Discover Your Dog’s Genius: Playing Mind Games With Your Dog

Derek and Dani played to Dognition Assessment games together
Derek and Dani played the Dognition Assessment games together

Recently, Purina Pro Plan nutrition conducted a survey, which revealed that less than 20 per cent of dog owners are aware that their dogs are considered seniors at the age of seven years. As with people, canine cognitive function changes with age. Suddenly your dog may be staring at you for no apparent reason. Or, barking to get your attention.

The online survey asked 1 000 dog owners about healthy aging, their bond with their pet, canine brain health and nutrition to better understand consumers’ knowledge about canine health and well-being.

Some time ago when I gave a keynote talk at a conference attended by manufacturers of key ingredients in pet food,  in doing my research I learned that in fact the nutritional scientists at Purina have been studying the correlation between cognitive function and food for several decades. Years of research are in the bags of food now on shelves called Purina Pro Plan BRIGHT MIND formulas.

Such research has determined that around age seven, the glucose metabolism in a dog’s brain begins to change, which can affect memory, learning, awareness or decision-making. These new formulas feature enhanced botanical oils shown to promote alertness and mental sharpness in dogs seven and older to naturally nourish their minds and help them think more like they did when they were younger.

We all know that dogs are really smart. Dr. Brian Hare, a Professor of Cognitive Neuroscience at Duke University is the founder of the Duke Canine Cognition Center at the university. His publications on dog cognition are among the most heavily cited papers on dog behavior and intelligence. Hare’s first book, The Genius of Dogs is a New York Times Bestseller. He is the mastermind behind a series of science-based interactive games called Dognition that give dog owners an unprecedented perspective on how their dog sees the world. The idea is that by understanding your dog’s mind, you’ll build a deeper connection with the personality behind the bright eyes that greet you every day.

Purina Pro Plan and Dognition have teamed up to help dog owners learn about their dog’s cognitive style and nourish his mind with the brain-supporting nutrition. Starting this month and while supplies last, dog lovers who purchase any specially-marked bag of Purina® Pro Plan® BRIGHT MIND® dry dog food will receive an exclusive access code inside for a free Dognition® Assessment, a $19 value.

I have some special codes to giveaway too. Further, I decided to get one of my doggie testers named Dani to play the games with her Dad Derek. Dani and Derek have an amazing bond and do a lot of things together and Derek was keen to get a science-based assessment and to learn more about her thinking, learning, and problem-solving strategies.

The Dognition Assessment consists of 5 core dimensions of a dog’s cognition — empathy, communication, cunning, memory, and reasoning. Then, it generates the in dog‘s Dognition Profile Report, that will give the pet parents a richer understanding of their dog through analysis and insight from the world’s top canine experts. As part of the Purina/Dognition collaboration, dog lovers are invited to visit to learn more and play select Dognition games for free.

Here is Derek’s personal experience with Dani.

My dog Dani is a “Charmer,” according to her Dognition profile. I took the Dognition tests with my 4-year-old Australian Cattle Dog mix because I wanted a better understanding of her behavior and personality. She is my best friend after all, and through Dognition I now know her much better.

An excerpt from her profile reads:

“Dani has exceptional social skills, which means she can read your body language like a book. Dani’s real genius is that she sees you as an ally and partner, and she will usually turn to you for help before trying to figure out a problem on her own.”

I not only found the profile results and statistics interesting but was amazed about how well her profile matches her personality. Dani watches my every move and will usually dart to me anytime she finds a new toy, hears a noise, or loses on old toy just out of reach.

So what does the Dognition test entail?  The assessment consists of a series a games or exercises you perform with your dog that are organized into 5 categories: Empathy, Communication, Cunning, Memory, and Reasoning. Each game and category tests something different about your dog to come up with their overall personality profile.

The games are all structured so that you have a partner to help you. This was a bit inconvenient for me because my wife works very long hours, but I was able to play most of the games just fine with no one’s help but my dog. There were a few games, however, where a partner is absolutely necessary and my wife and I played them with Dani together. The entire assessment took us about 4 hours spread out over a week.

Some of the games are very simple. One of the Empathy exercises is to yawn at your dog and see if they yawn back. Other games were much more complicated. The Memory games have you hide treats underneath cups and give your dog various cues and see which cup they choose. Other games use arm and foot pointing to see how your dog interprets your attempts at various forms of communication. The tests do not directly measure intelligence in the traditional sense and there is no right or wrong answer. Each performance exercise simply reveals a characteristic of your dog, such as impulsive vs logical, self-reliant vs collaborative, or individualistic vs bonded. All these results combined are used to determine your dog’s behavior profile.

There was one assessment, however, that I was very disappointed with and do not think it is well thought out or accurate. This was the Cunning section. The games basically involve you showing a treat to your dog and telling them to leave it while you either watch them, turn your back, or cover your eyes, and you record whether or not your dog “steals” the treat. The scale for the results of this test range from Trustworthy to Wiley. Dani NEVER once took the treat after being told not to. She understands that just because I cannot see her, it does not mean that it is ok to take something that is explicitly forbidden. This should be the epitome of trustworthiness.The results, however, came back as neither Trustworthy nor Wily with this explanation:

“In order to be at either end of this cognitive dimension, Trustworthy or Wily, Dani must show that she can tell when you are looking, and use this information when deciding when to go for the treat. In this case, Dani’s decision did not change no matter which attention state you presented .

If the goal of the test was to see if your dog can tell whether or not you are looking, then the test is flawed. A well-trained dog will obey a hard command like “leave it” regardless. Thus invalidating the methodology of this game in my opinion.

Overall we enjoyed the games and (most) of the results very much.

The website is easy to navigate and the all the games have detailed explanations and videos showing you what to do. I would recommend Dognition to anyone who wants a better understanding of their dog’s behavior and perception towards you and the world. Dognition also contains a great deal of information about dog behavior in general. And of course, the main reward to to spend some time and learn more about your best friend.

You can learn more about the Survey in this infographic.


This post was sponsored by the Nestle Purina PetCare Company. However, all opinions are my own. I only write about topics, events and products that I consider readers will consider useful information and relevant to their interests. Derek received a free Dognition code in order to conduct the tests with Dani


tip of the day

Young catIf your cat loves to drink water from a running tap, consider getting a drinking fountain for her. Cats in the wild drink running water and a pet drinking fountain recreates this in the home.