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Tag: intelligence

It’s (almost) official: Dogs are about twice as smart as cats


A scientific study has shown that cats have an average of 250 million neurons in their brains while dogs have about 500 million, making dogs about twice as intelligent.

Before you cat lovers start objecting, keep in mind that the study was performed by humans, who average about 16 billion neurons per brain.

Scientist’s brains, we can only assume, have even more than that.

The study is the work of a team of researchers from six different universities in the U.S., Brazil, Denmark, and South Africa. It is expected to be published soon in the journal Frontiers in Neuroanatomy.

The research wasn’t aimed at resolving the great national debate over which species is smarter, but was part of a larger effort to use neurons as one quantifiable measure of intelligence.

Previous research sought to quantify intelligence by measuring brain size and structural complexity. Counting neurons is generally accepted to be a more accurate measurement than those.

To accomplish that, study author Suzana Herculano-Houzel explained to National Geographic, “You take the brain and turn it into a soup.”

That leaves a number of nuclei suspended from neuron cells, allowing the researchers to estimate the number of neurons present. Neurons are a special type of nerve cell found in the brain that transmit messages.

The research team used only a part of the brain called the cerebral cortex, which drives decision-making and problem-solving.

“Neurons are the basic information processing units. The more units you find in the brain, the more cognitively capable the animal is,” said Herculano-Houzel, a neurologist and professor at Vanderbilt University who has been studying cognitive function in humans and animals for the past decade.

The team used three brains — one from a cat, one from a golden retriever and one from a small mixed-breed dog.

In the dogs’ brains, despite varying in size, researchers found about 500 million neurons, more than double the 250 million found in the cat’s brain.

By comparison, orangutans and gorillas have about eight to nine billion neurons, while chimpanzees have about six to seven billion, elephants have about 5.6 billion.

Herculano-Houzel says counting neurons is a more effective measurement of intelligence than the size of an animal, or the size of its brains.

“It’s not a larger body that explains the number of neurons you have,” she said. “You can have animals with similar-sized brains, and they have completely different numbers of neurons.”

Revisiting those Republicans: A breed apart

trumptrumpafghan

We don’t ever re-post on ohmidog!, but in honor of tonight’s Republican presidential debate, we are retrieving our recent in-depth look at which dog breeds best represent the candidates who will be taking the stage tonight.

Expect some snarls, many growls, and a lot of bites — or at least sound bites — as the candidates parade themselves under the spotlight in Las Vegas, offering another opportunity for the public to judge them not just on their platforms, but in terms of appearance, personality, intelligence and temperament.

So here again — with apologies to any dog breeds we have offended — is our take on what breeds the Republican candidates would be, if they were dogs.

Donald Trump — Afghan Hound

For Donald Trump, as you can see above, we’ve chosen the Afghan hound. On top of the most obvious trait they share — comb-over-able hair — the Afghan “is an aristocrat, his whole appearance one of dignity and aloofness with no trace of plainness,” according to the American Kennel Club.

“He has a straight front, proudly carried head, eyes gazing into the distance as if in memory of ages past … (and) the appearance of what he is, a king of dogs, that has held true to tradition throughout the ages.”

What the AKC doesn’t mention is that Afghans are generally considered to occupy the lower end of the intelligence spectrum when it comes to dog breeds — meaning if they could talk, they would probably sound quite ignorant, all while looking quite arrogant.

Ben Carson — Basset Hound

carson???????????????????????????????

Laid back and sleepy-eyed, Ben Carson most resembles a basset hound, we think. A generally easy-going breed — some might even say lazy — basset hounds are mostly amiable, but not always eager to obey commands.

They can be a little aloof, as if they are in their own little world. When they do respond, they do it slowly and with what almost appears to be deliberation, though, more often than not, they really haven’t thought things out or done their research. Basset hounds do have a sense of humor — perhaps one that could even be described as dry.

According to Just-basset-hounds.com, bassets are known to whine, howl and bark: “The Basset has a loud, baying type of bark and he can also howl quite loudly. Barking usually is not a problem with a Basset that receives enough exercise and an adequate level of attention.”

Carly Fiorina — Italian Greyhound

fiorina?????????????

Carly Fiorina is clearly an Italian greyhound — a breed that’s not as fragile as it appears.

