Mind of a dog

Research on problem solving abilities of dogs and their attachment to humans

source: Kate Douglas
New Scientist March 4 2000
starts p22, 5 pages long

Research carried out at Eotvos Lorand University, Budapest, Hungary, by Vilmos Csanyi and his team, has investigated bonds between humans and dogs. Dogs show a similar attachment to their owners as human infants show to their mothers. Domestication can bring both obedience and and apparent loss of problem solving and other cognitive abilities. Dogs have smaller brains than wolves, especially the parts linked to smell and hearing, but they can make mental maps and understand object permanence.

The researchers found that dogs that have strong bonds with owners were worse at problem solving unless encouraged in the task by the owner. Guide dogs for the blind have strong bonds and good problem solving ablities, and have been trained to take control. They normally leave decisions to their owner, and take control in an emergency. Domestication involves producing animals with a predisposition to obey rules, as a result of selection. Play helps dogs learn codes of conduct from humans, argues University of Colorado's Marc Bekoff. He sees dogs as more cognitive than wolves.

Budapest researcher, Adam Miklosi, has found that dogs develop an ability to understand human gaze cues. Four-year-old dogs understand human cues better than cues from other dogs, while six-month old dogs respond to dog cues, and not to human cues. The Budapest group is also examining how well dogs understand language. Mature pets can understand between from 7 to 80 expressions, with an average of 40.