The glasses just kind of make Brodie look smart. (Photo: Mary Jo DiLonardo)
I thought I had the valedictorian, but turns out I have the prom king.
We adopted Brodie, an alleged border collie mix, last fall. Border collies, you may have heard, are supposed to be brilliant. They herd sheep, win agility competitions and stare you down until you give them whatever they want.
But Brodie and I just completed the Dognition assessment, a series of interactive games created by Duke University associate professor of evolutionary anthropology Brian Hare, as well as a bunch of scientists, researchers and behavioral specialists. Hare is the author of the New York Times bestseller "The Genius of Dogs" and host of the Nat Geo Wild miniseries "Is Your Dog a Genius?"
The Dognition games were designed to evaluate five core dimensions of a dog's cognition — empathy, communication, cunning, memory and reasoning. For $19.95, you can find out your canine best friend's personality profile. Is he an Einstein, a Renaissance Dog, an Expert, an Ace or — as in Brodie's case — a Socialite?
Yep, with my brainiac pooch, "social graces are the keys to the socialite's success." Is that like when someone isn't very intelligent, but you compliment them on their great personality?
No, say the folks at Dognition. Being social is his genius.
They say as much, in his detailed evaluation:
In a culture obsessed with academic achievement, sometimes it is easy to overlook the fact that gracefully interacting and communicating with others requires talent. In Brodie's case, he takes this talent to a whole new level — it is definitely his genius. Although Brodie is not as adept at independent problem-solving skills as other dogs, don't jump to any conclusions about his intelligence. Brodie relies on a very specific strategy — using you and other humans in his pack to get what he wants.
The brain games
On the bright side, the games are a lot of fun. They require treats, a few things you have around the house, a partner and your dog's mostly undivided attention.
My favorite was the first one. I had to hold a treat next to my eye and see how long Brodie could hold eye contact with me. That was his first "A." He stares at me all the time. I'm not sure if it's because he loves me with his whole heart and soul or because he's a border collie and staring is his thing.
The eye contact test was part of the empathy games. In this area, Brodie scored off the charts.
Judging by the extraordinary length of time Brodie spent gazing soulfully into your eyes, you probably often find him staring at you for no reason. You might wonder if Brodie is trying to tell you something … But Brodie may not want or need anything — he may be just hugging you with his eyes.
There was one where I showed him two cups. He watched as I hid a treat in one cup but then I pointed to the other cup and said, "find the treat!" So he had to decide whether to trust his memory or to trust me. In most of the trials, he trusted me. And I felt terrible for lying to him.
Watch a video of lots of dogs playing the game:
Surprisingly, that didn't put him at the high end of the trustworthy scale. Apparently, cunning dogs will take the treat when they know you're not looking, but trustworthy dogs may take the treat when you are looking but will be good when they're aware you can't see what they're doing.
The expert weighs in
Hare took a look at Brodie's results and emailed me some comments. He was impressed with our eye contact, pointing out how bonded we are. (Perhaps I shouldn't share that Brodie waits outside the bathroom door for me and greets me with crazy enthusiasm when I back from picking the paper up off the driveway.)
He does mention that Brodie trusts me over his own eyes.
"He is so reliant on your communication he sometimes ignores his own eyes," Hare writes. "Most dogs rely on their memory in the memory versus pointing game, so Brodie is really something when it comes to communication."
So maybe I am kind of proud.
Of course I am still convinced my pup is brilliant. He just happens to also be the life of the party. But I have to admit I was disappointed when the games were over. I'm not sure we can keep playing the same ones over and over. Sooner or later, he would hopefully get wise to my pointing-to-the-wrong-cup trick (or he'll just think I'm the dumb one.)
Dognition also offers a yearly membership with a new game every month and custom activities based on your dog's results. I'm thinking about signing up Brodie. But I'm afraid his games would be less chess and Scrabble and more Twister and Pin the Tail on the Donkey.
And to prove that Brodie isn't just a vapid party dog, here's a video of him messing with his stepbrother, Crash, in his crate: