science | April 14, 2013

Vanessa Woods: Are Dogs The Einsteins Of The Animal World?

In what the The Atlanta Journal calls a "provocative" and "buzz-worthy" new book, science speaker Vanessa Woods proposes that dogs may be among the smartest species in the animal kingdom. Co-written with her husband and Duke University professor of evolutionary anthropology Brian Hare, The Genius of Dogs has become an instant New York Times bestseller. And, as the The Atlanta Journal writes: "it is presented in a way that makes anthropology and cognitive science accessible to the average reader."

As the two authors discovered, dogs "exceed chimpanzees, bonobos, capuchins and every other primate in their ability to interpret human gestures." This close bond and unique ability to connect with a different species was an essential evolutionary component to the Einstein-like intelligence of dogs. And, our relationship with these canines was also a major contributor to our social development as humans as well. Early wolves that embraced what the book describes as a "survival of the friendliest" mentality were able to integrate themselves with early humans. This relationship both improved their intelligence and prompted some early hominids to come down from the trees and evolve into modern man as we know today. Our relationship with dogs also helped us develop social connection, communication and social cognition—specific characteristics that have made us who we are as a species.

The book has already generated a great deal of positive reaction. Drawing on her work as the co-founder of the Duke Canine Cognition Center, Woods explores how understanding the cognition of dogs can help us to unlock mysteries about our own intelligence. In the book, and her lively keynotes, she delves into the complex relationships between human beings and the animals we share the planet with. Woods uncovers the similarities and differences between people and animals—and teaches audiences what those findings mean for understanding our place on Earth.

Up Next

education | April 11, 2013