They are smaller versions of greyhounds, with remarkable speed, fine bones, an elegant appearance, and “dark eyes that shine with intelligence,” according to the AKC.

They are alert, proud, playful and sensitive, but they can be high strung and require constant stroking in stressful situations. They are dependable and mostly peaceful, but if frightened they can snap.

Rand Paul — Cocker Spaniel

??????????????????cockerrandpaul

For Rand Paul, we’re going with the American Cocker Spaniel.

The smallest member of the Sporting Group, the Cocker Spaniel has a sturdy, compact body and a cleanly chiseled and refined head. They seem charming, outgoing and sociable, but they do not typically make good watchdogs. They are loyal, endearing companions that crave – and thrive on – human attention, but some can be standoffish, unpredictable, shy or aggressive.

It is recommended to keep a Cocker Spaniel on a leash because they can be easily distracted and try to chase any nearby moving creature.

Chris Christie — English Bulldog

chris_christiechristie

Chris Christie? What else but the English bulldog — a sturdy breed with a low center of gravity and some magnificent jowls.

Yourpurebredpuppy.com says of the breed, “Though not a barking watchdog, his blocky build and odd, rolling, shuffling gait give intruders pause. It takes a tremendous amount of serious teasing or threatening to provoke this sweet-natured breed, but once aroused, he can be a force to reckon with. His tenacity and resolve mean that it’s difficult to change his mind once he decides to do something.”

Bulldogs are more sensitive than they appear, and tend to remember what they learn, but some male bulldogs may engage in a stubborn battle of wills with other males. They are best trained with food, not force, the website says. “Jerking this breed around accomplishes absolutely nothing.”

Jeb (and George W.) Bush — Boxer

Jeb-Bush.JPGFor the latest member of the Bush litter to seek the nation’s highest office, Jeb, we’ve chosen the boxer.

Boxers are large, muscular, square-headed dogs with eyes that seem to reflect mischief.

pets4homes.co.ukTheir boundless energy has led to them being called the “Peter Pan” of the dog breeds. Boxers have one of the longest puppyhoods in the world of dogs, and their clownish antics often continue until their adult years — a la George W.

The typical boxer is headstrong. They are known for their great love of and loyalty to their families — a la Jeb. They often are distrustful of strangers at first, especially if they perceive a threat to their families, according to Dogtime.com.

They are stubborn, sensitive and proud, sometimes bracing their legs like a toddler amid a tantrum, refusing to do what you want them to do. Insisting they obey can lead them to shut down and sulk. They are not quiet dogs. In addition to barking, they grumble, grunt, snort, snuffle and snore, according to Yourpurebredpuppy.com. “The sounds are endearing to some people, bothersome to others.”

Marco Rubio — Chihuahua

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Marco Rubio, in case you haven’t heard, is the son of Cuban immigrants. Chihuahuas originated in Mexico. But our comparison is based not so much on Latin heritage as it is a particular personality trait.

Tiny as they are, Chihuahuas like to pretend they are big. They will raise a mighty ruckus, and bark their heads off, but still, behind it, you can often detect some underlying fear.

High strung and yappy, at least in the view of their critics, Chihuahuas are naturally suspicious toward strangers, and they seem to prefer being among their own breed.

When they get over excited, frightened, or just plain cold, they visibly shiver. They are quick to sound the alarm and can get a little shrill. As Yourpurebredpuppy.com puts it, some chihuahuas prone to putting on a “display of excited ferociousness (aka ‘they pitch a fit’) when other people or animals approach what they consider to be ‘theirs.’ Which, for some Chihuahuas, extends to the entire street.”

Ted Cruz — Saluki

cruzsaluki

Salukis have been described as stubborn and manipulative — independent thinkers who don’t particularly care about pleasing you.

We’re sure Ted Cruz is at least one of those, if not all three.

Salukis need firm boundaries or they will be quick to take advantage, training manuals warn. They carry themselves in a dignified yet aloof manner — much like a cat. They can by shy, suspicious and stubborn, and dislike changes in their routine.

As sight hounds, they also are prone to chasing down anything that runs.

Mike Huckabee — Beagle

huckabeehuckabee beagle

Mike Huckabee is a beagle all the way.

