Dogged Determination: Studying Man’s Best Friend

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05/29/13
In the Magazine
Elke Vogelsang/Flickr, via Getty

WHEN BRIAN Hare talks about hounds, sometimes he seems just too telegenic to be taken seriously; sort of Fido’s version of Dr. Phil. The book he co-authored with his wife, Vanessa Woods, The Genius of Dogs, was packaged as a bestseller from start to finish. But this professor at the Duke Institute for Brain Sciences has had a couple of impressive ideas. The first was to look closely at what makes dogs so responsive to humans. The conclusion was that fairly early in their evolutionary development dogs chose to be with people, and that was their original genius. As they evolved in human company they became, arguably, the second-most successful species on earth. But other scientists have been down that path. Hare’s real genius may be the way he plans to expand and fund his research. He’s asking dog owners all over the world to become “citizen scientists”: conduct simple experiments with their pets, share the results with him, and pay a rather handsome $99 a year for the privilege. It’s all done through a website (and app, of course) called Dognition. Those who participate get a much better understanding of their pets; Hare gets all that valuable data.

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