[Paleopsych] CHE: Clever Canines (with Colloquy)
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The Chronicle of Higher Education, 5.4.15
Did domestication make dogs smarter?
By COLIN WOODARD
Vilmos Csányi's department has literally gone to the dogs. Canines
have the run of the place, greeting visitors in the hall, checking up
on faculty members in their offices, or cavorting with one another in
classrooms overlooking the Danube River, six floors below.
And, not infrequently, they go to work in the laboratories, where Mr.
Csányi and his colleagues are trying to determine just how much canine
brains are capable of.
There are no cages at Loránd Eötvös University's department of
ethology, the study of animal behavior. And why would there be? asks
Mr. Csányi, the department's founder and chairman. "The human world is
the dog's natural environment," he says, as a gregarious adolescent
mutt pokes into the office, wags his tail, and leaves. In adapting to
our environment, Mr. Csányi argues, our best friends have acquired a
remarkable number of mental traits that closely resemble our own.
Mr. Csányi's team has been studying canine cognition for the past
decade and, in the process, has built a body of experimental evidence
that suggests dogs have far greater mental capabilities than
scientists have previously given them credit for. "Our experiments
indicate a high level of social understanding in dogs," he says.
In their relationship with humans, dogs have developed remarkable
interspecies-communications skills, says Mr. Csányi. "They easily
accept a membership in the family, they can predict social events,
they provide and request information, obey rules of conduct, and are
able to cooperate and imitate human actions," he says. His research
even suggests that dogs can speculate on what we are thinking.
The latest findings to come out of the department suggest that dogs'
barks have evolved into a relatively sophisticated way of
communicating with humans. Adam Miklósi, an ethology professor, set
out in a recent experiment to see if humans can interpret what dogs
mean when they bark. He recruited 90 human volunteers and played them
21 recordings of barking Hungarian mudis, a herding breed.
The recordings captured dogs in seven situations, such as playing with
other dogs, anticipating food, and encountering an intruder. The
people showed strong agreement about the emotional meaning of the
various barks, regardless of whether they owned a mudi or another
breed of dog, or had never owned a dog. Owners and nonowners were also
equally successful at deducing the situation that had elicited the
barks, guessing correctly in a third of the situations, or about
double the rate of chance.
For many dog owners those may not sound like particularly surprising
findings, given that people talk to their dogs all the time, expect
their instructions to be followed, and apparently receive information
back from their pets. But in scientific circles, animal-cognition
studies have largely ignored dogs, focusing instead on closer human
relatives, like chimpanzees and gorillas. Dogs, as a result, have not
been considered very brainy.
Until recently, dogs were thought to be intellectually inferior to
wolves. A study published in 1985 by Harry Frank, a psychologist at
the University of Michigan at Flint showed that wolves could unlock a
complicated gate mechanism after watching a human do it once, while
dogs remained stumped, even after considerable exposure. This led some
in the field to conclude that dogs' intellectual capacity diminished
The Inhibited Animal
That never sat well with Mr. Csányi who, like many in dog-loving
Hungary, had dogs of his own. Dogs, he suspected, were simply more
inhibited than their wild cousins, requiring permission from their
masters before doing something as rash as opening a gate, which they
may have regarded as a violation of their master's rules. So eight
years ago, he and his colleagues conducted a problem-solving
experiment of their own. With their masters present, 28 dogs of
various ages, breeds, and levels of training had to figure out how to
pull on handles of plastic dishes to obtain meat on the other side of
a wire fence. Regardless of other factors, the dogs with the strongest
relationship with their owner scored worst, continually looking to
their owners for permission or assistance. The best results came from
outdoor dogs, who obtained the food, on average, in one-third the
time. Most telling, when owners were allowed to give their dogs
permission, the gap between indoor and outdoor dogs vanished.
That made the researchers wonder what else the dogs could accomplish
by taking cues from people. Chimpanzees, our closest relatives, have
been shown to follow a human's gaze, but they do very poorly in a
classic experiment that requires them to extract clues by watching a
person. In that test, a researcher hides food in one of several
containers out of sight of the animal. Then the chimp is allowed to
choose one container after the experimenter indicates the correct
choice by various methods, such as staring, nodding, pointing,
tapping, or placing a marker. Only with considerable training do
chimps and other primates manage to score above chance.