They are friendly with people, seemingly good-natured, peaceful with other pets, and have an appealing soulful expression. But make no mistake about it, they are hunting dogs, letting their noses lead them through life.

They are well-known escape artists, and have an innate sense of wanderlust. They are also wailers, baying and howling at the slightest provocation, or with no provocation at all.

They needs lots of activity and hate being bored — so much so they can get a little destructive when they have nothing to do.

John Kasich — Rottweiler

kasichrott

John Kasich likes to portray himself as a working class sort (and he is the son of a mailman) so let’s match him up with a working dog — albeit one of the last breeds a mailman wants to see, the Rottweiller.

Rottweilers are often stereotyped as intense, aggressive, combative and easily provoked — all terms that have been used to describe Kasich. Some see him as prickly, the sort who can get himself quite worked up and come out swinging, at least verbally.

The AKC Standard describes the Rottweiler as “a calm, confident, and courageous dog with a self-assured aloofness that does not lend itself to immediate and indiscriminate friendships.” Strong-willed and highly loyal, Rottweilers — though they don’t want to ban Syrian refugees like Kasich does — can be very territorial when it comes to newcomers venturing onto what they see as their turf.

While they are inclined toward dominance, Rottweilers are also pretty touchy-feely — quick to sit on your feet, lie on your lap or lean their entire weight against your leg.

Rick Santorum — Pug

santorumpug

Pugs, like Rick Santorum, love being in the spotlight.

“Pugs love to be the center of attention, and are heartsick if ignored,” according to Dogbreedinfo.com.

Their cute and clownish ways endear them to their hard core fans, though living with them is not always easy, given their snoring, and snorting and piggish eating habits. The zany antics of the bug-eyed lapdogs — like mindlessly running in circles — makes up for their often stubborn ways.

“These dogs can be a bit willful if they sense they are stronger minded than the humans around them,” according to dogbreedinfo.com.

Lindsey Graham — Chow Chow

lindsey-graham????????

How can something so cute and fluffy be so vicious?

It’s not all chows — no, no, not at all — but the history of the breed and abuses by breeders have led to many a troubled chow being born, giving them a reputation as aggressive and stubborn and among the hardest breeds to manage.

Not to mention biters. The chow is “protective over his territory and his family, and won’t willingly allow people into his home and yard. He will growl and even bite an unwelcome visitor,” says Dogtemperament.com.

“This dog is extremely dominant, and doesn’t like anyone telling him what he can and can’t do. He doesn’t appear to be particularly concerned about pleasing his owner either, so you need to find another motivator for him. Otherwise, he’ll just do what he wants to, with no regard for what you are trying to teach him … If you’re looking for a companion to snuggle up to on the couch, this is not the dog for you.”

Chows have a dignified appearance, lordly, even, with a slight touch of snobbishness. “The coat of a teddy bear, the scowl of a lion,” is how one website puts it. Yes, they look approachable, but more than a few websites warn they are not to be trusted.

So that wraps up this edition of what if presidential candidates were dogs. There are a couple more lesser known Republicans still technically in the race, but we know so little about them we’ll refrain from assigning them breeds.

As for the Democrats, we may, in the interest of fair play, do the same thing. Then again we may not. Feel free to send along your suggestions, though.

(Photo credits: Trump photo from Splash News, Afghan photo from Pinterest; Carson photo from dailykos.com, basset hound photo from Bellinghambassets.com; Fiorina photo by Mark J. Terrill, Associated Press, Italian greyhound photo from American Kennel Club; Paul photo by Jim Cole, Associated Press, cocker spaniel photo from dogs.petbreeds.com; Chris Christie photo from politicususa.com, English bulldog photo from dailypuppy.com; Bush photo from Politicususa.com; boxer photo from Pets4homes.co.uk; Rubio photo by Molly Riley, Associated Press; Chihuahua photo from Pinterest; Cruz photo by Gage Skidmore via Wikimedia Commons, saluki photo from top-dogbreeds.blogspot.com;; Huckabee photo from Pensitoreview.com, beagle photo from American Kennel Club; Kasich photo from ABC News, Rottweiler photo from Pinterest; Santorum photo from Reuters, pug photo from Buzzfeed; Graham photo from Reuters, chow photo from ohmidog!)

