Source: Psychology Today (Extract)
Posted: July 03, 2024

The book Dog Smart on social and emotional intelligence in dog breeds and mixes.

Recent years have seen a surge in research into various aspects of dog behavior, encompassing their social, cognitive, emotional, and moral dimensions, as well as the dynamics of dog-human relationships. Staying current with the evolving understanding of these remarkable canines, who inhabit diverse environments, can be challenging. Award-winning author Jennifer Holland, in her latest book titled “Dog Smart: Life-Changing Lessons in Canine Intelligence,” shifts the focus to unraveling the thought processes of dogs and deciphering their inner worlds. Drawing on solid scientific findings, expert interviews, and personal anecdotes, Jennifer explores the landscape of canine cognition, appealing to both academics and general readers. Her insightful work aims to enhance our ability to provide dogs with the optimal quality of life.

Why did you write Dog Smart?

To begin with, there’s an obvious reason: my profound love for dogs! I’ve always been fascinated by their remarkable abilities and behaviors. It struck me that what we consider the most quintessentially “dog” traits, like their extraordinary sense of smell and complex ways of communicating within their own species, could be interpreted as forms of intelligence. Intrigued by the concept of “multiple intelligences,” which is widely recognized in humans, I embarked on a journey to explore the various types of intelligence that define dogs as unique beings—both in relation to humans and in their own right.

How does your book relate to your background and general areas of interest?

Throughout my career, I have primarily written about animals, with a significant focus during my years at National Geographic on wildlife. However, my perspective shifted with the Unlikely Friendships series, which brought me closer to animals nearer to home—including the dogs that now share my bed. I have a deep affection for all animals and cherish the chance to delve into their worlds and understand their perspectives, no matter where they call home.

Who do you hope to reach with your interesting and important book?

I believe that dog enthusiasts will find both enjoyment and enlightenment in the book, but my goal extends to those who may harbor doubts about animals’ intelligence and abilities. While more individuals today acknowledge that non-human animals think, feel, make decisions, and solve problems, there persists a notion of human superiority. A slight shift in perspective could lead to a greater appreciation of how intelligence manifests uniquely across different beings. It doesn’t imply inferiority; rather, it signifies a distinct form of intelligence. One might call it “dog smart.”

What are some of the major topics you consider?

Initially, I delve into the evolution of dogs, appreciating their species’ remarkable adaptability, which has contributed greatly to their immense success. From there, my approach shifts towards exploring various facets of canine intelligence, including olfactory, social, communicative, and emotional abilities. To illustrate these forms of intelligence, I focus on working dogs, who have had ample opportunities to showcase their capabilities. This exploration naturally encompasses the integral role of their trainers, handlers, and owners. I had the privilege of spending time “in the field” with these dedicated individuals and their working companions—sniffer/detection dogs, search-and-rescue dogs, emotional support dogs, guide dogs, and others. This firsthand experience allowed me to observe how these animals relate to humans, learn, retain information, and make decisions.

I became deeply fascinated by dogs’ sensory perceptions and their nuanced methods of communication, recognizing the stark differences from our own experiences. Throughout my exploration, I weave in personal anecdotes that highlight my journey toward a deeper understanding of dogs. Lastly, I ponder how we can reciprocate by allowing dogs to utilize their senses and demonstrate their intelligence, even when their approaches may puzzle us.

How does your book differ from others that are concerned with some of the same general topics?

With the abundance of excellent books on dogs available, I endeavored to carve out my own distinct path into the subject matter. A key divergence was my direct exploration of dogs’ “multiple intelligences.” Additionally, I integrated a blend of personal narratives, field research, and expert interviews, synthesizing these elements in a way that offers a fresh perspective on the topic.

I immersed myself deeply and extensively into diverse contexts to gain a comprehensive and detailed understanding of my subjects. I intentionally experienced being attacked by a police dog, walked blindfolded with a guide dog, accompanied cadaver dogs and conservation sniffer dogs in action, observed military dogs during training sessions, and witnessed a dog undergoing an MRI scan with its brain activity displayed on a screen before me. Despite the scientific depth of the book, I’ve strived to make it highly engaging and enjoyable to read.

What are you hoping happens as people learn more about dog smarts?

Every animal enthusiast desires to witness greater respect and compassion towards our fellow creatures, and I believe that fostering new perspectives can catalyze positive change in this regard. Moreover, I advocate for understanding and embracing dogs’ unique language, allowing them the freedom to express their inherent dog behaviors whenever feasible. While manners are important in certain situations, constantly imposing human rules and cleanliness standards on dogs can stifle their natural instincts and essence. Dogs contribute significantly to our lives, and it is our responsibility to reciprocate by honoring their true selves and granting them the space to be who they are.