Monday, February 3, 2014

Dognition: What did we learn?

A few of weeks ago, I shared my impression of Dognition, a science-based "personality test" for your dog, and said I would follow up with Bella's results. Sorry for the delay - Bella happens.

Moving on....

In reading through the report prepared for us by the Dognition team about Bella's results, there seemed to be a common thread running throughout and that is how many times the words (or sentiment) "This talent would come in handy in the wild" came up.

These are Bella's results for the initial Dognition games:

And below are just some of the insights provided in Bella's profile:

The overview:
"Bella is a specialist in independent problem solving, which requires a keen understanding of the physical world, a good memory and the ability to solve problems she has never seen before. Because she is so good at solving problems on her own, Bella does not need to rely on humans as much. While scores in the games testing social skills are solid, Bella's preferred strategy is definitely to work out problems without anyone's help."

(Jan would just like to say "Bella sounds a lot like her 'mom'".)
And the specifics:

"Being individualistic is something to be proud of. Perhaps you've noticed that Bella is excellent at self-entertaining, or is better at solving problems on her own."


"Of all the species that have been studied, dogs are the champions at using our communicative gestures. Even chimpanzees, who are one of our closest living relatives, do not rely on human gestures as much as dogs do. Instead, chimpanzees try to figure out these types of problems on their own.

Compared to other dogs, on this scale Bella was more like a chimpanzee. Although chimpanzees are extremely intelligent in other areas, when they play a similar game they do not use a human point to find the food. Instead, they tend to use more self-reliant strategies."


"Bella is the perfect example of a dog using cognitive strategies effectively. She knew she should wait when you were watching, and that it was safe to swoop in and take the treat when you had your back turned or your eyes covered.

The fact that Bella didn't wait as long to take the treat when your eyes were covered is impressive, since you looked almost exactly the same as when you were watching Bella... Bella's performance shows a sophisticated mind at work."


"Bella has an amazing working memory, which is a type of memory that allows your dog to keep information in mind for a few minutes and mentally manipulate it. This may sound simple, but working memory is crucial for any kind of problem-solving... This skill comes in handy in the wild. Feral dogs tend to be endurance hunters, slowly wearing down their prey."


"You can be very proud. Bella just aced the most difficult games in the Toolkit. Reasoning is the ability to solve a problem when you can't see the answer and have to imagine the solution. Unlike learning through trial and error, which doesn't necessarily require much understanding, reasoning requires that you truly understand the problem and the phenomena behind the problem.

This talent would come in handy in the wild, since animals often have to keep track of objects that become hidden.

Bella was able to solve the mystery by imagining different solutions and choosing the one that made the most sense. This leads to a lot of flexibility. She can solve a new version of a problem she has seen before, and spontaneously solve new problems she has never seen before. This is a sign of true genius.

Congratulations - when playing the most difficult game in the most difficult dimension, Bella's performance was masterful."
The theme continues in her performance in the monthly games (similar to the initial games but with instant results).

There was
  • The Numerosity game: "In the wild, there are many advantages to being as numerically savvy as Bella."
  • The Impossible Task game: "Not looking back to ask you for help is rather wolfish behavior... Persistence in situations like these is a valuable quality, and reflects your dog’s curiosity and determination."
  • And the Spatial Navigation game: "Bella would make a great explorer.... no matter which way she was oriented she would most likely go back to the bowl she had learned had food in the beginning. This strategy is particularly effective in large and unfamiliar environments."

Bella was bred to survive.

I guess what we've most discovered about Bella through these tests is that she was probably a bit more feral when she came to live with us than we realized. I wish we had known how feral at the time - we certainly could have made things easier for her.

Dr. Dodman has told us more than once, "She's smart. She's got it all figured out. She's just got it figured out all wrong."

Bella's life in an American home may be filled with stress and monsters but the way she thinks, the way she learns, would have served her well in the environment to which she was born.

I signed up for Dognition because I wanted to understand Bella better, hopefully learn a little bit about how she thinks so I could figure out how to help her cope with this life she's been dropped into.