Canis Republicanis: If the top 12 Republican presidential candidates were dog breeds …

trumptrumpafghan

There aren’t quite as many Republican candidates for president as there are dog breeds, but there are enough of both to have some fun with, or at least fun in a Democrat’s eyes.

So here, before the pack thins out any more, is our look at what Republican candidates remind us most of which dog breeds, and why.

Factors taken into consideration include appearance, personality, intelligence, reputation and temperament.

I’d like to apologize right up front for any embarrassment these comparisons may cause.

Sorry, dogs.

Donald Trump — Afghan Hound

For Donald Trump, as you can see above, we’ve chosen the Afghan hound. On top of the most obvious trait they share — comb-over-able hair — the Afghan “is an aristocrat, his whole appearance one of dignity and aloofness with no trace of plainness,” according to the American Kennel Club.

“He has a straight front, proudly carried head, eyes gazing into the distance as if in memory of ages past … (and) the appearance of what he is, a king of dogs, that has held true to tradition throughout the ages.”

What the AKC doesn’t mention is that Afghans are generally considered to occupy the lower end of the intelligence spectrum when it comes to dog breeds — meaning if they could talk, they would probably sound quite ignorant, all while looking quite arrogant.

Ben Carson — Basset Hound

carson???????????????????????????????

Laid back and sleepy-eyed, Ben Carson most resembles a basset hound, we think. A generally easy-going breed — some might even say lazy — basset hounds are mostly amiable, but not always eager to obey commands.

They can be a little aloof, as if they are in their own little world. When they do respond, they do it slowly and with what almost appears to be deliberation, though, more often than not, they really haven’t thought things out or done their research. Basset hounds do have a sense of humor — perhaps one that could even be described as dry.

According to Just-basset-hounds.com, bassets are known to whine, howl and bark: “The Basset has a loud, baying type of bark and he can also howl quite loudly. Barking usually is not a problem with a Basset that receives enough exercise and an adequate level of attention.”

Carly Fiorina — Italian Greyhound

fiorina?????????????

Carly Fiorina is clearly an Italian greyhound — a breed that’s not as fragile as it appears.

They are smaller versions of greyhounds, with remarkable speed, fine bones, an elegant appearance, and “dark eyes that shine with intelligence,” according to the AKC.

They are alert, proud, playful and sensitive, but they can be high strung and require constant stroking in stressful situations. They are dependable and mostly peaceful, but if frightened they can snap.

Rand Paul — Cocker Spaniel

??????????????????cockerrandpaul

For Rand Paul, we’re going with the American Cocker Spaniel.

The smallest member of the Sporting Group, the Cocker Spaniel has a sturdy, compact body and a cleanly chiseled and refined head. They seem charming, outgoing and sociable, but they do not typically make good watchdogs. They are loyal, endearing companions that crave – and thrive on – human attention, but some can be standoffish, unpredictable, shy or aggressive.

It is recommended to keep a Cocker Spaniel on a leash because they can be easily distracted and try to chase any nearby moving creature.

Chris Christie — English Bulldog

chris_christiechristie

Chris Christie? What else but the English bulldog — a sturdy breed with a low center of gravity and some magnificent jowls.

Yourpurebredpuppy.com says of the breed, “Though not a barking watchdog, his blocky build and odd, rolling, shuffling gait give intruders pause. It takes a tremendous amount of serious teasing or threatening to provoke this sweet-natured breed, but once aroused, he can be a force to reckon with. His tenacity and resolve mean that it’s difficult to change his mind once he decides to do something.”

Bulldogs are more sensitive than they appear, and tend to remember what they learn, but some male bulldogs may engage in a stubborn battle of wills with other males. They are best trained with food, not force, the website says. “Jerking this breed around accomplishes absolutely nothing.”

Jeb (and George W.) Bush — Boxer

Jeb-Bush.JPGFor the latest member of the Bush litter to seek the nation’s highest office, Jeb, we’ve chosen the boxer.

Boxers are large, muscular, square-headed dogs with eyes that seem to reflect mischief.

pets4homes.co.ukTheir boundless energy has led to them being called the “Peter Pan” of the dog breeds. Boxers have one of the longest puppyhoods in the world of dogs, and their clownish antics often continue until their adult years — a la George W.

