than You Think is a scientific book of anthropological research in the field of “dognition.” Authors Brian Hare and Vanessa Woods present a thorough explanation of how dogs learn cognitively. They define genius as performing a task better than a close relative, in this case wolves. They have found that dogs are geniuses when it comes to understanding human gestures and learning our vocabulary. The book details several scientific experiments that they have completed with various dogs and other species to determine how capable dogs are at solving problems.
For me, one of the most interesting concepts in this book is this idea called “survival of the friendliest.” With the survival of the friendliest concept, the authors demonstrate how wolves became dogs.
When humans began to urbanize wolf territory, there essentially were two types of wolves. There were wolves that were afraid of humans and avoided all contact with them and there were friendly wolves that were curious about humans. The friendly wolves would often visit urban areas and consume trash and scraps thrown out by humans. This new source of food required less effort to obtain and was readily available. Humans tolerated these friendly wolves but the unfriendly wolves would be killed if they came near an urban area. As the human territory encroached upon wolf territory, the urbanization would have driven off the wolves natural prey and they would leave the area in pursuit of their prey or die of starvation. However, the friendly wolves would prevail.
As the friendly wolves survived, they would have continued to produce offspring that had a friendly temperament. Incidentally, the friendly wolves had a different genetic makeup and their reproduction resulted in morphological changes that transformed wolves into dogs.
Sounds far-fetched, right? Not so much. A Russian scientist named Balyaev conducted a secret genetic experiment under the guise of a commercial operation by breeding the silver fox. He maintained a control group and created an experimental group by breeding the friendlier foxes. Over time and through several generations, the experimental group experienced morphological changes such as changes in the color of their coat.
Another point I’d like to emphasize is from the preface of the book. The authors made a point to say that the audience may not necessarily agree with everything in this book, but that disagreement in science is actually welcomed as it helps us to refine what we know and we can learn new things. There were several things I did not agree with in this book, but there were also a lot of interesting studies and remarks that aided in my knowledge of canines.
I would recommend this book to anyone with an interest in science who wants to know more about the cognitive abilities of dogs.