Secret lives of dogs

Researchers believe that dogs can count and communicate with barking

source: Hazel Muir and Betsy Mason
New Scientist August 3 2002 p20

Animal behaviourist, Robert Young, from Pontifical Catholic University of Minas Gerais, Brazil, and Rebecca West from De Montfort University, Lincoln, England, believe that dogs can count treats in a bowl. They used a technique previously employed with babies, which involves letting the babies see dolls, and then hiding the dolls with a screen, but letting the babies see researchers apparently removing or adding some. The screen was then taken away. The babies spent longer looking at the dolls when some had secretly been added or removed, and they hadn't been able to watch this. Eleven mongrels were used in this experiment, and doggie treats replaced dolls. The dogs did not stare as much at the treats if there was one treat to start with, they saw one apparently being added, and there was one more treat in the bowl when they got to see the final result. The dogs did seem confused if there was one treat in the bowl, the bowl was then hidden, and a treat apparently added, with the final result being three treats. This implies that the dogs had done simple sums in their heads.

Young argues that it could help dogs to be able to do maths, for example because it could allow thm to work out how many enemies or allies they had. Dogs are pack animals, with a large neocortex, a part of the brain involved with reasoning.

Meanwhile, University of California, Davis's Sophia Yin has analyzed over 4,600 barks from 10 dogs of six breeds using sound spectrogram analysis. She has found that dogs use different types of barks according to the situation they are in. They tend to have a deeper bark for doorbell rings, and a higher pitched bark when they are separated from their owners. She has been able to assign a bark to a situation, just from the sound analysis, with 80% accuracy.