‘Dognition’ promises to help you better understand your dog

12/01/2012 8:19 AM

12/01/2012 8:20 AM

A new venture boasts it can strengthen the relationships between dog owners and their pets.

Dog lovers who avail themselves of the company’s service, which will be available over the Internet, will double as “citizen scientists” who contribute to our understanding of how man’s best friends think – that is, canine cognition. Hence the name of the company: Dognition.

A Duke University scientist, an entrepreneur and a large advertising agency have joined forces to create the venture.

“I want to understand more about animal psychology and how we can help dogs have richer lives,” said Brian Hare, co-founder and chief scientific officer.

Hare is an associate professor in evolutionary anthropology at Duke and founder and director of the university’s Canine Cognition Center. He’s also the co-author, along with his wife, science journalist Vanessa Woods, of the upcoming book “The Genius of Dogs: How Dogs Are Smarter Than You Think.” It’s being published Feb. 5 by Dutton, an imprint of the Penguin Group.

Dognition is based on the premise that engaging in what the company calls “science-based games” can give dog owners new insights into their pets’ behavior and bolster their relationships. If, for example, you discover that your beloved Butterball responds better to gestures than verbal commands, or vice versa, you can adjust your communication accordingly.

That’s the practical side of things, but there’s an emotional component as well. The founders of Dognition stress that people love their dogs and want to understand how they think, just as they want to know what makes their children or spouse tick.

Dognition plans to offer an assessment test, available over the Internet – including an app for your smartphone – that dog owners can administer to determine their dogs’ cognitive strengths and weaknesses and uncover new strategies for human-pet interaction. Each customer will receive a “Dognition Profile” report.

The company plans to start free beta testing soon and launch to the public in January. The likely cost will be $40 to $60.

The collective data that Dognition accumulates also hold the promise of expanding our scientific understanding of dogs, Hare said. Academic centers such as the one he leads at Duke only have the capacity to test a few hundred dogs a year, so opening up such tests to dog owners worldwide via the Internet has the scientist practically drooling.

“We’re going to make amazing discoveries,” he said.

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