The world of dogs is a gentler, tech-savvier place than it used to be, with positive reinforcement, shelter adoptions and DNA tests trending over choke chains, breeders and wild guesses about a pooch’s provenance.
As such, there’s always something new to see — even amid the avalanche of dog-science documentaries and boutique products catering to the pet-parent mentality.
“This is a fairly recent exhibition and has only been at two other places — one for a short time,” said Jennifer Moss Logan, lead educator on the Denver Museum of Nature & Science’s latest exhibit, “Dogs! A Science Tail.”
If you go
“Dogs! A Science Tale.” Running Aug. 14-Jan. 3, 2021, at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science, 2001 Colorado Blvd. 9 a.m.-5 p.m. daily; 9 a.m.-9 p.m. on Fridays. Tickets: $7-$9 for the exhibition, plus $15-$20 for general admission. 303-370-6000 or dmns.org
Created and developed by the California Science Center, “Dogs! A Science Tail” opened Aug. 14 as a timed and ticketed exhibition at the museum. (Note: A separate, dated and timed ticket is required for both “Dogs!” and general admission).
The exhibition, which runs through Jan. 3, 2021, is much more than an up-to-the-minute report on our four-legged friends. It uses low- or no-touch “interactives” to give the basics about dog science and evolution, while also teaching us how to understand these furry companions better.
“It’s not just physical interactives, it’s about engaging the mind through virtual experiences,” Moss Logan said, noting various health and safety protocols the museum has taken in the age of coronavirus. “There’s an experience where you hear like a dog, putting your own hands on your ears to recognize sounds from different directions. There’s a virtual dog you can train, just as scientists do in play-experiments with dogs to understand the way they learn.”
Moss Logan is arguably the ideal person to lead the exhibition in Denver, given that she is a certified dog trainer in Denver and has also volunteered for eight years at the Denver Dumb Friends League, the region’s busiest pet shelter.
She’s also, of course, a proud dog owner; she has adopted two dogs from the Dumb Friends League, including her current pup, a Border Terrier-Basenji mix named Katie, whom she adopted about 12 years ago.
“In all my years as a science educator and trainer, I can hardly imagine a more exciting exhibition than this one to bring this together,” she said. “But it’s also timely, since most of us have had a lot of time at home with our pets lately, or used that time to consider adopting pets.”
The exhibition delves into that, weighing the pros and cons of adopting a shelter dog versus buying one from a pet store or breeder. (The exhibition is sponsored by PetSmart Charities, but does not appear to show any bias toward pet-store purchases.)
Pet adoptions at the Dumb Friends League are down slightly this year over the same time last year, with 5,130 pets adopted out (including cats, mice, rabbits, etc.) from Feb. 1 through Aug. 11 of 2020, versus 6,999 for the same period in 2019.
That’s due to the pandemic — mostly orders from Gov. Jared Polis that shut down the facility for short time. But Dumb Friends League staffers and volunteers have worked hard to adapt to changing circumstances, fostering pets in their homes and moving to virtual adoptions that they’re calling “Love at First Sight.”
“Now you can go on our website, read about the pets we have and schedule a virtual adoption appointment right there,” said Joan Thielen, public relations manager for the Dumb Friends League. “Then a counselor will talk to you about whether the pet, sight unseen, is a good fit for your family and lifestyle.”
Thielen said the Dumb Friends League has seen a lot of success with the program and, mercifully, not been forced to lay off any employees during the pandemic. She’s confident that “Dogs! A Science Tale” will only reinforce the best practices the nonprofit shelter follows.
“We endorse anything that promotes pet adoption over pet store purchases, and we’ve had a great relationship with the (museum) over the years,” Thielen said. “Plus, Jennifer’s been a great volunteer and I know she’ll do anything to advocate for providing homes to homeless animals.”
It’s ultimately an attempt to encourage more “thoughtful and well-informed dog ownership,” said Moss Logan.
Sure, it’s fun to see if you can run as fast as a Chihuahua or a Greyhound (or — insert sad trombone sound here — a Pekingese). But it’s also important to be reminded that every dog is a descendant of wolves. Their instincts and capacity for learning are fundamentally shaped by that, as well as their socialization into the human realm.
“We’ve got incredible replicas of canine skulls, and burial sites that show how humans and dogs have been buried together,” Moss Logan said. “The exhibit also covers working dogs — service and therapy dogs — and how the technology around them has improved, with high-tech vests that can help people be even more able in the community.”
In addition to the exhibit, the museum is bringing back the award-winning film “Superpower Dogs,” which premiered at Phipps IMAX Theatre last year. Narrated by Chris “Captain America” Evans, it’s a documentary love letter to the power of crime-fighting, bomb-sniffing pups but also everyday service dogs (America has an estimated 20,000 of them) and the people who train them. It opens Aug. 17.
“It’s just so much fun and be in this space, with these huge cutouts of dogs and puppies,” Moss Logan said after a recent check-up on the exhibition, which was still coming together this week (the only real dogs allowed at the museum are service dogs, naturally).
“But it’s not just fun. If you really want to understand how your dog sees the world, or hear about the best tips for handling and training your dog, or even just know why dogs do the things they do, it’s a really informative visit.”
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