Science is finally coming to see what those of us who have spent a lifetime studying our canine companions have known all along... That dogs are highly intelligent animals capable of strong reasoning.. I'm glad to see them finally getting their due.
The Intelligence of Dogs
Research Discovers Canine Cognitive Abilities
© Joy Butler
Dec 15, 2007
Scientific studies in recent years show that dogs apply earlier learning to new situations, perform selective imitation, and understand human gestures and new words.
Dog lovers have long touted the intelligence of man’s best friend and are sometimes accused of anthropomorphism. However, in recent years, science has made some exciting discoveries concerning canine cognitive abilities.
Dogs Apply Earlier Learning to Different Situations
In a study at the University of Vienna in Austria, dogs used touch screen computers to show that they could categorize photographs. They were trained with treats to select a dog picture over a landscape picture. When they were shown a different set of dog and landscape pictures, they continued to select the dog pictures, demonstrating that they could apply earlier learning to a different situation. Researchers tested further by presenting the dogs with contradictory information to see if they were capable of forming concepts. When shown pictures of an empty landscape and a landscape with a dog, they continued to select the picture with the dog.
Dogs Selectively Imitate
A Border Collie named Guinness has been able to identify different landscapes, different faces and even different dog breeds. She, like most of the dogs tested at the Clever Dog Lab, seemed to enjoy watching the monitor. Guinness was also taught to open a food dispenser by pushing a handle with her paw. Dogs will instinctively use their nose for most situations like this but when other dogs observed Guinness using her paw, they also used their paw, indicating that they figured there must be an advantage to this method. However, when they observed Guinness with a ball in her mouth and using her paw, they usually used their nose, indicating that they figured the ball in her mouth was the reason she used her paw. They did not simply imitate her actions but selectively chose to imitate when it seemed appropriate.
Dogs Use Logic in Learning New Words
Another Border Collie named Rico was able to identify more than 200 toys. Researchers then placed a new toy among seven familiar toys and, using a word Rico had never heard before, ask him to fetch the new toy. Seventy percent of the time, Rico fetched the correct toy, indicating that he understood that the new word must mean the new toy.
Dogs Understand Human Expressions
In other studies, dogs as young as six weeks showed amazing ability for understanding human expressions such as finger pointing or gazing at certain objects. Juliane Kaminski, of the Mac Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany says, “When it comes to understanding human behavior, no mammal comes even close to the dog.” Perhaps that’s why they came to be known as man’s best friend.
It seems that science is finally catching up to what dog owners have known all along. There really is more going on behind those big, soulful eyes than just sleep, eat, and play. Dogs truly are intelligent animals who use logic, feel emotions, and form strong bonds with humans and other animals.