Inspiration Online Magazine


Does your dog
R-E-A-D your M-I-N-D?

Dogs have evolved an unusual ability to read human gestures.

If you think your dog can read your mind, you're right. Because pooches and people have kept company for hundreds of generations, Canis familiaris is hard-wired to pick up human social cues, a US anthropologist claims.

According to Brian Hare of Harvard University, the insight will help trace the evolution of dogs, and may help explain the origins of autism in people and point towards possible therapies. "The first diagnostic test for autism is the inability to use social cues," he said. "Autists are very poor at reading things like eye-gaze or pointing, something called joint attention." Not so your average mutt, he says. "It looks like dogs evolved an unusual ability to read human gestures and cues, and manipulate and predict human behavior. They were selected to do that through domestication," Dr. Hare told the American Association for the Advancement of Science, meeting in Seattle - and he has the evidence to prove it.

In the first two of four studies, Dr. Hare and colleagues in Germany and Hungary found dogs are better at a test of their ability to interpret social cues than even our primate cousins the chimpanzees, and the dog's closest relation, the wolf. In the test, based on one developed to identify autistic infants, food is hidden beneath one of two cups about a meter apart. The animal is then shown where the food is by the experimenter, who looks or gestures at the right location. "The wolves and the chimps didn't use the cues in the task, but the dogs were awesome," Dr. Hare said. Clearly, wolves and chimpanzees are not stupid, and dogs did not inherit their skill from ancestral wolves. So Dr. Hare next tested the possibility that dogs learn their ability through "tremendous exposure to humans".

He gave two groups of puppies nine to 20 weeks old the same test. One group was raised by a family, while the other was raised in a kennel with little human contact. The isolated puppies performed just as well as dogs raised in a family, scotching the exposure hypothesis. Dr. Hare says his latest research confirmed his belief that human contact during domestication created the selective pressure driving the evolution of this canine expertise.

The cup test was given to six New Guinea singing dogs, a species related to the dingo and isolated from humans. The six domestic dogs were near-perfect, but the singers failed. This suggests that without human evolutionary pressure, the singing dog lost its ability to read human minds.

~By Leigh Deighton & Elizabeth Colman -

Measuring Your Dog's Intelligence

Most owners of dogs are curious to know how intelligent there dog is. A number of none too scientific studies have been published ranking particular breeds as to their intelligence. In addition, simple tests that purport to determine whether one's own dog is smart are also available. The study that is most often referred to is one presented in a book by Stanley Coren of the University of British Columbia, in Vancouver, Canada entitled a The Intelligence of Dogs: A Guide to the Thoughts, Emotions, and Inner Lives of Our Canine Companions. The author believes there are 3 types of intelligence displayed by dogs, namely, adaptive intelligence (the ability to problem solve); instinctive intelligence (genetically-dictated behaviors); and obedience intelligence (the ability to obey commands). A number of do-it-yourself tests for dog owners to measure their particular pet's adaptive intelligence can be found on the internet and in Dr. Coren's book as well. These involve things like:

(1) Letting your dog sniff some food he likes, then placing the food under an empty soup can and timing how long it takes for him to knock over the can to get the food;

(2) Having your dog sniff a large bath towel, then throwing the towel over his head and measuring how long it takes for him to free himself; and

(3) staring intently into your sitting dog's face and when he looks at you, counting silently to three, then smiling broadly, and seeing whether he comes to you, tail a-wagging or not, or whether he does not move at all, or moves away from you.

Whether tests such as these provide any real feedback as to the actual intelligence of one's dog is very debatable. Really, as a dog owner, what should interest you is your pet's willingness to obey your commands and his overall temperament. And for people who do not yet own a dog but are seriously considering getting one, the best advice is to speak with a couple of local dog breeders, tell them what characteristics you are seeking in a dog and then heed their advice.

~By Colin Albert

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