Dog Intelligence: It is greater than we thought
© 2002 Reuters Limited.
LONDON, July 31 - Dogs are probably much cleverer than most people think, according to a new study. Scientists are convinced that dogs can count and researchers at the University of California Davis say they try to convey different messages through the pitch and pace of their barks.
"ANIMAL BEHAVIORISTS USED to think their bark was simply a way of getting attention. Now a new study suggests that individual dogs have specific barks with a range of meanings," New Scientist magazine said on Wednesday.
Dogs usually use high-pitched single barks when they are separated from their owners and a lower, harsher superbark when strangers approach or the doorbell rings, according to Sophia Yin, an animal behaviorist at the university. Playful woofs are high-pitched and unevenly spaced.
Dogs also know when they are being short-changed on treats because they have a basic mathematical ability which enables them to tell when one pile of objects is bigger than another.
"But to count, an animal has to recognize that each object in a set corresponds to a single number and that the last number in a sequence represents the total number of objects," New Scientist added. Robert Young of Brazil's Pontifical Catholic University of Minas Gerais in Belo Horizonte, tested the theory on 11 mongrels using dog treats.
The canines were shown treats and then a screen was lowered and the goodies were left as they were or some were added or taken away.
If a treat was added or taken away the dogs looked at the treats much longer than they did when the goodies were not disturbed, presumably because they had done their sums and the numbers did not meet their expectations.
"Dogs are descended from wolves, which not only have a large neocortex - the brain's center of reasoning - but live in large social groups," the magazine said.
Young believes the mathematical ability could have been used to work out how
many allies and enemies they had in a pack.
© 2003 Newsweek, Inc. By Mary Carmichael with Jamie Reno and Hilary Shenfeld (July 21)
Everyone who's ever owned a pet has at least one story (usually many, actually) of an animal that seems just as emotional as any human.
TAKE RUTH OSMENT, who says her two cats, Penny and Jo, feel sorry for her when she cries-running to her and drying her tears with their fur. Or Donna Westlund, whose roommate's parrot Koko shows all the classic signs of a teenage crush, calling out "Hey, come here," whenever she tries to leave the room.
Then there's John Van Zante. Recently, he watched Max, a Labrador retriever mix, sit lovingly by a woman in a wheelchair in a convalescent home while she patted his head for several minutes. It wasn't until the elderly woman wheeled off down the hall that Van Zante realized she had been parked on Max's tail the entire time. Max hadn't complained at all. "He was in pain, clearly, but he seemed to know that she had special needs, so he just sat through it," says Van Zante, communications director for the Helen Woodward Animal Center in Rancho Santa Fe, Calif.
Van Zante doesn't understand why some scientists argue that animals have no emotions, that they merely respond to incentives like so many automatons. "If we were purely a source for food, I'm certain that Max's reaction would have been different," he says. "Haven't these scientists noticed that their cats can't wait to rub up against their legs and reclaim ownership of their people after a day at work? Don't they take the time to greet their tail-wagging dogs when they get home?"
Well, yes. But they're not as starry-eyed about what they see. For decades, psychologists have discounted the idea that pets can love their humans back. They have argued that animals that appear to express emotions are merely reacting to hormonal rushes triggered-in cold, but typical, technical language-by "outside stimuli." But that view is changing, thanks to a loosely knit band of researchers working in fields as far-flung as neurobiology and behavioral observation. With new evidence gleaned from studies of dogs, chimps and sundry other creatures, science is starting to catch up to what pet owners have always suspected: animals experience surges of deep-seated fear, jealousy and grief-and, most important, love. Unlike the few researchers who came before them, the scientists leading the new movement actually have solid evidence. "Five years ago my colleagues would have thought I was off my rocker," says biologist Marc Bekoff. "But now scientists are finally starting to talk about animal emotions in public. It's like they're coming out of the closet."
And at an apt time, too-more and more pet owners now depend on their furry and feathered friends for emotional support. "People are delaying having children, but they still need that connection, that love," says Tamar Geller, owner of The Loved Dog Co. in Los Angeles. For many in that crowd, she says, pets are serving as surrogate kids. That may explain the sudden surge in interest; the push to find out what pets and other animals are thinking is being driven largely by those who love them. After all, if you're going to devote years of affection to an animal, isn't it nice to think it's not unrequited?