Dogs, however, performed marvelously, and even outdoor dogs with no
particular master could solve the problem immediately. (The
researchers controlled for the scent of the food.) By 2001 a raft of
experiments by Mr. Csányi's team and another led by Michael Tomasello
of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, in Leipzig,
Germany, showed that dogs were far more skilled then either chimps or
wolves at using human social cues to find food. Those results left
researchers with this question: If dogs can pick up on human cues, do
they turn the tables and put out cues for humans to understand?
To find out, Mr. Csányi and Réka Polgárdi, a graduate student, went to
the homes of Budapest's many dog owners. After introducing the
researchers to the dogs, the owners would leave the room. Then the
dogs would watch Mr. Csányi hide a piece of food somewhere
inaccessible to them. When the owners returned, the dogs would run or
glance back and forth from master to hiding place, clearly signaling
its location. More-recent experiments substituted nonfood objects and
had similar results, which suggests the dogs may be placing themselves
in their owner's shoes, and realizing that the humans are ignorant of
the object's location.
The Hungarian researchers also discovered that dogs excel at imitating
humans. In one of the laboratories down the hall from Mr. Csányi's
office, Zsófia Virányi, a post-doctoral researcher, demonstrates with
Tódor, an enthusiastic little mutt that she hand-raised to serve as a
member of a control group for another experiment. Tódor sits
attentively as Ms. Virányi spins around in a circle and comes to a
stop. "Csinal!" or "you do it!" she says, at which Tódor does a little
360 on the tiled floor and lets out an enthusiastic bark. He easily
imitates Ms. Virányi's bowing and lifting an arm (or paw, in his
case). But he gets confused when she produces two buckets each
containing a block, and lifts one out, then asks Tódor to do the same.
Amid a chorus of yelps and barks, he pokes his nose in and out of the
"Some dogs find the bucket trick very easy; others have a hard time
turning around," Ms. Virányi explains as Tódor lies down on the floor
and watches the surrounding humans with what appears to be good cheer.
"He's very concerned about breaking things, so he doesn't like it when
the block or bucket moves because of his actions."
In the experiments, some dogs could imitate previously unseen actions
performed by a person they hadn't had close contact with. Other dogs
could learn how to operate a simple ball-dispensing machine after
watching humans do so, a finding that won Mr. Csányi's department one
of its two awards from the American Psychological Association.
"We thought it would be very difficult for dogs to imitate humans
because chimps have great difficulty with it, despite having much
larger brains," Mr. Csányi says. "But it turns out they love to do it.
This is not a little thing because they must pay attention to the
person's actions, remember them, and then apply them to their own
body. ... No other animal could do this."
Wolves Without Manners
So where did dogs acquire the ability and motivation to observe,
imitate, communicate with, and behave like people? In the computer
lab, Mr. Miklósi, the ethology professor, shows videos that he
believes provide part of the answer.
Two years ago, Ms. Virányi and other graduate students began
hand-raising a group of wolf cubs. They coddled and hand-fed them,
took them for walks and played with them, while other students raised
dog puppies of the same age. Dogs descended exclusively from wolves
some 15,000 to 135,000 years ago, according to genetic studies, and
the researchers wanted to see if wolves could be socialized to
communicate with people.
At five weeks of age, the wolf cubs were introduced to a room
containing their hand-raiser and an adult dog, both sitting
motionless, and the human staring into space. Mr. Miklósi shows a
video of what happened: A gawky wolf cub stumbles awkwardly up to the
dog, sniffs it a bit, then does the same to the human before climbing
into the person's lap and going to sleep. No eye contact is made with
its caregiver; the cub appears to treat the person like a comfortable
piece of furniture.
Mr. Miklósi's next video shows a dog puppy wandering into the same
situation. It too wanders over to the dog for a sniff, but then
waddles over to its caregiver, stares it in the face and begins
yipping for attention. When the caregiver remains motionless the dog
wags its tail, barks, and begins licking the person, trying to
establish contact. It then sits down in front of the caregiver, ears
up, apparently waiting for contact.
A similar pattern emerged in tests of young adult dogs. In one, the
subject is given the opportunity to try to remove a piece of meat from
under a cage by pulling on a rope in the presence of its caregiver.
The dogs and wolves both mastered this promptly. But in experiments
where the rope was anchored, the dogs tried a couple of times, then
turned to their masters for assistance or cues. The wolves, by
contrast, continued yanking on it until exhausted, never once giving
their caregivers so much as a glance.
