Sunday, November 14, 2010

Can dogs count?

Dogs are just dogs, right? Wrong. They are dogs, but JUST dogs implies they are not intelligent, they are lesser beings, they are not worthy of consideration and it gives a valid excuse for using pain devices. It becomes clearer everyday I do my job that dogs have such intelligence that humans can only guess at the implications.

Convincing owners that a dog is not JUST a dog in the perspective they have no feelings, are dumb and are lower creatures can be like batting ones head against a wall. It can affect behavior modification and garners comments like, "I guess my dog has come as far as they can go." It begins to hurt after awhile.

On a light note, what if examples of intelligence, true intelligence as it relates to human understanding could be given as an example. Would it change the perspective? Let's take a look at math, a task considered very human. Can dogs do math? Can dogs count? Science suggest dogs CAN do math and there is evidence dogs can count. Let's take a look.

Elementary dear Watson

The headline reads "Mutt does math". This mutt was taught to count to 10 over a six month period. Soon the small, three-year-old was adding, subtracting, multiplying and dividing numbers up to 10. Barking the answers to questions like nine divided by three was elementary to a canine named WaWa and he made news coverage. To test this intelligence the owner was asked to leave the room and WaWa was presented with math problems each time giving an accurate answer. Can dogs do math? You be the judge.

If you want more details take a look at a study titled "Lab tricks show dogs can count" is right. Short and to the point, the first sentence of the study says "Dogs CAN count."

What does it mean "to count?"

The article states, "But to count, an animal has to recognize that each object in a set corresponds to a single number and that the last number in a sequence represents the total number of objects."

A Science Daily article shows dogs intelligence is on par with two-year-old humans and that dogs have the ability to solve complex problems. This research was done by psychologist and leading canine researcher Stanley Coren, Phd, known for his book "How Dogs Think."

A forum of the James Randi Educational Foundation held a discussion on whether dogs could count or not. There was an exercise posted to try with your own dogs:

Gather an odd number of treats, say 7 or 9.
Toss a treat, respectively, to each one of two dogs.
Toss one to dog A, then toss one to dog B, until there are no more treats left.

Dog A obviously gets one more treat than dog B.
Does dog B know he was shortchanged? Is he mad about it?

I am sure you can find many examples of counting in your own households, as I can in mine.

My three bark rule works on the premise that dogs indeed can count. Eventually, the dogs count out their own barks and stop, whether I am there or not. Counting out the barks with a thank you, two, three, done! often results in the bark ending at two or three, but the true test comes in not counting and see if the dog counts out the barks and ends on their own. Yes they do and will with training.

Further, I believe dogs have inner time clocks and in Chancellor's case it involves counting. My dog Chancellor takes six medications a day, at six different times. He tells me when each is due by coming to get me at the exact time the medication should be given. He counts out the six doses, communicates to me when they are to be taken and even calculates time differences between seasonal changes or if I change the timing of the medication by one-half to one-hour. This makes Chancellor much more than JUST a dog in our household. It keeps me on track and we don't miss a dosage. Believe it or not.

Way to go Sherlock

Digging further other examples claim dogs can count, such as this video on a blog attempting to prove the New Scientist study. Animal Planet's Pet Star showcases a dog who can count, not just with equations given by his owner, but by the judging panel. The point is the dog is not being cues, he can actually count.

So the next question becomes are dogs organized? Do they know when they have been cheated out of food or toys? Do they know how many dogs are in their family or their group of friends? If they do, dogs are not just dogs, they are intelligent and emotional beings who can calculate differences in environment whether home or outdoors, can know when a family member passes on, and are sensitive to sudden environmental contrasts. What can this teach the human about how to train, how to modify behavior, how to communicate. I think it can teach a lot!

If that is not enough proof, here are other scientific studies on whether dogs can count.

"How dogs think" by Stanley Coren, PhD, University of British Columbia

The next time someone says to you, "Well, they are just a dog" at least you'll have a few arguments that while they are a dog doesn't mean they aren't sensitive, emotional beings and hey, because dogs CAN count, they aren't JUST dogs! That changes everything.

References

Dogs in the News, April 27, 2007
New Scientist, July 31, 2001 "Lab tricks show dogs can count"
Science Daily, August 10, 2009 "Dogs intelligence on par with two-year-old human, canine researcher says."
PawshPal blog and video of Animal Planet Pet Star episode and the counting dog

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