Aside from Charles Darwin, most students of animal behavior in the past believed that animals didn't have emotions-or that if they did, we'd never know. Over the years, the belief hardened into dogma. Then, in the mid-'60s, came Jane Goodall. Since she had little scientific training, she had never been indoctrinated with behaviorist theory. "But I'd had this amazing teacher my whole life," she says. That would be Rusty, a little black mongrel who lived at a hotel in her childhood neighborhood. "He went everywhere with me, and he didn't even belong to me," she says. "At the hotel he was disobedient, but he was beautifully behaved and sensitive with me. Of course, I thought animals had emotions, personalities, minds. How could I not?" Goodall unknowingly rebelled against standard scientific practices in the wilds of Africa, giving her chimps names instead of impersonal numbers and describing their behavior with words like "joy," "depression" and "grief." The dons at Cambridge University rolled their eyes, but her studies were ultimately irrefutable. They might never have happened, Goodall notes, if she hadn't preferred Rusty to "the scientific treadmill."
Today, thanks to those studies, the treadmill is a rather different exercise. Researchers carrying on Goodall's legacy are finding that it extends far beyond chimps, to dogs, cats, birds, rats and even animals as "simple" as the lowly octopus. All of them experience fear-the most ancient of the emotions, mediated by the amygdala, an almond-shaped organ in the brain. Many animals may feel something akin to love as well. Chimpanzees sometimes adopt baby chimps unrelated to them; horses have been known to form bonds so intense they refuse to spend the night in different stalls; whales have been spotted (albeit rarely) performing a peculiar dance that may be the equivalent of a human's postcoital cuddling.
Not surprisingly, the animal that has shown researchers the most emotional complexity thus far is the dog. Bred as human companions for thousands of years, dogs have evolved into master communicators. Recent studies show they are even better than chimpanzees at reading human emotional cues, a trait that undoubtedly helped them in the quest for food and shelter in the caves of early man. They may be equally adept at expressing their own feelings and personalities. Samuel Gosling, a biologist at the University of Texas at Austin, says people can reliably "type" four dimensions of canine personality: sociability, affection, emotional stability and "competence," which combines obedience and intelligence. They're remarkably similar to the four basic categories of human personality found in standard psychological tests.
The increased use of psychoactive pet drugs like Prozac (sold in its dog form as Clomicalm) is another piece of evidence. If animals didn't have moods mediated by the same neurotransmitters as humans, why would they react to our mood lifters? The trend toward pet psychiatry even extends to seemingly effective alternative treatments like hydrotherapy and acupuncture. And last month New York saw its first "doga" class in Madison Square Park. Yes, it's what you think. Two books, "Doga: Yoga for Dogs" and "Yoga for Pets and the People Who Love Them," will be published this fall.
The evidence for pet mood modifiers may be firm. But yoga? It relaxes people, but that alone is little reason to think it would relax dogs. (The concept doesn't work the other way: would you enjoy an afternoon of catching Frisbees in your mouth?) Here's where the one real problem with the research pops up: enthusiasts, particularly laypeople, tend to go overboard. "There's still a lot of fluff out there, especially in terms of dog and cat behavior," says Harvard biologist Marc Hauser. Comparing human emotions to animals' may be like comparing color vision to black-and-white-they're the same concept, but the former is immensely more complex. Even Bekoff, who lays out the case for emotion in his recent "Minding Animals," isn't "claiming that dog joy and human joy are the same thing." And as for love, pets adore their owners, to be sure-but not in the way that we love our own families. "They are scholars of the people they live with," says Jon Katz, author of the just-released "The New Work of Dogs." "What drives them to be affectionate is pretty primitive: food, shelter, attachment. They're not thinking, 'This guy's an interesting fellow, I'm going to be his friend'."
When pet lovers like Karla Swatek joke that animals are "far more human than some humans I know," Katz starts to get worried. As for the millions of people who are convinced that their pets are psychic-like Lisa Burgess of Escondido, Calif., who swears her Chihuahua, Diego, persuaded her to postpone a trip that would have coincided with her mother's otherwise unforeseen emergency bladder surgery-well, you can guess what Katz thinks of them. "Why do we have to make our animals into mystics?" he says. "Why can't they just be great animals?" Even Geller, the dog trainer, agrees. "I'm glad science is finally starting to realize that animals have real emotions-it makes my work so much easier," she says. "But we can't just treat them like humans."
Animal psychology is still an emerging field, a home for zany ideas that will be whittled down later into more realistic theories. Neurobiology in particular needs more fine-tuning. Animals may have many of the same brain structures as humans, but in several cases, when animal behavior mimics that of humans, the underlying neural processes differ. Scientists might be able to distinguish between the two with active brain scans, but current neurobiological research on animals involves "mucking around in their brains," says Bekoff, in which case you're "not dealing with a normal animal." The noninvasive brain-scanning techniques that revolutionized the study of human behavior in the '90s haven't helped, either-despite their name, PET scans aren't appropriate for conscious animals that would panic if put into a claustrophobia-inducing chamber. Behavioral studies, too, are still limited, if only by time and money. And, of course, there are still scientists who refuse to accept the idea of any animal emotion at all, save fear. "I'm sure there's still a bunch of old curmudgeons thinking that everything is stimulus and response," says Lisa Parr, who studies chimpanzee empathy at Emory.