One would like to believe that the life she's living now is far superior to any she had a chance of living on the island but she doesn't know what lay in store for her there. Maybe she could have survived a few years because of her cunning and her smarts. But one mistake could have meant a painful demise.

She doesn't know that though. And so she lives here with us worried about garbage cans, flies and the chirps of dying batteries.

But every day we continue to learn and teach and try. And she's such a willing partner in all of this.

My little hero...

If you have also gone through the games and gotten your dog's Dognition profile, I would love to read them. Please share in the comments or direct us to your own reviews!


  1. This is fascinating! I love seeing how her results were broken down. Do you think it helps or has informed your future training with her in any way? Or will her behavior team take these into consideration at all? I'm truly fascinated with this test and the results, but I guess I'm wondering if it's like the DNA test... interesting but more of a novelty than practical?

  2. Hi Maggie, I'm with you that I find the whole thing fascinating. But I wonder if I find it so because it's Bella (i.e. - a pretty messed up pup) and if I would have found it less interesting with my dog, Beau (aka Mr. Perfect).

    I'm not sure if we're using to to train her differently so much as to understand some of her behaviors more. We looked to the DNA test similarly - as a guide not a manual.

    I worked at a company once that had all of its employees take a course on Myers-Briggs type analysis. At the end of the session we were given cards to place on our desks that indicated our specific type (INFJ for me if you're wondering). The idea was to have a subtle reminder when you approach someone that not everyone thinks the same way you do and to understand and respect those differences.

    That's sort of how I'm seeing these tests with Bella: she does think and I find when I respect how she learns best, I can teach her better.

  3. Awesome! Thanks so much for sharing your insights. Incidentally, I'm an INFJ, too.

  4. Pamela | Something WaggingFebruary 4, 2014 at 9:00 PM

    Well Maggie asked what I was going to ask.

    But it looks like Honey is the anti-Bella. And I do find that her dependence on me does sometimes limit her problem-solving skills despite having lots of innate intelligence. She doesn't solve problems because she doesn't feel she has to.

    I wouldn't wish Bella's early life on her. But you are making me think about ways to give Honey more problem-solving independence.

    I've enjoyed reading your Dognition experience. I'm very tempted to try it with Honey. But like I said, I could probably take the opposite of Bella's results and find a perfect match.

  5. That's okay, Pamela. Since I once referred to Bella as the "anti-Golden Retriever" ( ), it seems appropriate Honey would in turn be the anti-Bella. :)

    Beau wasn't much of a "thinker". When he got into something he didn't know how to get out of, he'd sit down and wait for us to help him out. He was a much easier dog to live with as a result. But I also wonder if we could have given him more opportunities to develop that skill and what it would have done for him in the long run.

    I really do want to read the results other people are getting. It's one thing to navel-gaze about your own dog's results but it's something else entirely to have other results to 'compare' them to. (Not for negative or judgmental purposes but for a fuller understanding.)

  6. What a fun - and informative - test to have taken. Thanks so much for sharing your results with us. It sure sounds as if she was bred for the wild...

    I had someone once ask me if Meadow might have been happier living free. It was an interesting question to ponder....but, the dangers are not worth the "fun" of being on your own, I would think. Sure, it must have been a scary transition, but now, seeing how Meadow has come so far, and does not even like to go outside in the rain or the snow, I think she'd finally agree a home is where it's at.

    I'm sure Bella agrees, even if some scary things happen from time to time. (Damn those batteries!)

  7. These results are so interesting! I'm very tempted to try this with my two… I wonder how it would turn out?

  8. How interesting! I haven't done this and wasn't 100% sure of what it was until now. I wonder what it would say about Petal...
    Loved reading Bella's results! Thanks for sharing!

  9. Wow, this really is an interesting profile. I can definitely see how the Retrospective aspect of her personality might make it really difficult to overcome some of her challenges. If she's focused on how it WAS how does she embrace how it IS now? She is an enigma, but I really like the Dognition tests, thus far, in helping to unravel that.

  10. I think I can add some insight to this (and it will feature greatly in my post) since I am doing it with one messed up dog and one who is not perfect, but who wears his heart on his sleeve. I'm not finding many surprises in Kol's profile (though I'm not done and he could surprise me yet!), but Felix's...his is intriguing and strange and not even a little what I expected.

