Doggie degrees are the latest trend in higher ed.
Pet owners can enroll their dogs in "college," and forever after, drive around with bumper stickers that read, "My dog made it to the Ivy League."
But higher education for dogs isn't really about educating the animal—it's a way for research universities to tap into pet owners' enthusiasm and recruit their dogs for canine cognition studies.
Canine cognition is a rapidly growing academic field. Researchers at major research universities such as Duke University and Arizona State University are striving to build a clearer definition of doggie intelligence. But the research is expensive, and funding for the cause is hard to come by. In many cases, researchers are turning to pet owners to help collect data.
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Three years ago, Yale University established a canine cognition center, where students perform research exercises, puzzles, experiments, and brain games on volunteer dogs. Owners are happy to volunteer their pets for Yale's studies, which come with the perk of being able to boast that your dog is smart enough to "attend" the Ivy League.
Researchers hope to determine exactly what "smart" means for the canine species—naturally, researchers can't compare dog intelligence to established levels of human intelligence.
Frans de Waal, a biologist and primatologist at Emory University, says pet owners often confuse intelligence with trainability.
"People think dogs are more intelligent than cats because they obey," Waal explains. "But it's not the same thing."
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Similarly, researchers say that people also believe the most intelligent dog breeds are those that are most obedient. In a 1999 survey, dog obedience judges rated the top three "smartest" dog breeds as:
- Border collies;
- Poodles; and
- German shepherds.
And on the opposite end of the spectrum, the "least smart" dog breeds were:
- Bansenjis; and
- Afghan hounds.
But if you own a bulldog, don't fret: Experts say the survey wasn't a scientific measure of intelligence. And besides, even canine cognition researchers admit that the most important quality in a dog is affection (Hoffman, New York Times, 1/7).