"The wolves wouldn't ever figure out if a human's eyes were open or
closed, and were only interested in the meat," notes Mr. Miklósi. "The
dogs were of course interested in the meat, but knew that one way to
get it might be to figure out what the human wants them to do." Given
that both sets of animals were raised in the same fashion, the dogs'
interest in communicating with humans to solve problems appeared to be
innate, probably an evolutionary byproduct of their domestication,
says Mr. Csányi.
Further evidence for that theory comes from an experimental fur farm
in Siberia, where Russian geneticists have spent the last 50 years
breeding a population of tame foxes. The process was simple: Humans
would approach a fox cage, and the foxes that showed the least panic
or aggression were selected for breeding. After only 18 generations,
the foxes displayed remarkably doglike behaviors: sitting on a
person's lap and barking for attention -- actions rarely seen in wild
A team of researchers led by Brian Hare of the Max Planck Institute,
in Leipzig, tested the foxes' ability to follow human social cues,
using the same classic tests that Mr. Csányi uses on dogs and others
use on chimps. The results, published in Current Biology in February,
showed the tame foxes' abilities to be entirely comparable to dogs,
while ordinary foxes performed as badly as wolves.
Mr. Hare calls those findings surprising because the Russian breeders
hadn't been selecting their animals for intelligence. "You might just
be breeding dogs that are friendlier," he says, "but wind up with a
dog that's smarter" because it communicates better with people, making
it more able to solve problems.
A Challenge to Pet Theories
But not everyone will go so far as the Hungarians in crediting dogs
with relatively high cognitive skills. Michael J. Owren, assistant
professor of psychology at Cornell University, says Mr. Csányi's team
may be underestimating the flexibility of associative learning, the
most basic kind of learning that comes not from "thinking" out the
problem, but simply by associating events or objects with one another,
as Pavlov demonstrated with his dogs. "Dogs are supremely sensitive to
cues being produced by humans and are able to interact with humans
very effectively," Mr. Owren says. "The question then becomes to what
extent are they showing sophisticated cognitive processing and to what
extent is their behavior being molded by this extreme attentiveness to
"The Hungarians are using pet-class dogs who have been socialized in a
very unique way, but there is no accounting for that," adds Raymond P.
Coppinger, a dog cognition specialist at Hampshire College, in
Amherst, Mass. "To be talking about dogs in general when you are only
referring to this small population of dogs from the Western world that
have been bred for all sorts of specific tasks is going to lead us
astray about what dogs can do or how they evolved."
Mr. Coppinger is also concerned that researchers are failing to
properly control for the "Clever Hans effect," named after a horse
that tapped out the answers to mathematical problems more than a
century ago. Scientists ultimately concluded that the horse was
picking up inadvertent cues from the person who posed the question;
Hans was clever enough to figure out that he would get a treat if he
stopped tapping when the human in front of him subtly reacted to the
arrival of the "correct answer"; the horse didn't actually know
Dogs have fooled scientists before. In the early 1990s, scientists at
the University of Laval, in Quebec City, published studies showing
that dogs could locate objects by mentally representing the past
locations and movement of the object. The finding caused a stir
because dogs had not previously been found to possess such abilities.
But last year Emma Collier-Baker and two other researchers at the
University of Queensland, in Australia, repeated the experiments and
discovered that researchers had inadvertently tipped the dogs off by
leaving the tool used to move the target object adjacent to the
correct hiding place. When that oversight was corrected, the dogs'
performed no better than chance.
"If dogs have representational mental abilities, I don't think anyone
has demonstrated it yet," says Mr. Coppinger, who suspects dogs are
solving most experimental tasks using simple associative abilities.
"For a lot of these experiments you may be giving the dog a cue that
they are able to pick up on."
In response, Mr. Miklósi says the experiments have, in fact,
controlled for the "Clever Hans effect"; he is particularly confident
that the dogs are not picking up cues directly from people because in
most tests, they have never seen the experimenter before. Moreover,
they are fairly slow in understanding gestures, like the lift of an
eyebrow to indicate the location of a hidden object. "They can learn
it with training, but the dogs we use in most experiments only see the
experimenter two or three times, often a week or more apart, and don't
get the chance to learn our body language."
With training and encouragement, however, the dogs do show remarkable
abilities to learn from humans. In a laboratory down the hall, Ms.
Virányi shows Tódor two pieces of paper. He watches intently as she
taps her foot on the left sheet, then he stares her in the face,
tongue wagging. "Csinal," she commands after a moment, and Tódor
quickly steps on the paper, wagging his tail and barking excitedly.
