Man’s best friend may be smarter than previously thought.
Anyone with experience in dog training can attest to the fact that our canine friends are extremely smart – especially when it comes to getting a treat. But recently, researchers have shown in a surprisingly simple experiment that their cognitive abilities may be more than expected.
Traditionally, dog education is based on a repertoire of specific commands, and quite different from each other. This greatly facilitates learning, because it allows the dog to associate these combinations of sounds with a specific action.
Thanks to this training, the dog understands what is expected of him and repeats the action even if the conditions change slightly; for example, when told “ find the ball he will know for sure even if his master gives him the same order with two different balls.
An array that uses memory and is context dependent
But in the work of these researchers, the situation is different. They start by training the dogs with a standard set of commands, such as ” turned “where” lied “. The two authors were then able to point them to a command that told them to perform the last action performed.
Against all odds, they saw that their four-legged friends were able to assimilate this concept. But above all, they have shown themselves to be capable perform actions that do not correspond to a precise and known sequence. For example, during the study, one of the dogs placed his front paws on a bench; a character not taught by his masters, and which amounts to disorder. When his masters told him to do it again, the animal obeyed without prompting.
This suggests that the dog has really assimilated the concept of repetition, and not just the link between a command and a specific action. This order is completely context dependent; the action associated with this same command changes each time. And that makes this experience very interesting. Because even if it sounds like a trick like any other, the implications are actually deeper than it seems.
A proof of abstract conceptualization?
In fact, it suggests that dogs show the ability to abstract concept. Very briefly, this term refers to the ability to build reasoning and extrapolate from a specific example. In other words, this is a more complex phenomenon than following an order.
This means that the dog is also able to analyze his own experiences and reason from these elements to adapt to a new context by construction. relatively detailed causal relationships.
We can imagine that some masters have succeeded in teaching this concept to their colleagues in the past. But until now, no scientific study has rigorously documented this phenomenon in dogs. In fact, if we ignore humans, they are only in one mammal: the dolphin.
A new research method for animal identification
And that’s good news for researchers. Because if the way in which animals conceive and represent these abstract concepts is not well understood, it is also difficult to study them. We know, for example, that dolphins – the only mammals in which this ability has been proven – tend to deeply unhappy in captivity. Therefore it is not a good subject of study, and this psychological distress may in any case distort the results.
Dogs, on the other hand, are very much like the perfect guinea pigs. Not only do they already live in contact with humans, but in addition, many races actively claim to be them is intellectually motivated and treats learning like a game. It allows for combine business with pleasure by imagining new playful experiences in the study of abstraction in dogs, then in mammals in general.
” This is an important step towards a better understanding of how these species form these abstract concepts. “, the authors explain. There is still a long way to understand all the ins and outs of this process, but the more the research progresses, the more the person seems to be unique from a cognitive point of view in perspective.
The text of the study is available here.