What Does Your Dog Think?

(CNN) -- Sit! Shake! Quit barking! Get off the couch! Go find your toy!

Ever wonder what your dog is thinking as it gazes at you while you are giving it commands?

Duke University's Canine Cognition Center in Durham, North Carolina, is one of the few labs in the country focused on how dogs think.

"We're excited about describing the psychology of our dogs," says professor Brian Hare, the lab's director. "Different dogs solve different problems differently. And what we want to understand is: What is it that either makes dogs remarkable as a species or what is it that constrains the ability of dogs to solve problems?"

To test the dogs' ability, Hare and a team of graduate students put dogs through a variety of games similar to those you might play with young children.

"We don't want to look at cute pet tricks. What we want to know is, what does the dog understand about its world?" Hare said.

Hare has been analyzing our four-legged friends for about 15 years. He says dogs have figured out how to read human behavior and human gestures better than any other species has, even chimpanzees.

"The way they think about their world is that people are superimportant and they can solve almost any problem if they rely on people," says Hare.

Children start relying on adults' gestures when they're about a year old. That's about the same age that dogs start to recognize and rely on humans, too, Hare says.

When both I and Hare tried to direct Hare's dog Tazzie to a cup that had a treat in it, Tazzie took his master's cue and went toward the cup. I was a stranger to Tazzie, so the dog didn't rely on my information.

"He's grown up with me," says Hare. "We do lots of stuff together. He's never met you before, so he's saying, look, if they're both telling me where to go, I'm going to trust the guy who I'm with all the time."

According to Hare, this proves dogs are complex social animals who understand they have different relationships with different people.

"They really narrow in and pay attention to you and they want to know what it is about the world that you can help them with," he says.

Researchers at Duke are studying dogs to better understand their limitations. If they can identify why dogs make mistakes, they believe they can help them improve. That could mean making dogs better at working with people with disabilities or better at working with the military.

"They are a very different species and they think about the world differently than we do. And we need to figure out what are the constraints on how they solve problems, how is it that they think differently from us. And I think that we're going to be able to have a much, even richer relationship with dogs than we already do if we figure all that out," says Hare.

The professor says even though domestication has made dogs smarter, they are not perfect. Still, they're so smart, he says, that they can understand the principle of connectivity.

"They know they're connected on a leash and [dogs reason] 'Well, now I have to listen, because if I don't do what you say you can stop me. Where if I'm ... not on a leash, well, yeah, I know the command but I don't have to listen to you now,'" explains Hare.

And just like children, dogs also understand that if you turn your back, they can misbehave, especially after their owners have told them not to do something.

"Your dog takes the food you just told it not to take, and you're really upset because your dog disobeyed you, and you think that your dog is not obedient. Well, no, no, no, your dog was obedient but it realized that it could get away with it," says Hare.

At the end of the day, dogs may rely on humans, but they also use their skills to manipulate their owners and the world they live in. And even though dog owners like to think they're in command, the professor says it may actually be Fido who is really in charge.

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  • by Obama Snake Oil Co Location: Washington on Nov 23, 2010 at 04:41 PM
    Part II: I told her that it was essentially a Perfect Diet and that the way that it works is, to load your pants pockets with Purina Nuggets and simply eat one or two every time you feel hungry. The food is nutritionally complete so it works well and I was going to try it again. (I have to mention here that practically everyone in line was now enthralled with my story.) Horrified, she asked if I ended up in intensive care, because the dog food poisoned me. I told her no, I stepped off a curb to sniff a poodle's but and a car hit me. I thought the guy behind her was going to have a heart attack he was laughing so hard. Costco won't let me shop there anymore.
  • by Obama Snake Oil Co Location: Washington on Nov 23, 2010 at 12:56 PM
    Part Two; I told her that it was essentially a Perfect Diet and that the way that it works is, to load your pants pockets with Purina Nuggets and simply eat one or two every time you feel hungry. The food is nutritionally complete so it works well and I was going to try it again. (I have to mention here that practically everyone in line was now enthralled with my story.) Horrified, she asked if I ended up in intensive care, because the dog food poisoned me. I told her no, I stepped off a curb to sniff a poodle's butt and a car hit me. I thought the guy behind her was going to have a heart attack he was laughing so hard. Costco won't let me shop there anymore.
  • by Obama Snake Oil Co Location: Washington on Nov 23, 2010 at 12:55 PM
    If you thought that was funny; Part One; Yesterday I was at my local COSTCO buying a large bag of Purina dog chow for my granddog, Mugs the Wonder Dog, and was in the check-out line when a woman behind me asked if I had a dog. What did she think I had, an elephant? So since I'm retired and have little to do, on impulse I told her that no, I didn't have a dog, I was starting the Purina Diet again. I added that I probably shouldn't, because I ended up in the hospital last time, but that I'd lost 50 pounds before I awakened in an intensive care ward with tubes coming out of most of my orifices and IVs in both arms.
  • by Mike Location: Jax on Nov 22, 2010 at 05:48 PM
    Tuchee Obama snake oil. I'd laugh my butt off but my dog is sniffing it. LOL
  • by Obama Snake Oil Co Location: Washington on Nov 19, 2010 at 11:00 AM
    Actually Voter, my golden, like the one in the picture, is a democrat, yep, that really hurt, she thinks like one. She doesn't work, eats for free, gets handouts everyday, doesn't pay for a house to live in or utilities and lays on the couch watching animal planet all day. She then wants to go out and show everyone she is a DEM (Dirth Elitist Marxist), struts around, sniffs crotches, ignores working dogs and want all dogs to have the same life. SBK, I had three at one time, Jedi? They used the power of the darkside, one to distract you while the other grabbed the drum stick...
  • by Audra Location: SoCal on Nov 19, 2010 at 10:50 AM
    Voter: What OSOC was saying is that professionally trained dogs with the right purpose don't profile. He didn't need to be that detailed to get the point across. The only reason they aren't using dogs is that uppity people associate the image with a communist country mentality. I'd rather see dogs than be irradiated or groped either one. Thanks. All these machines are about someone's public image. They want to LOOK like they're using the lates and greatest technology to take care of us. It's flawed like everything else. I'm not impressed. As to dogs... I don't know what they're thinking but I'm pretty sure an old joke about what they're hearing is true: Rover... blah blah blah blah. Rover blah blah, Rover. Blah blah blah , Rover.
  • by voter Location: nc on Nov 18, 2010 at 05:14 PM
    snake 01:23 ,,dogs don't profile huh? how about you send your pals lavon and dodo man to my humble abode and we'll see what happens. (they don't like democrats,,what'd ya think i meant?)
  • by Mike Location: Jax on Nov 18, 2010 at 04:57 PM
    Back in the 80's the Navy set up a "waste fraud and abuse" hotline to call. This story certainly qualifies. Going on for 15 years, WHOA!
  • by SBK Location: NC on Nov 18, 2010 at 04:40 PM
    I've got two dogs and they both use Jedi mind tricks to force me to give them treats. Help.
  • by oncebittentwiceshy on Nov 18, 2010 at 04:23 PM
    This guy is a Duke Professor?Any person that has had dogs for a few years knows this.Just dont get a bull dog or something that looks like one.Next thing you know you or your friend will be mauled in the face like that chimpanzee done to that woman in Conn.
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