    I don't know that I would say I find it any less interesting with Kolchak. I'm definitely still fascinated to see how quickly he completes a task or not and it's hugely reaffirming for our relationship that I do "get him" as well as I thought I did. Seeing how black and white his results are might push me to push him outside his comfort zone a bit more and let him tackle things a bit more independently as opposed to jumping in and helping right away when he looks to me for guidance. I do see value in the exercise either way.

  11. That's a great point. I think if I could do the test with all three of my guys, it might help me relate to the each differently/in their own unique way. Look forward to reading your post!

  12. We've done the test with Charka, my GSD. She's similar to Bella in terms of being 'retrospective' and 'logical'. The top bit of the chart is very different :-) Charka is strongly "bonded", a bit more "collaborative" and not "wily" (I put bacon on the floor; told her to leave the bacon alone; and left the room for 2 min -- she went into a down and the bacon was still there when I came back). She IS a very different creature from your pup. How does this play out in our relationship and our training. My take with Charks is that we're on the same page... as a GSD or just as Charka, she needs to understand what's wanted... and then she'll give it...

    The bacon thing? I've been up and down with Dognition crew since _I_ though it's just training... and they think not all dogs will go this route. They may be right... and come Thanksgiving I'm putting the turkey on the floor (on a platter, of course), giving Charks a 'leave it' and walking out of the room. I'm betting the roast will be safe and that Big Dog will bet on future reward vs instant gratification... lol.

  13. Hi Paul, thanks for sharing your results with us! I still don't quite know where the training vs instinct line is drawn and would love to hear from more folks who come down on either side of the fence with their dogs.

    My Beau was a lot more like your Charka - I gave him a "drop it" command once when he had a piece of chicken in his mouth (that had been thrown in our yard) and he actually spit it out. While Bella has been extensively trained, I suspect her instinct to survive will *always* take precedent when she knows I'm not looking.

    I think all the dimensions taken together give the most insight into the way our dogs think and will behave - what's important to them, what's their priority. At any rate, I hope you'll come back and share how Charka does with that turkey test. I bet she aces it. ;)

  14. I have often said that I don't understand why Bella can't "let go" of her early experiences since she has lived with us faaaaaaaaaaaaarrrrrrrrr longer than she ever lived on the streets. Guess this is my answer. So given that we may never be able to change that, how do work with/around it? She is a puzzle.

  15. Hi, thanks for sharing your story.

    I tested my dog who is part Jindo and German Shepherd (and husky/ native sled dog mix), so he is a more primitive mix than many mixed breeds are. He scores similarly to Bella on ALL BUT the communication dimensions (he's significantly more collaborative.) He has even better memory and logic and is slightly less wily, and is actually a bit more individualistic than Bella.

    Spatial navigation game shows that Bella is allocentric (landmark) and good at it.
    My dog tested solidly egocentric in navigation, like male dogs, also good at that style.

    However he is not a reactive or fearful dog (I know!), and I think the extra individualism AND the more collaborative style makes a big difference.

    On the impossible task, my dog examined the container with his paws, then handed it back to me to open for him. He usually decides very quickly when he can't do something, and he's generally right-- considering that he can do near-impossible stunts to solve problems solo (this is why I got him-- he was too much of a handful even at 8 months old), he should know when he can't. But his impulse to ask for help is very much a sheepdog (and also sort of Jindo and primitive dog) thing. Even independent huskies and primitive dogs will pack together and communicate (woo woo woo) some on problems.

    I haven't heard of a Sato before, but Bella strikes me as possibly having the cognitive profile of a terrier-primitive dog mix. The aggressive terrier temperament is manageable in purebreds because they're bred so tiny, but cross terriers with a bigger dog and you can get an aggressively reactive and fearful mess. I would be interested to know if you ever had DNA results.

    Thanks for sharing your story, there is a lot of misunderstanding surrounding reactive dogs, such as they were always abused to be that way.

    I'm glad you have given Bella a good home.

    Has a DNA test ever yielded any results?