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Didis Dogs
How Smart (Or Not) Are Our Dogs?
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Dear Didi: I wish I could crawl into my dog’s head and see what she is thinking. Do you have a book that you would recommend that speaks to the intelligence of dogs or the lack thereof? Sometimes my dog just seems oblivious. I point at things and he stares at my pointer finger. Do we give them more credit than they are due? Or are they seriously underestimated? –Curious dog parent


Dear Curious: This has been the topic of laboratory studies at a few universities in the past few years. Behaviorists seem to have been very busy studying dolphins and chimpanzees while ignoring man’s best friend. In the last decade science has woken up a bit and I think we have learned more in the last seven years than we’ve ever known about canines. We are taking second looks at how they evolved, who domesticated whom, and why dogs have been so successful on Earth.

The first book I would recommend was written by Dr. Brian Hare and Dr. Vanessa Woods in 2013. “The Genius of Dogs: How Dogs are Smarter than You Think” is a fun read. It explains in detail some of their experiments and even invites you to sign up online to participate in a study with your dog by performing an experiment and reporting your results. He even delves into your question about pointing to things! They discuss types of intelligence and their values to survival, wolf/dog comparisons, training and how dogs communicate. You won’t be able to put this book down if you enjoy the process of how a scientist goes about determining how an animal thinks.

A book that affected my approach to interpreting canine behavior was published in 2006. “Animals in Translation” by Temple Grandin provides an amazing look from a different perspective. I truly believe it altered the path of many behaviorists. Temple Grandin is a brilliant Ph.D. and is autistic. I am not sure if her amazing insights in this book are lesson in how animals think or lessons in how an autistic mind thinks. Either way the connections between the two make for an unforgettable read.

An older book that was groundbreaking for its time was written by a veterinarian in 1990 and was a required read while I was in school (Texas A&M University). “The Dog’s Mind” by Bruce Fogle explains thoroughly what your dog’s natural senses are compared to us. Everyone knows a dog’s sense of smell is better than ours but what about their eyesight? Understanding how their senses vary from ours is the foundation to understanding their thought processes!

In answering your question, I realized I have somewhere around 50 books on my shelves about dogs. They vary in topics. Grooming methodology, anatomy, canine first aid, breed conformation, and tons of training philosophies. These are the three I value the most!



Dierdra McElroy is a graduate of Texas A&M University and is an Animal Behaviorist specializing in canines. If you have questions or concerns about the pets in your house, you can get them answered through a future column of Didi’s Dogs. For a free consultation with Dierdra or to ask your dog behavior question, email