There's no way to know for sure if Tódor and other dogs are in fact
thinking their way around life's problems, but if not then one thing
is certain: They're extremely good at fooling people into thinking
The Chronicle: Colloquy Live Transcript
How Smart Is Fido?
Thursday, April 14, at 2 p.m., U.S. Eastern time
Animal behaviorists have largely ignored dogs, choosing instead to
study closer human relatives, like chimpanzees and gorillas. Until
recently, dogs were not thought, at least in scientific circles, to be
highly intelligent. New research out of Hungary, however, suggests
that in adapting to our environment, dogs have acquired a remarkable
number of mental traits that closely resemble our own. Among other
things, they can predict social events, provide and request
information, cooperate, and imitate human actions.
But are the Hungarian scientists giving too much credit to canines? To
what extent are the animals simply associating events or objects with
one another, as Pavlov's dogs did, rather than actually "thinking" out
problems? Is the Hungarians' research limited by their use of dogs
that have been bred as pets?
Adam Miklósi, a research fellow in the department of ethology at
Loránd Eötvös University, in Hungary, is part of the team whose
research suggests that dogs may have evolved to be particularly
attuned to understanding human communication. He has also studied
social behavior in fish and rats.
A transcript of the chat follows.
Rich Monastersky (Moderator):
Welcome to The Chronicle's live chat with Adam Miklósi, a research
fellow in the department of ethology at Loránd Eötvös University, in
Hungary. Mr. Miklósi has studied social behavior in dogs, as well as
in rats and fish. He is part of a research team led by Vilmos Csányi,
the chairman of the ethology department and the author of "If Dogs
Could Talk: Exploring the Canine Mind," which was published in January
by North Point Press.
Welcome Mr. Miklósi
Question from Judith Grant, Ohio University:
Thank you so much for doing this wonderful research. I wanted to
comment that I not only agree with your findings about dogs (based on
my ownership of companion animals), but have observed the same thing
in particular horses with whom a special bond. My horse can figure out
how to open gates after watching me do it, can open gates to let other
horses out. Furthermore, I have on several occasions modeled behavior
to him that he can then repeat - specifically, I have climbed onto a
platform that he was afraid to stand on. He watched me carefully and
then did it himself. I think animals learn by relationship - to each
other and to us.
I agree with you that in many respects horses share some traits
with dogs (and of course us). To some extent this is not a surprise
because during their domestication, horses have been selected for
their ability to interact with huamns. Your observation that your
horse learns by observing humans is very interesting. This has not
been described by researchers but I am sure would be worth
investigating in the future. We know that dogs learn also by
observation but interestingly this method has been used very rarely in
Question from Karen Tibbetts, Rockford College:
Have dogs developed "intelligence" as they have increased their
interaction with humans? i.e., my 3rd generation Westie seems much
more "human" than my 1st, as do other dogs I observe.
Intelligence is not a good word but I know what you mean.
Certainly, dogs (as other animals) change their behaviour over many
generations. As present days' westies do not look like the "original"
ones, the same could be also true for behaviour. I am not sure whether
big changes can take place in a few generations when it comes to
"cognition". In addition you should not forget that you have also
changed over the years. So it might be that now you can see signs of
"intelligence" in your westie that escaped your attention earlier.
Only objective testing and observing could answer such questions.
Question from Chris Brown Mahoney; University of MN, Carlson School of
Is there any evidence of a difference in "intelligence" between
breeds OR difference between dogs of the same breed?
I ask this because I have had Pulis for 30 yrs & while I am used to
their alertness & problem solving, many who meet them for the 1st time
think they are very smart. It seems that way to me, as well. I also
notice what seems to be differences in intelligence between the 5
pulis I have had.....Thanks for any insights!
I like to use the word intelligence when it comes to compare
individuals within a breed. Of course one should define what is meant
by this term, for example one could speak about "social intelligence"
(how one deals with social problems) or "mathematical intelligence"
(how one can solve problems by the means of mathematics. Some may be
good in one but bad in the other etc, and their performance will
depend on many things like genetics, experience, enviromental factors,
etc. As in humans there are, of course, differences in intelligence
among individuals. However note that in spite of the claims of many,
there are no good "intelliegence test" for dogs.
The problem comes when you want to compare breeds because there are
some genetic differences which can seriously hinder performance in a
task or thinking about a problem. For example, terriers like to dig.
So their first idea about solving any problem is to start with digging
a hole. This means that I do not like to compare intelligence of
breeds but say how different they are in this or that situation.
