Amazing study offers more evidence of higher cognitive abilities in dogs

Chaser, a Spartanburg, SC border collie, has been taught to recognize over 1,000 nouns. Her teacher is psychologist John W. Pilley.

The basic technique involves showing Chaser a new object and repeating the name of the object dozens of times, much the same way one might teach a very small child. Chaser also learned other language commands, so that she knows to pick out a particular object and then respond to a request to either paw, nose or take it.

The one area reported in the New York Times article about Chaser that goes off track somewhat is where the point is made that we animals lovers tend to read into animals our so-called human traits.

We have this from the article –

“” People project their expectations onto animals, particularly dogs, and can easily convince themselves the animal is achieving some humanlike feat when in fact it is simply reading cues unconsciously given by its master. Even though researchers are well aware of this pitfall, interpreting animal behavior is particularly tricky. “”

“Simply reading cues unconsciously given by its master” – Oh, they’re just reading our minds. No big deal. And this is called a “pitfall” – ?

So Pilley’s study was rejected by a journal as having flaws, because (it is suggested in the article anyway) the dog might have actually been picking up non-verbal cues from him to ID the objects. But those who reject this process actually seem to be setting human standards on dog cognition when these same people might at the same time suggest we shouldn’t be putting human qualities on animals.

The fact alone that a dog might be able to select a 1,000 different items based only on a subtle motion or mental cue or a mix of oral and other cues – is amazing in and of itself. What we need to get away from is this notion – even from some in the scientific community – that animals don’t have value or do not possess intelligence because they are not human.

If we are going to study animal behavior and cognition, we should not allow these sentiments to get in the way.

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One response to this post.

  1. Posted by Noreen Marshall on January 20, 2011 at 10:35 am

    I always knew dogs were smart, they just can’t talk but this study proves it!!!!

    Reply

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