The typical boxer is headstrong. They are known for their great love of and loyalty to their families — a la Jeb. They often are distrustful of strangers at first, especially if they perceive a threat to their families, according to Dogtime.com.

They are stubborn, sensitive and proud, sometimes bracing their legs like a toddler amid a tantrum, refusing to do what you want them to do. Insisting they obey can lead them to shut down and sulk. They are not quiet dogs. In addition to barking, they grumble, grunt, snort, snuffle and snore, according to Yourpurebredpuppy.com. “The sounds are endearing to some people, bothersome to others.”

Marco Rubio — Chihuahua

?????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????rubiochi

Marco Rubio, in case you haven’t heard, is the son of Cuban immigrants. Chihuahuas originated in Mexico. But our comparison is based not so much on Latin heritage as it is a particular personality trait.

Tiny as they are, Chihuahuas like to pretend they are big. They will raise a mighty ruckus, and bark their heads off, but still, behind it, you can often detect some underlying fear.

High strung and yappy, at least in the view of their critics, Chihuahuas are naturally suspicious toward strangers, and they seem to prefer being among their own breed.

When they get over excited, frightened, or just plain cold, they visibly shiver. They are quick to sound the alarm and can get a little shrill. As Yourpurebredpuppy.com puts it, some chihuahuas prone to putting on a “display of excited ferociousness (aka ‘they pitch a fit’) when other people or animals approach what they consider to be ‘theirs.’ Which, for some Chihuahuas, extends to the entire street.”

Ted Cruz — Saluki

cruzsaluki

Salukis have been described as stubborn and manipulative — independent thinkers who don’t particularly care about pleasing you.

We’re sure Ted Cruz is at least one of those, if not all three.

Salukis need firm boundaries or they will be quick to take advantage, training manuals warn. They carry themselves in a dignified yet aloof manner — much like a cat. They can by shy, suspicious and stubborn, and dislike changes in their routine.

As sight hounds, they also are prone to chasing down anything that runs.

Mike Huckabee — Beagle

huckabeehuckabee beagle

Mike Huckabee is a beagle all the way.

They are friendly with people, seemingly good-natured, peaceful with other pets, and have an appealing soulful expression. But make no mistake about it, they are hunting dogs, letting their noses lead them through life.

They are well-known escape artists, and have an innate sense of wanderlust. They are also wailers, baying and howling at the slightest provocation, or with no provocation at all.

They needs lots of activity and hate being bored — so much so they can get a little destructive when they have nothing to do.

John Kasich — Rottweiler

kasichrott

John Kasich likes to portray himself as a working class sort (and he is the son of a mailman) so let’s match him up with a working dog — albeit one of the last breeds a mailman wants to see, the Rottweiller.

Rottweilers are often stereotyped as intense, aggressive, combative and easily provoked — all terms that have been used to describe Kasich. Some see him as prickly, the sort who can get himself quite worked up and come out swinging, at least verbally.

The AKC Standard describes the Rottweiler as “a calm, confident, and courageous dog with a self-assured aloofness that does not lend itself to immediate and indiscriminate friendships.” Strong-willed and highly loyal, Rottweilers — though they don’t want to ban Syrian refugees like Kasich does — can be very territorial when it comes to newcomers venturing onto what they see as their turf.

While they are inclined toward dominance, Rottweilers are also pretty touchy-feely — quick to sit on your feet, lie on your lap or lean their entire weight against your leg.

Rick Santorum — Pug

santorumpug

Pugs, like Rick Santorum, love being in the spotlight.

“Pugs love to be the center of attention, and are heartsick if ignored,” according to Dogbreedinfo.com.

Their cute and clownish ways endear them to their hard core fans, though living with them is not always easy, given their snoring, and snorting and piggish eating habits. The zany antics of the bug-eyed lapdogs — like mindlessly running in circles — makes up for their often stubborn ways.

“These dogs can be a bit willful if they sense they are stronger minded than the humans around them,” according to dogbreedinfo.com.

Lindsey Graham — Chow Chow

lindsey-graham????????

How can something so cute and fluffy be so vicious?