But, Parr adds, most of her colleagues think the rise of animal-emotion
studies is "fantastic and long overdue." And it may proceed faster than the
"curmudgeons" think. Technology will play a role-brain-scanning helmets that
strap on to animals' heads may be available in just a few years. And, of course,
unlike human subjects, animals can be cloned. "We can bring them up in different
environments," says Gosling, rhapsodizing about future projects modeled on human
identical-twin studies. Soon, he says, we'll have answers to questions that
animal lovers have been asking for years. And we'll have some newer questions,
too: is it fair to keep emotional beings cooped up in kennels, cages and small
backyards? If rats and rabbits feel, how can we justify experimenting on them?
Research on farm animals is just starting-what will it mean for our eating
habits? And can our pets really love us back? The last of those, at least, is
already solved. The answer, no matter whom you ask, is yes.
By Nancy Neff: 2003
Cats, dogs, hyenas and other animals have personality traits in much the same way humans do, says a University of Texas at Austin psychologist who is developing a new field in animal personality.
Dr. Samuel D. Gosling also believes the biological mechanisms underlying these behavioral traits are similar across species.
"The idea that nonhuman animals have unique personalities stems from the evolutionary continuity that exists between humans and other species," he said. "Unfortunately, there is no unified body of research on animal personality," Gosling said. "Some of the early pioneers of psychology studied personality in animals, and then the subject disappeared. I suspect that psychologists thought it didn't sound very scientific.
"Scientists have been reluctant to ascribe personality traits, emotions and thoughts to animals, even though they readily accept that the anatomy and physiology of humans is similar to animals." Yet, there is no reason to believe that natural selection shapes only physical traits, Gosling said.
"Darwin himself argued that emotions exist in non-human animals, and his evolutionary theory suggests that behavioral traits, including personality, can evolve in just the same way as fins, wings and arms," he said. "We should realize that studying the personality of animals could help us understand a lot about human personality."
Gosling has published several articles on the subject, is designing a psychology course on animal personality for the academic year 2003-2004, and has submitted a grant proposal to the National Science Foundation to work with animals at the San Antonio Zoo and at University of Texas primate facilities.
His ideas and research on animal personality will be featured on a Discovery Channel segment in September. For the segment, Gosling recreated one of his Austin dog park studies. Gosling's studies examine scientifically whether dogs, cats and other animals really have personality traits in the same way humans do, or whether, as some skeptics believe, people are simply projecting their own personalities onto their animals.
Through hunting and domestication of animals, human welfare has been intimately tied to the behavior of animals for centuries, said Dr. Michael Domjan, chairman of The University of Texas at Austin Department of Psychology. "Because of this, people have always had a fascination about animal behavior and made up their own informal theories about animal behavior and personality.
"Gosling's research is important because it addresses the issue of animal personality formally and systematically," he said. "The outcome of this effort will tell us important things about nonhuman animals. It will help identify similarities and differences in personality across species and help us begin to study the evolution of personality traits."
Gosling, who was raised on a farm in England, began his research while working on his Ph.D. at the University of California at Berkeley. In a research project at Berkeley's Institute of Personality and Social Research, Gosling and Dr. Oliver John set out to "map the landscape" of animal personality by piecing together the isolated research reports on the subject. Their results were published in Current Directions in Psychological Science.
Since coming to The University of Texas at Austin in 1999, Gosling has continued his research into animal personality with John and others. In studies involving dogs, cats, fish, ferrets and spotted hyenas - to name a few - they have discovered that certain characteristics of personality - particularly extroversion and emotional stability - are evident in animals as low on the phylogenetic scale as guppies and octopuses. The way these personality characteristics are manifested, however, depends on the species.
"Whereas an introverted human will stay at home on a Saturday night or stand alone at a party, an octopus will stay in its den during feeding and attempt to hide itself by changing color," Gosling said.
They also found that the certain personality characteristics, in particular the conscientiousness vs. impulsiveness factor of personality (deliberation, self-discipline, dutifulness, order), might be evident only in humans and in their closest relatives, chimpanzees.
One of the most interesting facts to emerge from Gosling's research on spotted hyenas is that male hyenas are more neurotic, high strung, fearful and nervous than females. The reason, Gosling suggests, is that female hyenas are larger and more dominant than males.
"This example suggests that sex differences in personality may be related to
the ecological niches occupied by the two sexes in a species, and illustrates
how a comparative approach can offer a fresh perspective on the interplay
between social and biological factors in personality," Gosling said.