Friday, 2 November 2007

how do dogs think?

It seems to me that I can tell what Penny is thinking by observing what she is looking at. For instance, as she walks past the door handle where her lead is hanging she glances at it as if wondering whether she is going for a walk.

She often licks her lips as she glances at the shelf where we keep her food.

Because I'd like to know more about how dogs think I was browsing a local bookstore and came across a book called 'If Dogs Could Talk' by Vilmos Csanyi, a professor of ethology (the study of animal behaviour in a natural environment) in Budapest in Hungary. I dipped into it and I think I'm going to enjoy it because of the stories about his two dogs, Flip and Jerry.

The sections of the books are:
The Alliance of Two Minds
Similarities between Human and Canine Behavior
The Diary of Flip and Jerry
Scientific Study of the Animal Mind
Humans and Dogs

The last section is subtitled 'How to be a dog owner'. I'm going to start with that section, I must admit, instead of reading the book in the correct order, though I came across a review that says this is the weakest part of the book.

There was a short reference in New Scientist also.

However, the most interesting to me is an argument between Csanyi and Bruce Blumberg and Raymond Coppinger. I happen to have Coppinger's book 'Dogs' out from the library at the moment. I read it when I first got Penny and I want to revisit it, as I thought it was quite fascinating reading. If I understand the argument correctly, Coppinger and Blumberg are saying that we don't have to compare human and canine intelligence, because if we do there is a danger of measuring one against the other. It is more a case of noting that both species have intelligence specialised according to their needs.

The article where Coppinger and Blumberg review Csanyi's book and another one called How Dogs Think: Understanding the Canine Mind by Stanley Coren is in Natural History, published in Febraury 2005.In one part it says of Csanyi:
Csanyi is to be applauded for such focus on the everyday lives of dogs. And his descriptions of the many experiments done by his research group on the cognitive underpinnings of dog-human interactions are strong points of his book. But passages such as the diary entry are overloaded with anthropomorphic presuppositions about the very mental states he has set out to investigate.

Anyway, I'm looking forward to both books.

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