Thursday, 17 January 2008

can dogs count?

When Penny was 'herding' her two bouncy balls in the creek today, it occurred to me that she can count. She'll swim around in the water till I start worrying she'll exhaust herself, trying to bring both balls back to shore. And if we throw one ball around on the grass for a while, she'll head back to the spot where the second ball is, before we leave. (Well, usually...)

It's not surprising that she can count a small number of objects. Many animals can do so. For instance, in the 1970's Pamela Egremont observed that cormorants used for fishing in China could count to at least seven.

Marc Hauser, a Harvard Professor of psychology, has conducted studies that show monkeys can count to four. In the Harvard University Gazette it says:
Additional tests by Hauser and other researchers reveal that monkeys can count up to four. The human ability to count to higher numbers apparently came only after we evolved language and developed words to describe quantities like 25 and 1,000.

Some human cultures still don't use large numbers. The Hadza people, hunter-gatherers in Tanzania, for example, have words only for "one," "two," and "three"; anything more is "many." They are aware that a picture with 30 dots displays a larger number than one with 20 dots (as are monkeys), but they have no words for the precise numbers of dots
An article in New Scientist, called Lab tricks show dogs can count, says:
Dogs can count, new work on mongrels reveals. Dogs are descended from wolves, which not only have a large neocortex - the brain's centre of reasoning - but live in large social groups. So their mathematical ability could, in evolutionary terms, have been useful for working out how many allies and enemies they had in a pack, the researchers think.
The experimenters repeated a technique that shows human babies can count. They put out objects, then hid them behind a screen, adding or taking away some of them. If they manipulated the results to be untrue (eg one and one adds up to three), both dogs and babies looked longer at the resulting group than if the result was correct. The Telegraph newspaper in Britain also has a report on this experiment.

All of which comes as no surprise to anyone who lives with a dog!

And by the way, the Harvard article has an interesting test for self-awareness that you could try on your dog.(Okay, in deference to those feline lovers out there, I guess you might be able to try it on your cat. Maybe?)


Sparky said...

Ha, of course we dogs can count! We're like, super smart, right?

Just like they say, if a human puts three cookies in his pocket, and then gives only two to the dog, the dog will still know there's more. He he.


parlance said...

Sparky, I wonder if you would be able to do that if there were five treats, given that four or five seems to be the number of objects that a young human can look at and remember without counting. You've inspired me to try out this on Penny one of these days.

Amber-Mae said...

Like duhhhhh...We can count! I even can do Mathematics. I can do addition & subtraction. You can search for mah older posts where there's a video of me counting.

Love licks,
Solid Gold Dancer

Stacey said...

Hey Parlance

Can YOU count to five? I've tagged you to write five random things about yourself on this blog. This is a new blogging challenge for you!

Check my Ispirato blog for the rules!

parlance said...

Okay, Amber-Mae, I'll go and have a look at your counting video.

parlance said...

Okay, Stacey, I can't resist a challenge. I'll have a go at the five random facts in my next blog.

Rusty said...

Very interesting. I guess they would have to count to be able to keep track of the puppies!