It’s not all chows — no, no, not at all — but the history of the breed and abuses by breeders have led to many a troubled chow being born, giving them a reputation as aggressive and stubborn and among the hardest breeds to manage.

Not to mention biters. The chow is “protective over his territory and his family, and won’t willingly allow people into his home and yard. He will growl and even bite an unwelcome visitor,” says Dogtemperament.com.

“This dog is extremely dominant, and doesn’t like anyone telling him what he can and can’t do. He doesn’t appear to be particularly concerned about pleasing his owner either, so you need to find another motivator for him. Otherwise, he’ll just do what he wants to, with no regard for what you are trying to teach him … If you’re looking for a companion to snuggle up to on the couch, this is not the dog for you.”

Chows have a dignified appearance, lordly, even, with a slight touch of snobbishness. “The coat of a teddy bear, the scowl of a lion,” is how one website puts it. Yes, they look approachable, but more than a few websites warn they are not to be trusted.

So that wraps up this edition of what if presidential candidates were dogs. There are a couple more lesser known Republicans still technically in the race, but we know so little about them we’ll refrain from assigning them breeds.

As for the Democrats, we may, in the interest of fair play, do the same thing. Then again we may not. Feel free to send along your suggestions, though.

(Photo credits: Trump photo from Splash News, Afghan photo from Pinterest; Carson photo from dailykos.com, basset hound photo from Bellinghambassets.com; Fiorina photo by Mark J. Terrill, Associated Press, Italian greyhound photo from American Kennel Club; Paul photo by Jim Cole, Associated Press, cocker spaniel photo from dogs.petbreeds.com; Chris Christie photo from politicususa.com, English bulldog photo from dailypuppy.com; Bush photo from Politicususa.com; boxer photo from Pets4homes.co.uk; Rubio photo by Molly Riley, Associated Press; Chihuahua photo from Pinterest; Cruz photo by Gage Skidmore via Wikimedia Commons, saluki photo from top-dogbreeds.blogspot.com;; Huckabee photo from Pensitoreview.com, beagle photo from American Kennel Club; Kasich photo from ABC News, Rottweiler photo from Pinterest; Santorum photo from Reuters, pug photo from Buzzfeed; Graham photo from Reuters, chow photo from ohmidog!)

Who’s the fool: Why do we humans persist in our efforts to trick the dog?

SONY DSC

Most of us have probably tried a version of this at home — be it with the fake tennis ball toss, the hidden treat or the imitation door knock.

How easily, and how many times in a row, can we fool the dog?

For some reason — maybe to test their intelligence, more likely because of the puckish tendencies of our own species — we seem to like to prank our pets.

Even many of your more admirable dog owners aren’t above punking their pugs, confusing their corgis, tricking their terriers or discombobulating their dachshunds.

My dog Ace has fallen victim to most of them. I’ve rapped against the wall to make him think someone’s at the front door. I’ve pretended to throw sticks and balls and hidden them behind my back as he gives chase. (This may explain why he’s not great at fetch). And, in perhaps the cruelest torment of all, I’ve made him think I’m holding a treat in one of my hands, holding out two closed fists and letting him pick one, then the other, only to find both are empty.

With each, he quickly caught on to the fact he was being played, and, despite my attempts to continue teasing him, moved on to something more interesting than me — like a shrub, or a rock, or the couch.

Dogs, due to their trusting nature, can be pretty easily fooled the first time. But you’re not likely to fool them with the same trick more than once or twice, according to a new study, published in the journal Animal Cognition.

Thirty four dogs were involved in the study, conducted at Kyoto University in Japan. One at a time, they were taken to a room where a researcher pointed to where food was hidden in a container. All the dogs followed the cue and got the treat. The second time around, the researchers pointed to an empty container, and all the dogs followed the cue , only to be disappointed.

The third time around, when the researcher again pointed to a full container of food, hardly any of the dogs bought it.

When a new experimenter came in to try again, the dogs initially trusted him — at least until he duped them, too. (Thank you, dogs, for not judging our entire species based on the acts of one.)

The leader of the team that conducted the study, Akiko Takaoka, says its findings suggests dogs are pretty good at determining how reliable an individual human is.

