Thursday, June 07, 2007

Smart Dog

The moms are on the road this week, but my pal Margie is taking care of me and reading the newspapers for me, which is a very good thing indeed because otherwise I might have missed this amazing bit of canine news from the world of science. Read on.

It will come as no surprise to readers of Roxie's World to hear that dogs are complex thinkers, capable of learning not just through imitation but through making inferences about the best way to accomplish a particular task. (Indeed, we might pause here to wish that some humans were more skilled in this kind of reasoning. Perhaps their wars would go better if they were, or perhaps they would have the wisdom not to start wars that would turn out to be hard to finish.)

The chart above (click on it to enlarge) illustrates experiments that were done at the University of Vienna to test the role played by instinct, imitation, and inference-making in dogs' performance of a particular task. The results of the experiments are nicely summarized in this Wa Po story by Rob Stein. The study offers clear evidence that dogs are similar to infants in deciding "how to imitate a behavior based on the specific circumstances in which the action takes place." It breaks new ground in the scientific understanding of the inner life of dogs. As one scientist put it:

"Every day, we're discovering surprises about animals and finding out animals are far more intelligent and far more emotional than we previously thought," said Marc Bekoff, an animal behaviorist who recently retired from the University of Colorado. "We're really breaking down the lines between the species."
Well, fellas, if you'd been reading Roxie's World you'd have figured all this out a long time ago, but we're grateful to you for finding the data to support what we've known here all along. I know how you humans love your data, and whatever makes you happy makes me happy. I am pleased, however, that my moms don't make me push on bars, with mouth or paws, in order to get treats. I get treats as a reward for merely existing, which perhaps explains why Goose found a dog biscuit in her pocket all the way out in Illinois this morning. Which perhaps explains why Moose felt a longing in her poor heart that could only be assuaged by typing for me. Ah, silly humans. Why do you ever leave home?

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