Dog Intelligence and the Science Behind their Affection

Chaser: Unlocking the Genius of the Dog Who Knows a Thousand WordsIn case you missed Sunday’s fascinatingĀ 60 Minutes segment entitled The Smartest Dog in the World about the scientific research on dog intelligence. Anderson Cooper interviewed eighty-six-year-old retired psychology professor Dr. John W. Pilley Jr. Ph.D and his border collie Chaser, a dog who could identify over a thousand toys.

It turns out that most two-year-old toddlers know about 300 words, and Chaser’s vocabulary is three times that. In fact in a test of more than 1,000 toys, each with a unique name, Chaser could correctly identify more than 95 percent of them every time.

60 Minutes Overtime‘s web segment Does Your Dog Really Love You? featured a five minute interview with the CNN correspondent as he talked about his own dog, Molly, an 11-year-old Welsh springer spaniel. Cooper is an unabashed canine fan who loves dogs of all kind.

Cooper had always wondered whether his dogs really loved him or were they just big scammers. Were they the most parasitic pet around he joked. Did they realize how to get that special treat with a strategic lick of the hand – one we invariably interpret as a kiss? Or did they sincerely seek affection?

Well according to Dr. Greg Berns, a physician and neuroscientist at Emory University, when a dog is making a lot of eye contact with you, it is just really enjoyable for them because they get an uptick in the love hormone called oxytocin. That is the same hormone that helps new mothers bond with their babies. It is released in both dogs and humans when they play, touch or look into one another’s eyes.

“When dogs and humans make eye contact, that actually releases what’s known as the love hormone called oxytocin.”

Berns has studied the human brain for more than twenty years. But three years ago was inspired to find a way to examine the brain activity of dogs by conducting MRI scans on them while they were still awake and un-sedated.

According to one of his findings, different parts of their brains are activated depending on whom a scent belongs to. When dogs sniffed swabs from strangers, the part of their brain associated with smell, an area right behind the nose, was activated. However, when they sniffed the sweat from an object belonging to their owner, a different area of the brain called the caudate nucleus, or ‘reward center’, was stimulated.

The data collected by another researcher, Brian Hare, an evolutionary anthropologist from Duke University, led to the creation of the web site, DognitionĀ®. It allows you to understand how your dog’s mind works and compares your dog to others, especially in relation to specific breeds. It’s a doggie intelligence test, if you will. He believes Chaser is the most important dog in the history of modern scientific research.

For my loyal followers, I also touched on the subject of breeds ad intelligence in a previous post “Is My Mutt Smarter Than Your Show Dog?” and listed the most intelligent dog breeds. Border Collies came out on top.

If you are interested in finding out more about the dog featured in the 60 Minutes segment, Dr. Pilley wrote a book called “Chaser: Unlocking the Genius of the Dog Who Knows a Thousand Words.” Though I’m sure that most dog owners are like me. No matter what the research reveals, our dog is still pretty darn smart. They may not show it all the time, so you’ll have to take our word for it!

Am I right dog people of the world? Tell me what you think or how you know that your pet should go to the head of the class.

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