What Is Your Dog Thinking?

GuinnessDog owners all around the world think that their dogs are intelligent and that there is a lot more going on inside their head besides eating, playing and sleeping. Now, there may be a new experiment that may prove that.

A new research experiment is showing that dogs are capable of “deciding how to imitate a behavior based on the specific circumstances in which the action takes place.” Researchers trained Guinness, a female border collie, to push a wooden rod with her paws to get a treat. Dogs will usually not use their paws and will naturally use their mouth for tasks when possible.

Scientists used three test groups of dogs:

  1. The first group did not watch Guinness and 85% of the dogs pushed the rod with their mouth.
  2. The second group watched Guinness push the rod with her paw while holding a ball in her mouth. About 80% used their mouth and the researchers suggested that the dogs decided Guinness was only using her paws because she had no choice.
  3. The third group watched Guinness push the rod with her paw with nothing in her mouth. 83% of the dogs used their paws to push the rod and the researchers suggested that there was a good reason that dogs went against their instincts and followed what Guinness did.

The researchers infer that dogs can put themselves in the head of another dog to make complex decisions and say that: “this suggests they can actually think about your intention — they can look for explanations of your behavior and make inferences about what you are thinking.” Some scientists say that it shows that dogs have a sense of awareness and a higher level of consciousness. The scientists of the experiment say that more research needs to be done to make any conclusive findings. (I’m sure every dog owner knows how smart dogs really are.)

5 Responses to “What Is Your Dog Thinking?”

  1. Mike Cooke says:

    Our organisation rescues Border Collies and sheepdogs and we have been taking advantage of the fact that dogs are capable of “deciding how to imitate a behaviour based on the specific circumstances” for a number of years.

    The ability of dogs to imitate behaviour and learn from each other forms the basis of our approach to behavioural modification in some problem dogs and also as a training aid for many of the unruly and hyperactive Border Collies that come into our care.

    In the working sheepdog community it is a common practice to let a young dog run with an older dog when training to herd. Noting the ability for an untrained dog to pick up tips and methods from an older dog first led us to look more closely at this potential aid to re-habilitation.

    An example - We have never like the kennel line block principal and tend to keep most of our dogs in foster homes, but it has been an advantage to have a centre where we can accommodate dogs with behavioural problems in order to modify behaviour in a controlled environment. Rather than keep dogs isolated from each other we set up little ‘packs’. Small communities of dogs in seperate units.
    An important factor in this was maintaining a peaceful environment with the minimum of disruption and external stimulation to increase hyperactivity in already stressed dogs coming into our care.

    4 years ago 4 dogs we had in care were particularly noisy and disruptive. Breach of the peace is an understatement!
    It interrupted our work constantly, having to go over to their accommodation unit and calm them down. They communicated their excitement to the other units and were a potential major source of disruption.

    A wireless doorbell was installed in their unit and they were trained to be quiet and get into their beds when the bell was rung from remote buttons carried by our volunteers.
    This worked well. At the first sign of barking whoever was around pressed the button in their pocket and the noise subsided. We installed a CCTV camera and observed this behaviour.
    Later, two of these dogs were moved to nearby unit with three other dogs and a second doorbell ringer installed there. Two new dogs were introduced to the first unit with the remaining two. Within a couple of days the dogs in both units were ALL going into their beds and sitting quietly when the bells were rung.

    We were pleased enough with these results to then install bells in all our dog units and split the dogs with the learned behaviour between them. CCTV was installed in all units and we were able to watch the dogs with the learned behaviour reacting to the bells and the other dogs quickly picking up their behaviour and imitating them.

    As dogs were re-homed and new ones came in, they also picked up on the behaviour without us needing to train them. The only dogs we had trained were the original four.
    Now, years later and having moved to a new location we still use this system to quieten the dogs if there is an outbreak of barking or noise.

    None of the original dogs remain - in fact there have been many ‘generations’ of turnover as dogs come through the centre and we have not had to train any new dogs to react to the bell. They have all learned by imitating the behaviour of the dogs who have already learned by imitating the behaviour of the dogs - Etc.

    There has never been any reward associated with this. The only benefit the dogs have gained is by not being wound up into a hyperactive state by each others barking. Perhaps they do see this as a benefit.
    We do!

  2. Katie says:

    It is something that dog owners have known all along! We had three dogs. When the puppy joined our household, you could see her watching and learning from the older dogs. We have had dogs who could open cabinet doors and learn how to get out of crates. Service dogs are bred for their ability to reason.
    Working dogs in performance events show their ability to reason all the time as well as their ability to see if they perform a certain behavior what the outcome will be. And, this is done without food rewards. Dogs who love to work and please.

    And I love Mike’s story above. I have friends with BC and they are some of the most intelligent canines out there. Tough to beat in obedience and agility. And when it comes to herding - they are awesome!


  3. TEALCSMOMMY says:

    Yep, my little chi girl who has been with us for the past six months has learned to pee like my chi boy. When we first got her she was squatting like a lady, now hanging around with a boy, she lifts her leg like him! They are both picking up each others little quirks too more each day!

  4. Collie Training. | 7Wins.eu says:

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  5. spudmama says:

    i have a papillon and pomeranian cross who is 7 years old. for her first 3 years we lived in a second story apartment and had a dog door onto our balcony. getting in or out was not an issue we communicated about.

    we moved to my sister’s house where the backyard was fenced. her dogs scratched at the door when they wanted to go in or out. my dog, Hope, learned from them to do this. this was the way we communicated on this subject for the next 3 years.

    when i moved to my daughter’s house and still had stacks of boxes waiting to be unpacked, one box fell into and blocked the narrow aisle from the door to the bed.
    Hope scratched the box and looked intently at me. she had taken “person, open the door”, applied it to a new situation, and generalized the message to, “person, remove this impediment to my getting through here”.

    it only took me 3 tries to get the idea. she seemed quite pleased with me. apparently i’m not too stupid for a human.

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