Dog cognition scientist giving Petfood Forum 2018 keynote

Brian Hare, PhD, associate professor of evolutionary anthropology at Duke University, observes dogs to learn more about humans.

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image courtesy Brian Hare, PhD.
image courtesy Brian Hare, PhD.

Dogs observe, understand and react to the world in ways that may shed light on their owners’ minds. Brian Hare, PhD, associate professor of evolutionary anthropology at Duke University, studies dogs’ cognition to learn more about humans. Hare will present the closing keynote address at Petfood Forum 2018.

“To understand what it is to be human, you have to understand what it is to not be human,” Hare said in a presentation at Nestle Purina’s Better with Pets Summit in 2013.

Hare’s research seeks to explain how dogs’ brains understand their surroundings using their sight, smell and other senses. As pets, dogs’ owners and other humans influence their behavior, so Hare also studies how dogs interact with humans.

Pure versus mixed breed cognition

One of Hare’s observations may help breed-specific dog food makers. Hare found that purebred dogs tend to focus on humans when deciding on a behavior, following the cues of the primate to make a decision about their own actions. However, mixed breed dogs more frequently used their memories when determining their own actions.

These findings point out differences in cognition between dog breeds, Hare noted during his Summit presentation, but he has observed strong differences within breeds as well. Having data from more dogs could help Hare better understand the animals’ cognitive abilities.

Citizen science to help with dog cognition research

To increase the amount of dog behavioral data he has to work with, Hare founded Dognition. Dognition’s website allows dogs owners to evaluate their pooches using 10 games. These games test dogs’ empathy, communication, cunning, memory, reasoning and other factors.

Dognition results feed into Hare’s database. By collecting cognition observations from thousands of dog-owning citizen scientists, Hare dramatically increased the size of his test sample, which provided results that more accurately represent all dogs.

Biography of Hare

At Duke University in North Carolina, Hare is a core member of the Center for Cognitive Neuroscience. He received his doctorate from Harvard University, founded the Hominoid Psychology Research Group while at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology and subsequently created the Duke Canine Cognition Center when arriving at Duke.

Hare has co-authored three books and published over 100 scientific papers including in Science, Nature and PNAS. His work has been featured on television shows including “60 Minutes,” “NOVA” and “Nature” as well as the series “Is your dog a genius?” that he hosted for National Geographic Wild.

Hare’s book The Genius of Dogs, written with his wife Vanessa Woods, was a New York Times bestseller. Together they also founded the citizen science company Their new book, Survival of the Friendliest, will be published by Random House in 2018.

Petfood Forum 2018

At Petfood Forum 2018, Hare will present more details on his discoveries about dog cognition, along with what his canine studies taught him about humans.

Petfood Forum provides an opportunity for pet food professionals from around the world to network, exchange ideas and do business with one another and with the industry's leading pet food manufacturers and suppliers. Petfood Forum 2018 will take place at the Kansas City Convention Center in Kansas City, Missouri, USA on April 23 -25, 2018.

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