Can you run faster than a dog? Photo by Leroy Hamilton/California Science Center
Can you run faster than a dog? Photo by Leroy Hamilton/California Science Center

Dogs, Kids, and Science Meet at this New Museum Exhibit for Dog Lovers

I’m a big dog person (meaning I like dogs, not that I am some sort of half man, half dog). Luckily, so is my toddler. A real perk of having a child who loves dogs is that she gives me an automatic excuse to pet a lot of strangers’ dogs (“Oh, my adorable little girl just wanted to say hi”). But no excuses were necessary for both of us to get a really good dog fix at the new exhibit Dogs! A Science Tail at The California Science Center.

The new canine exhibit is a fun time, with a little something for all ages. Hands-on displays invite visitors to explore the science behind the bond between humans and dogs, explaining how we're both wired for the social connection that lets dogs nuzzle their way into our hearts. A real highlight for my daughter was a series of “Smell Like a Dog” buttons, which allow visitors to experience the world like a dog, with a heightened sense of smell. (No, they don’t make you smell like a dog.) Push a button and poof! out of a little panel that looks like a speaker (I call it a stink-speaker) sprays a little whiff of smells from fresh cut grass to gasoline to poop. Yes… poop. My toddler laughed at that one, saying it was “Stinky.” There you have it, folks.

A lot of the older kids I saw most enjoyed the largest part of the exhibit, a scale showing the running speeds of different dog breeds. Museum goers can press a button and race along it, then a clock will show their speed so they can compare it to the dogs. A teen boy I watched testing it out was proud to run as fast as a Pomeranian.

Tons more interactive stations include everything from video screens showing the viewpoint of a dog to a Kinect-type interactive virtual dog that performs tricks according to your commands, to a very silly walk-through opportunity to “walk an invisible dog” on a leash. There’s even a little art gallery featuring dogs, mostly in the style of Norman Rockwell paintings, and an international wall of how different cultures treat their pets. A variety of low tech options delight little ones as well; my two year old practically came to blows with another kid her age over the opportunity to brush the teeth on a dog statue.

Combined with the rest of the museum (which is free) and the Natural History and African American Museums next door, this exhibit can certainly be part of a big full day down at Exposition Park. Pro Tip: There are lots of public transit options to get to Exposition Park and save the $12 parking; check out Metro's trip planner here.

On the way out of the exhibit, there is a big open play area where the museum features live dog demonstrations—agility courses, tricks, etc. Unfortunately there was not an exhibition going on when I was there, but my daughter got to run around the agility course herself and play with three stuffed puppies that were sitting there. It might have been her favorite part; I must’ve sat there for 20 minutes while she ran around.

Photo by Leroy Hamilton/California Science Center

Finally, I thought I’d roll the dice and see if my 2.5-year-old would enjoy the museum’s IMAX movie related to the exhibit, Superhero Dogs, narrated by Chris Evans. Spoiler alert: she did NOT, despite getting popcorn and candy; the noise was too much for her I think. I had to drag my poor crying child out of the theater before we even got through the IMAX logo at the beginning. Our event editor, Toby, was more successful bringing her older daughter, though, so I'll let her cover this last item:

Toby's Addendum - Superpower Dogs

Luckily Mommy Poppins is like a family—a family with kids of different ages. And while the IMAX may have been overwhelming for a toddler, it was AMAZING for a couple of ten year olds. Superpower Dogs offers a window into the world of rescue dogs, brave canines who save the day venturing where their human counterparts dare not.

IMAX is rightly known for sweeping landscapes and outsized vistas, and dramatic swooping shots that convey enormity and speed. Superpower Dogs doesn’t disappoint, putting the audience in the action with dizzying mountaintop views, pummeling avalanches, and rescues in water and rubble. But Superpower Dogs also delivers on a personal level, capturing the one-on-one interaction between one-time runt Halo, and her first responder trainer. A perfect companion to the Science Tail exhibition, the film gives real world examples of dogs’ “superhuman” abilities. The kids gave Superpower Dogs a 10 out of 10!

We were also lucky enough to catch the dog demonstrations that Mike missed. We are huge dog lovers as well (runs in the Poppins family!), but the one thing we are a bit sensitive to is barking. Before the official demonstration began, we had the opportunity to say a quick hello to the dogs. The first dog out was a bit of a barker (simply showing his enthusiasm), so we asked if we could meet the smaller dog instead and the trainer readily obliged. Then the dogs were put through their paces, showing off their skills and talents. Half the fun was watching how much fun the dogs were having.

PS: The 10 year olds loved the stink-speakers as well!


You have to finish up by petting a dog! Photo by Toby Book

Dogs! A Science Tail Ticket Prices
California Science Center's Permanent Exhibitions are Free

Adults $9.95; Children (over 4) $7.95; Students/Seniors $8.95

Save money by buying a combo ticket with an IMAX film: Adults $16.90; Children (over 4) $12.70; Students/Seniors $14.90

Click here to purchase your tickets ahead of time

Photos by author unless otherwise noted