“Dogs have more sophisticated social intelligence than we thought. This social intelligence evolved selectively in their long life history with humans” she told BBC. Dogs understand what it means when a human points at something. If a dog’s owner points in the direction of a ball, stick or food, the dog will run and explore the location the person is pointing to.

But Takaoka said she was surprised that the dogs “devalued the reliability of a human” so quickly.

I wonder if the results might have been different if dog owners — rather than strangers — were the ones trying to fool them. Would they, based on the bond they have with their owners, be a little more trusting, and follow the cues a few more times before giving up?

Maybe … assuming their owner hasn’t raised them with a steady diet of pranks.

Fun as they may be, they should probably be done in moderation, and not during puppyhood. And, when it comes to training, it’s probably best to avoid duping our dogs into doing what we want them to do — as in tricking him into a bath, or into the crate, or using the word “treat” to get him to come. Deception — with the possible exception of putting his pill in a shroud of cheese — shouldn’t be something we regularly practice to control our dog.

Dogs like things to be predictable, John Bradshaw of the University of Bristol notes in the BBC article, and not knowing what’s going to happen next can make them stressed, fearful or even aggressive.

“Dogs whose owners are inconsistent to them often have behavioral disorders,” he said.

Still, many of us (perhaps due to our own behavioral disorders) persist — even those who know fooling the dog runs counter to good training, and works against building a relationship of trust.

Why we’re that way might be equally worthy of a study. Why, long after the dog has lost interest and moved on to something else, do some of us humans continue to try and amuse ourselves by tricking them?

Maybe those people are scientists at heart, and want to test their dog’s cognitive abilities. Maybe they justify it by telling themselves — as I did when teasing my little brother — that it’s building character, or teaching our dog that life isn’t always fair. Maybe they’re trying to establish their dominance, or at least their feeling of mental superiority, or re-establish the fact they are in control. Maybe they have a tiny cruel streak.

More likely, they are just seeking a laugh, or feel the need to confirm how much their dogs trust them.

The occasional prank, I think, is OK, but pulling too many of them might be an indication we’re not worthy of that trust, leading it to erode, as maybe — based on the experiment in Japan — it is already.

Dogs are continuing to figure us humans out (no small task). They learn our schedules. They predict our actions. Apparently, they have also learned when, amid our trickery, to turn us off, in which case the joke just might be on us.

Who’s the fairest of them all?

bestinshow

Here’s an “infographic” (more graphic than informative, we’d say) that’s popping up a lot on the Internet these days.

It’s from “Knowledge is Beautiful,” a new book by British data-journalist David McCandless.

In it, he crunches data to explain the world, or at least random bits of the world, through graphics that — though they might intimidate those of us who prefer a good old fashioned story — are intended to be entertaining, artful and easy to absorb.

“Every day, every hour, every minute we are bombarded with information, from television, from newspapers, from the Internet, we’re steeped in it. We need a way to relate to it,” his publisher, Harper Collins, writes. The author’s visual presentations “blend the facts with their connections, contexts, and relationships, making information meaningful, entertaining, and beautiful.”

kibWe’ll withhold comment on the book, because we haven’t read it (if reading is even part of experiencing it.)

But we’ve got problems and questions with this particular chart — a ranking of the 87 “best” dog breeds.

(To see a full size version, click here.)

For starters, why — when there are about 180 recognized breeds now — did he limit himself to only the 87 most popular breeds?

Is that a more algorithm-friendly number? Is that the most that could fit on a page before it became so cluttered as to be reader unfriendly, or leave us feeling dog bombarded?

The infographic contrasts the popularity of the breeds with what (according to the formula used by McCandless) are the “best” breeds. The best breed, according to the chart, is the border collie. It concludes the bulldog the most “inexplicably overrated” dog breed.

McCandless ranks the 87 dog breeds based on these factors — intelligence, lifespan or longevity, ailments, grooming, appetite and costs.

In a way, at least four of those factors are cost-related, aren’t they?

How much a dog eats and how much grooming he requires both can make him a more expensive proposition, which we can only assume McCandless attaches negative points to.

The Newfoundland, for example, falls into the “inexplicably overrated” quadrant of the the chart — well, most of him does, a little bit of his big head seems to stick outside that border.

