Games help test dog's abilities

Dog owner gains insight into her dogs' minds with specialized tests

WKMG(WKMG) -- Have you ever looked at your dog and just wondered why it does the things it does? Why do dogs drink out of the toilet or eat out of the trash? Why do they circle six times before lying down or howl when they hear a siren?

You probably haven't had any answers or insight into some of their behavior before -- but as Tina Nicolai found out, there is a way you can start to understand them.

[Read more about Dognition here]

It's really no secret -- Nicolai loves animals. She's got several cats, but in this case, it was all about her two rescue pups, Ginger and Edward.

The mixed breeds aren't puppies -- they're well into adulthood -- and there's a little bit of mystery behind their beginnings, especially for Edward.

"You know, we don't know where they are (from) when we bring them in from the streets, and how he spent his first two years, I don't know," Nicolai said.

So we turned to Dognition for some answers. Dognition.com is a website with a full assessment of games for dogs to play. When you record the results, the site gives you a profile and information to help
you see how your dog sees the world.

First, Nicolai was asked to pick the profiles she thought her dogs fit before we started the tests.

"I thought Edward was the 'socialite' category. He might be a little bit timid, but he seems to be socially adaptable to different situations and meeting new people. I didn't really see him as being a super smart dog to be honest with you," Nicolai said. "I thought Ginger was the 'renaissance' dog because her bandwidth seems to be very broad and she seems to be engaged and plugged into absolutely every dimension that life throws at her. If you tell her a rule once, she'll abide by it on an ongoing basis and she's fairly unflappable on breaking any rules."

Then, you start the assessments by start by filling out some information on your pup. The website asks things like if your pup understands the "sit" command, if he will steal food when you're not looking, and other common behaviors.

And then it's time for the games -- broken up into empathy, communication, cunning, memory and reasoning categories.

One of the "empathy" games called for Nicolai to yawn loudly to see if either pup would follow suit -- and time them, if so. In that instance, Edward yawned in 48 seconds, but Ginger never did in the time allowed.

In one of the "communication" games we played, the goal was to see if the dog would go to the treat on the side the owner was pointing to first, before eating the second.
Both dogs actually went to the same side every time, a move indicating they were playing it safe.

In a "cunning" game, the objective was to see if the dogs would take the treats while Nicolai's eyes were covered. Edward wasted no time, but Ginger actually chose to walk away -- going and lying down in the next room instead.

"That's so funny," Nicolai said.

Afterward, the games got a little bit more complex. One of the "memory" games instructed Nicolai to hide a treat under one of two cups while the dogs watched her do so. The dogs then had to wait a set amount of time before they were allowed to go find and eat the treat. Edward took his time, but when prompted, chose the correct cup. However, Ginger was clearly over the games at this point. She didn't look lost or confused, but rather went directly to Nicolai and pawed her for a treat as though she was choosing not to play the game.

[Learn more about the 9 Dognition Profiles, here]

"You're a silly girl," Nicolai said. "Kind of like (a) 'I don't even want to play this game. This is ridiculous for me' kind of way."

Ginger didn't want to complete the rest of the games at that point, so Nicolai decided she would try them another day to get a clear assessment of Ginger's personality.

"I was surprised with Ginger today," Nicolai said. "It probably doesn't have anything to do with intelligence, but more her coming to me as her leader and saying either A, 'Yeah, just give me the treat' or (B) 'I don't want to play this game anymore. I just want the treat. Let's just wrap it up.'"

But the real win of the day was the insight Nicolai said she gained with Edward.

"He's a 'stargazer.' Wow!" Nicolai said as she read his results. "There's more going on in a stargazer's mind than meets the eye."

Nicolai said she's hoping to get Edward involved in some volunteer work now that she knows more about him and sees he enjoys work-type tasks.

"It's giving me a little bit of insight into who Edward is, because I have struggled a little bit in the years since we've acquired him from the streets as to what's really going on," Nicolai said. "It makes me feel good that now I know what direction to move with him and what I can do to teach him to have a better life. I now know what to do with him and it touches my heart."

You can try the initial Dognition tests for a one-time fee of $19. If you want to continue to get new games and assessments to try with your dog, you can sign up for a yearly membership at $79, or monthly for the one-time $19 fee plus $9 a month.

This article is courtesy of WKMG-TV.

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