Best friends know us better than we think

DSCF1063In a mystery, what’s one sign that you’re dealing with an intelligent and savvy suspect?

The thought came up as I read a report in which a man was shot in the leg while driving near Sebring, Fla. The victim was not seriously injured.

The odd thing about the incident was that the man was shot by his dog.

According to news reports, the dog kicked a pistol lying on the floor of the truck. The gun went off. The victim, Gregory Lanier, 35, told police that he thought the handgun was not loaded.

“Sebring Police Cmdr. Steve Carr said police did not arrest the dog or detain the animal, pending the investigation,” the Highlands Today edition of the Tampa Tribune reported.

That’s right. Like any good mystery mastermind, the dog made it look like an accident.

Research over the last 10 years has shown that dogs are not only more intelligent than previously thought, but also understand humans much better than anyone imagined.

In a new book, “The Genius of Dogs: How Dogs Are Smarter than You Think,” authors Brian Hare and Vanessa Woods point out that our best friends understand us in a way that no other animal does, even our closest primate relatives.

If you point to an object, a chimpanzee or orangutan will look at your finger. A dog will look where you’re pointing. In fact, you don’t have to point. Many dogs will follow your gaze to see what you’re looking at.

Dogs have been interacting with people for about 40,000 years. That’s a really long time in dog years.

Over thousands of generations, the wolf descendants that figured out how best to work with humans tended to be the most successful. In a contrast to the common view of “nature red in tooth and claw,” the animals that were less aggressive, more friendly and more cooperative tended to be the ones that won out.

Now, dogs have come a long way from their lupine ancestors, according to a recent “Smithsonian” article, “Why Dogs Are More Like Humans than Wolves.”

In the 20th century, researchers were astonished to learn that chimpanzees used sticks at primitive tools, something they thought only humans did. Now, we’ve found another animal.

“The genius of dogs is that they use probably the most powerful tool on Earth to solve problems—humans,” the Smithsonian article said.

If a human toddler learns the names of a set of objects and has a new object added to the group, then is given a new term, she’ll figure that the new name goes with the new thing.  Scientific research has found only one other animal that does that, the family dog.

Dogs are not secretly plotting to get us. Even if you trust Fido, however, it’s probably not be the best move to leave a pistol bouncing around the truck cab, particularly when you don’t know if it’s loaded or if the safety’s off.

Dogs have demonstrated their loyalty for tens of thousands of years.

In fact, the most amazing thing about our genius friends is that they know us better than any other animal in the our long history and they still love us unconditionally.

It can make you wonder who’s the superior species after all.

Guy Busby is a writer living in Silverhill. He can be reached at guylbusby@gmail.com and at guybusby.com.

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