DOGS - SMARTER THAN SOME THINK

Studies are now coming out indicating that dogs have much the same perception of the world around them as we do. One of the first was a study by Harvard scientist Dr Brian Hare, who showed that dogs could follow a person pointing toward a treat-laden target. This study showed that dogs are in tune with our signaling, interpreting our body language, if you will.

Another large study from England concluded that dogs exhibit the secondary emotion of jealousy, indicating that they have a sense of self and other. Most recently another study from Vienna showed that dogs react to unfairness by ceasing to perform and “dissng” their caregiver.

In this study dogs were trained to give a high 5 (high 4) to a caregiver in return for a reward, which was either a sausage (high value) or brown bread (low value). Unlike monkeys, they did not alter their responding when a nearby dog was given a high value treat for performing while they received only a low value treat. It seems that getting a reward from the handler for successful accomplishment of the task was gratification enough. But when the nearby dog was rewarded and they were not it was another matter. It did not take them long to recognize the unfairness, stop responding, and some even turned away from the handler in apparent disgust with the whole situation.

Reactions like these are not a result of simple training or conditioning; they are an indication of independent thought, awareness, and decision-making. So much for BF Skinner.

Hail to dog owners who knew all along that our dogs had thoughts and feelings very similar to our own. It was those stick-in-the-mud Descartian behaviorists who refused to accept dogs’ sentience. No doubt more studies of this nature will be coming along soon, now that the ice has been broken and stuffy old anthropocentric taboos have begun to be lifted.

 

Editor's Note: Inadvertently the exclamation Ha! was at the end of this blog. It was not intended for the piece, but instead was a misinterpretation on my part of a partitial word that wasn't part of the blog at all. My apologies to Dr. Dodman.