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On ‘Nova,’ Duke expert analyzes how dogs think

By Mark Washburn
Mark Washburn
Mark Washburn writes television and radio commentary for The Charlotte Observer.

Brian Hare says we’ve learned more in the last decade than in the previous 100 years about dog psychology, and he should know.

An associate professor at Duke University who founded the Duke Canine Cognition Center and who works with the Hominoid Psychology Research Group, Hare studies how animal brains work like those in human heads. Hare appears this month in a three-part “Nova” series debuting 9 p.m. Wednesday on WTVI (Channel 42) and WUNG (Channel 58), “Inside Animal Minds.”

“As infants, we’re totally helpless,” says Hare. “How do we go to become these cognitive powerhouses? Animals have a lot to say about that.”

Even as puppies, dogs exhibit communication behaviors and social skills similar to human infants rather than other primates. “It makes sense because they’ve evolved with us,” Hare says.

Author of the book “The Genius of Dogs,” Hare believes the domestication of dogs between 15,000 and 40,000 years ago changed human civilization and altered our social system. One popular theory on how humans and dogs became best friends:

Some bold wolves began scavenging human garbage piles and went on to domesticate themselves.

“There’s some pretty good evidence that’s what happened. There were some wolves that figured it out. They said, ‘This could be a sweet deal.’ And they were right about that.”

In the “Nova” series, experts explore the problem-solving abilities of various animals, including crows, believed by some to be the most intelligent birds. Dolphins, elephants and other critters strut their intellectual stuff as well.

But it is the bond between dogs and people that most humans identify with. Dogs are far more than pets – they’ve worked beside us with their superior senses like smell for thousands of years, and we’re still finding new jobs for them.

“Funniest thing of all is that during the great recession there was an explosion in jobs for dogs – a dog job boom,” says Hare. “They’re more useful than ever because people are finding more things they can do – detecting cancer, finding the presence of endangered species, helping autistic kids and even helping kids learn to read.”

Hare has a website, Dognition.com, that suggests games dog owners can play with their pets and compare their results with thousands of others to see how they rank.

Hare also studies primates, including bonobos, which are one of our cousins, like chimpanzees. Bonobos seem to have a philanthropic side to them, like humans. If they get an economic windfall such as an unexpected pile of bananas (like one of us hitting the lottery), they naturally share the wealth with others of their kind. “This species likes to help others,” Hare says.

Hare shares his own Chapel Hill home with a mutt named Tasmania, though its not a canine Phi Beta Kappa candidate. Taz is a bit forgetful, but beloved just the same.

Media Movers

Longtime Charlotte broadcaster David Rhew, a WBTV (Channel 3) reporter who became assistant general manager of WTVI (Channel 42) and has been host of the station’s “Off the Record” public affairs program since 2012, will leave the PBS affiliate on April 25. He says he’s considering his next move. “I’m confident the station is going in the right direction with the right leader in place. I’m listening for God’s call to help me discern which career opportunity in front of me fits my skill set and where I can make the greatest difference in the lives of people in this community.” Amy Burkett, WTVI’s director and general manager, says she expects “Off the Record” to continue after Rhew’s departure, perhaps with rotating hosts. …

Evening anchors Christine Noel and Kirk Hawkins have left WCCB (Channel 18) and Will Kennedy joins the 10 p.m. newscast beside Morgan Fogarty. Kennedy most recently was at the ABC affiliate in Pensacola, Fla. …

Curt Duelly joins WHQC-FM (“Channel” 96.1) as producer of the morning “Ace & TJ Show.” Duelly was producer for morning shows in Phoenix. Duelly replaces Pete Herrick, who left the show last June after 15 years as producer. Herrick, better known as “Yankee Pete,” returned to the airwaves this week on the “Drex & Maney” morning show on competitor WNKS-FM (“Kiss” 95.1) and will be doing a segment called Stupid News daily at 8:08 a.m. …

Joining Business North Carolina magazine as editor is David Mildenberg, most recently with Bloomberg News in Austin, Texas. … Susan Stabley, who covers growth, real estate and pioneered the environment beat for the Charlotte Business Journal, departs after seven years. She took a job in the financial services industry. …

Ron Bilek joins WCNC (Channel 36) as interim news director after the February departure of Corrie Harding, who took a job with NBC News in New York. Bilek was executive editor at WBTV (Channel 3) for four years and has worked at WSOC (Channel 9) and stations in Cleveland and Atlanta. He also worked as a consultant at WTVI. … Charlotte 49ers football and basketball will be on WFNZ-AM (“Fan” 610) this season with Matt Swierad doing play-by-play. Rival WZGV-AM (ESPN 730) carried the games last year; this season it will carry Appalachian State. …

Mario Lopez, host of “Extra,” visited affiliate Channel 18 last week to meet staff and fans and load up on barbecue. Lopez, whose acting career has been eclipsed by hosting duties and a syndicated radio show, says Dick Clark was a big inspiration to him. “He taught me to work hard, stay focused and look at hosting instead of acting.” …

WFAE-FM (NPR 90.7) shuffles its weekend afternoon schedule beginning this weekend. Program director Dale Spear says the aim is to group programs of similar genres. On Saturdays, “TED Radio Hour” moves to 2 p.m. following “Sci Fri Matinee.” “Snap Judgment” moves to 3 p.m., followed at 4 p.m. with “This American Life.” A new trivia show, “Ask Me Another” with host Ophira Eisenberg goes to 8 p.m. after “Prairie Home Companion.” On Sundays, “The Splendid Table” moves to 4 p.m. following “America’s Test Kitchen.”

Washburn: 704-358-5007
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