Science News

Your Dog Can Count

Sat, 3rd Aug 2002

Part of the show How Acupuncture Works

Have your ever got the impression that your dog knows when there is another treat in your hand, or another plate to lick on the table ? Scientists showed this week that dogs show the same counting abilities as 5 month old babies. When babies are shown a row of dolls, which are then covered by a screen whilst an examiner adds or removed a number of dollies in full view of the baby, if an extra doll is surreptitiously added without the baby knowing so that the number of dolls on show is not what the baby expects, it shows surprise and stares at the dolls for much longer than if the 'correct' number are there. Researchers Rebecca West and Robert Young tried a similar experiment on 11 dogs, using treats added to their bowls. The dogs paid little attention when one treat plus one treat equalled 2, but when the number of treats in the bowl didn't add up to the number that the dogs thought should be there, they showed signs of confusion. The researchers suggest that the dogs counting ability is probably because they have a large neocortex, the part of the brain concerned with reasoning. Also, being descendents of wolves, which are pack animals, an ability to count was probably an important evolutionary skill because it enabled them to work out how many enemies they were facing and whether it was worth fighting, or running off !

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