Tuesday, 22 September 2009

dogs CAN think!

I tried some free shaping the other day. I've read about it on other blogs and wondered what Penny would do if I sat down with a clicker and a pile of treats and placed an empty cardboard box on the floor near her.

Well, it was fascinating to see!

She pawed me (she never paws, but she's been taught to touch me with her left and right paw as a preliminary to learning to march);
she backed away (ditto knows how to back on command);
she looked at the box;
she sat;
she dropped;
she touched the box with her nose - click! treat!
she touched the box a couple more times and was rewarded, but then I stopped rewarding.

So she put one foot into the box - click! treat!
A few more of the same.

Then I raised the bar again.
So she put two feet into the box - click! treat!

As far as I'm concerned, that's thinking.

I was glad to see a philosopher, Dr. Michael LaBossiere from Florida A&M University, writing a blog post about canine cognition. We 'dog people' recognise the obvious truth that dogs think - and feel, but that's another story - so it's good to see this truth acknowledged in the wider world.

He writes about Descartes, famous for saying 'I think, therefore I am'. It was Descartes who did animals a terrible disservice when he argued that animals do not have true minds because they do not use true language.


Honey the Great Dane said...

Oh, I'm so happy to hear that you tried some free-shaping with Penny! I think it is one of the most awesome activities to do with your dog - requiring so little space and equipment but getting such big results - plus the dog is usually worn out from just 5mins of it...(well, at least, my dog is - obviously Honey can't cope with too much thinking! :-) )

I use it often after dinner coz Honey gets the "fidgets" after her meal - I don't know why, whether it's the sugar rush or something - but she goes a bit crazy and wants to do zoomies and stuff - which she can't coz it's a risk of bloat - so free-shaping for 5mins is a great way to occupy her and release all that energy - plus a handy way of flushing out new tricks!

I do feel, though, that although all dogs obviously think - that potential can be developed through things like clicker training. ie. if you see a non-clicker trained dog approach a free-shaping session Vs. a very clicker-savvy dog, there is a huge difference - it is almost as if the latter dog has been "taught" or "shown" to use their brains and have practised using it and therefore are thinking more and thinking better and thinking faster. You can almost see their minds whirring.

I think it is so sad that a lot of people just label their dogs (esp, certain breeds) as "slow" and "stupid" - and allow them to just literally turn into couch potatoes with vacant brains - when they could have so much potential if they just did a bit of training with them. People always marvel at Honey and think she is some kind of freak Dane to achieve all she has done - but I don't think so. She is not especially bright or different from other Danes. The difference is that I believed in her and didn't make excuses for her because of her breed - I had the same expectations of her. I think she is simply one of the few to have been given the chance to develop her potential because I didn't let a breed label stop me from doing what I wanted with her - whereas a lot of Dane owners just accept the "too big, too lazy, too clumsy, too dopey = too hard to train" label and never do anything with their dogs - and of course, as they grow up and get older, it is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Just like humans, dogs who don't exercise their minds DO become more slow and more stupid - like dogs who never learnt to play with toys when young don't know what to do with them in later life...it is such a waste and a disservice to these dogs!

I wish more people would ignore all the breed stereotypes when it comes to things like dog IQ and training and just believe that you get what you put in! If you're willing to put in the time, patience & effort to train & do things with your dog, you can achieve anything - no matter what the breed. Everyone told me I could never get a Dane to succeed in an advanced sport like Freestyle - look at them eat their words now!! :-)

ps. Oh - you know - I just realised that you're replied to my comment in the previous post about names! Sorry - I don't tend to go back to posts after I've read them so I never see replies to comments! Sorry! I must have missed lots of your replies in the past! Would you mind coming over to my blog to post a reply - so that I'm sure that I see it? Thanks!!

parlance said...

Okay, I'll come over and reply. I get a bit confused about where to reply to comments. I think I'll do both! On mine and one the commenters' blogs.