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Smarty pants … and drools … and sheds

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It’s official: We humans, according to the New York Times, have underestimated the intelligence of dogs (which, of course, was exactly their plan.)

“…(O)ver the last several years a growing body of evidence, culled from small scientific studies of dogs’ abilities to do things like detect cancer or seizures, solve complex problems … and learn language suggests that they may know more than we thought they did,” the article in Sunday’s “Week in Review” section noted. 

“Their apparent ability to tune in to the needs of psychiatric patients, turning on lights for trauma victims afraid of the dark, reminding their owners to take medication and interrupting behaviors like suicide attempts and self-mutilation, for example, has lately attracted the attention of researchers.”

While we humans still don’t understand exactly how they do it, dogs have proven they can detect not just our behavioral changes, not just pending seizures and diabetic attacks, but several types of cancer. (We, on the other hand, must rely on expensive doctors, intrusive tests and tight-fisted insurance companies to get our diseases diagnosed.)

In 2004, German researchers reported that a border collie named Rico could recognize  200 objects by name and remembered them all a month later. (I’m guessing that Rico’s vocabulary list was kept on one of those thingamajigs that have a clip to hold the papers in place.)

Dogs, with their incredible sensory powers, can recognize things in the distance. (We rely on the New York Times, sometimes mistakenly, to tell us what’s staring us in the face.) Dogs pretty much have us humans  pegged. (Most of us don’t begin to understand them.) At least now though, we’re trying a little harder.

“I believe that so much research has come out lately suggesting that we may have underestimated certain aspects of the mental ability of dogs that even the most hardened cynic has to think twice before rejecting the possibilities,” said Stanley Coren, a psychology professor at the University of British Columbia and an author of several dog books.

Dr. Coren’s work on intelligence, along with other research suggesting that the canine brain processes information something like the way people do, has drawn criticism from those arguing that dogs are merely mimicking, or manipulating people into believing that they in fact grasped human concepts.

Clive D. L. Wynne, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Florida who specializes in canine cognition, argues that it is dogs’ deep sensitivity to the humans around them, their obedience under rigorous training, and their desire to please that can explain most of these capabilities, the Times article notes.

“I take the view that dogs have their own unique way of thinking,” Dr. Wynne said. “…We shouldn’t kid ourselves that dogs are viewing the world the way we do.”

Thank God, and dog, for that.

Comments

Comment from Jenifer
Time November 5, 2009 at 6:08 pm

John, thank you for the information about the writer on dog intelligence – I feel a trip to the bookstore comin’ on….I guess those of us who have lived closely with animals whether dogs, cats horses, birds (even ferrets who I understand are very smart and very funny) kindof take it for granted that the behaviorists had it ALL wrong. Even issues such as pain – do you realize that it is only very recently that researchers have figured that not only to animals experience pain but how to measure it and the management of pain issues as being crucial to injury recovery? Honestly. The arrogance of it all. I think I’m going to head for the couch and welcome up my Jack Russell Terrier, whose “Jack Russell look” seems to carry an IQ to equal – if not exceed – my own!

Comment from dan thanh
Time November 10, 2009 at 5:55 pm

boy, that is a HANDSOME dawg! and he looks sooOOooOOOoo smart, too!

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