Saturday, February 18, 2017
Why your dog never forgets
Scientists have long wondered whether what underlies 'smart' behaviour in animals is cognitive processes – in other words, thinking, an expression of some kind of intelligence.
Researchers started by studying non-human primates and have since demonstrated remarkable cognitive abilities in other mammals, including dogs.
Recent research even showed that dogs can actually remember specific events, just like humans and other primates can.
In the early 2000s, a series of studies began to show unequivocally that dogs have sophisticated abstract abilities.
For example, they can follow pointing gestures, something that was previously thought to be a uniquely human capacity.
A later study showed that dogs could do this even though chimpanzees, often thought of as one of the smartest animals, can't.
Dogs have also been shown to have numerical abilities, another skill previously thought to exist only in humans.
A 2002 study investigated the ability of 11 pet dogs to count by performing simple calculations in front of them using treats.
The researcher would place a number of treats behind a screen one by one and then reveal how many there were in total.
But sometimes the experimenter would manipulate the outcome so that the total of treats revealed at the end wasn't the same number the dog had seen placed there. For example 1+1=3 instead of 1+1=2.
The dogs spent significantly longer looking at the outcome of the manipulated calculations, as if the answer was not what they had been expecting.
This suggested that not only did the dogs anticipate the results of the calculations, but also that they held representations of numbers in their memory.