We’d hope McCandless considers a longer life span for a dog to be a good thing, worth positive points, but wouldn’t a dog gaining points in that category be losing them in the appetite, grooming and costs categories?

Of course, our biggest is complaint — on top of the sheer stupidity of picking a best dog breed — is that the chart ignores the “best” (and most popular) dog of all, the mutt.

That would complicate matters though, and infographics are all about over-simplifying. And stereotyping, and quanitfying the unquantifiable, and smugly considering yourself an expert based on what your computer has churned out, which infographic perusers should bear in mind, is only as reliable as the data it was fed in the first place.

(Photos: “Knowledge is Beautiful”)

Roscoe’s ruse: Trading up to turkey

I finally got my Thanksgiving dinner, and while I didn’t bite the hand that fed me, Ace did bite the head of the dog belonging to the man who fed us.

My brother and his partner, James, knowing my travels had precluded me from enjoying a turkey dinner, invited us to come over Sunday for one, with all the fixings.

James, a master chef, put out quite a spread — numerous appetizers, turkey, stuffing, green bean casserole, yams, all followed by pumpkin cake.

During the preparation, Ace — having learned from previous experiences — was at his side every moment, followed every dish to the table, and as we ate, sat down and waited hopefully that a bite or two might be passed his way. Roscoe, too, approached the table from time to time, but didn’t seem obsessive about it, like Ace.

Though about the same age, they are two very different dogs, I’ve noticed in the time we’ve shared over the past months. Roscoe is the more goofy and dog-like of the two, more prone to barking, more likely to slather your face with kisses. Where Ace seems to have a desire to be a human, Roscoe seems perfectly content with his dog-ness. Where Ace seems to think “if I behave well, I will be rewarded,” Roscoe’s attitude is more “to heck with that stuff.”

I’d always considered Ace the smarter of the two. But now I’m not so sure. At dinner, Ace would sit and stare at whoever was chewing. He does that, almost as if watching a tennis match. He will sit and stare as long as a person is chewing, and even after that, probably until whatever is being masticated has cleared the esophagus. Then he’ll stare until every last plate is cleared, and loaded in the dishwasher, and the kitchen light goes off. Hope springs eternal.

Roscoe uses a different strategy.

He’s prone — not just during meals, but anytime — to grabbing household items with his mouth and not letting go. During my last visit, it was my underwear (not while I was wearing them). Sometimes it’s a pillow from the bed, or a pillow from the couch, or a camera bag, or a pair of socks.

He doesn’t destroy the item. Rather he just walks around with it dangling from his mouth, wagging his tail and absolutely refusing to let go until he gets a better offer — i.e. a treat.

At our belated Thanksgiving dinner, Roscoe grabbed a cloth napkin off the table, then paraded around, as if he wanted everybody to see. Not until some turkey was offered did he relinquish it.

This, while maybe not a perfect example of how humans should train their dogs, is a perfect example of how dogs train their humans. I think if we ever caught on, and tallied up how much our dogs manage to manipulate us, we’d be shocked. Fortunately, most of us are too busy to do that, and go on thinking we’re smarter than our dogs.

After dinner, we watched some TV — perhaps the only thing that manipulates us more than our dogs. If you need more proof that our dogs are smarter than us, ask yourself this question. When was the last time your dog tuned in to “Glee?”

After that, I was full, sleepy and gleeful enough to accept an offer to stay the night. Ace slept at my side until James woke up, at which point, I can only assume, he resumed his I-must-follow-this-man-everywhere-he-goes routine.

I was awakened by the sound of fighting dogs, then the sound of screaming humans, after a second or two of which all was quiet. Ace came back and took his place by my couch, and I went back to sleep.

It wasn’t until I really woke up, a couple of hours later, that I noticed Roscoe had a red mark on his head, and the side of his face. Ace, meanwhile, showed no signs of injuries.

Apparently, while James was in the bathroom, both dogs decided to join him there, and in those close quarters decided the room wasn’t big enough for the both of them. Their rare spat, seemingly, wasn’t over turkey, but attention.

Once it was over they were back to their normally peacefully coexisting selves. Roscoe, despite a slightly punctured head, seemed sad to see Ace leave.

Evidence of yet one more thing at which dogs just might be better than us — forgiveness.

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.