Question from Paul, small 4-yr Texas university:
I ame fascinated with your research. Besides the Mudi, were
Hungarian Vizslas used in your study.
Mudies were used only in some of the experimenents,( not many are
living in Budapest). We work also with vizslas of course. In the case
of most experiments, we used as many different breeds as we can
because we would like to find out what is special about dogs in
general and not what kind of breed differences there are.
Question from Dr. Philip R. Breeze, Kutztown University:
Can any of this be reliably extrapolated to dolphins?
If one thinks in a comparative persepctive then I would say yes.
The BIG question in this field of reseach is what kind of cognitive
abilities animals (species) have and how can one compare this to human
cognition. During evolution, different species face different task to
solve (or they die out). For example, wolves had to evolve the ability
to hunt in packs because otherwise they could not get food in winter.
It is fascinating to investigate what kind of problems dolphins can
solve (and cannot solve). Especially in the case of dolphins, it is
very interesting that they seem to be able to solve problems in
captivity that we have no idea what they use for in the wild. For
example out in the sea, there are not many objects yet they are very
skillful with them in captivity. The problem is that dolphins are very
expensive to keep and do research on; some of the experiments we did
with the dogs have been also done with dolphins by Louis Herman in
Hawaii, but I think we can find our more about the cognitive evolution
of dogs within a shorter time, and dolphin cognition will remain a
mystery for longer.
Question from Sonia Dutton, The Metropolitan Museum of Art:
A couple of days ago, my new puppy got his first haircut. Being a
poodle, he was transformed from poof of wild hair to elegant
silhouette. Almost instantaneously the dog whom virtually everyone on
the street paid attention to for a "cuteness" factor now occasionally
gets an audible whisper. While I have no interest in cultivating the
former, it made me think: can dogs perceive how people feel about
their appearance? And if so, how are they affected?
We do not know for sure, but in general I would say dogs are not
interested in their appearance. In humans we know that appearance is
very important in male/female choice but this is not the case in dogs.
Dogs seem to habituate very fast to their mirror images.
One test to your question could be to see whether your dog looks
longer in a mirror after getting his haircut.
On the other hand they might learn that after getting haircuts people
behave differently. However I have not heard about a dog who would
"force" the owner to get his hair cut !(just joking)
Question from Chase Billingsley Kimmel, Hanover College:
After reading "Clever Canines - Did domestication make dogs
smarter?" by Woodard, it seems that Mr. Hare has associated a form of
intelligence with friendliness. This seems to suggest that the
friendlier a dog is, the more potential he has for being intelligent
because he is more attentive to his caregiver. But when looking at
various species of domesticated dogs this does not seem to be the
case, for example, the Doberman pinscher is very intelligent but not
so friendly and the typical Basset hound is friendly but not very
intelligent. But one might say, What actually is the definition of
friendly? What would be your explanation of this? It could also be
observed that friendliness might be related to low intelligence in
some breeds. Some people believe that Dalmatians are one of the
bravest and most heroic breeds of dogs. People might think this
because they will go into a burning building with their firefighter
owners to save people. Is this obedience or just plain stupidity?
Stanley Coren has conducted Canine IQ tests to determine breed
intelligence. Twelve different areas of intelligence are scored (e.g.
problem solving, social learning, attention, etc) and then time and
score are totaled to determine the intelligence of a breed. What are
your criteria for determining intelligence? What is your definition of
intelligence and how do you measure it? There are various types of
factors that can affect what we think of as intelligence, such as
personality, obedience, instincts, the ability to pay attention, etc.
Are any of these factors addressed in your assessment of intelligence?
The relationship between "intelligence" and friendliness is very
complex. Dr Hare argues that dogs can display their intelligence with
humans because they are not aggressive toward them or do not feel
fear. In general it is very problematic to apply human terms to other
species without a definition. In our secientific papers we never use
the word intelligence. I also do not believe in intelligence tests
comparing dog breeds; such questions could be only asked with relation
to dogs of the same breed. There is no such thing as "intelligence"
you must always say what tests you have used to measure this or that
cognitive ability. If you want a general defintion it would be like
flexibility of problem-solving but this could be affected by previous
experience, evolutionary heritage and learning.
Question from Bob, Professor Emeritus, State University System:
Which are smarter--labradors or college deans?
In my view that is a wrong type of question. In biology any type
of "intelligence", "cleverness" or similar things do not exists in
themselves but only with relation of the environment. So first you
should define the environment in which you study them, and only then
can I say (after testing) who is smarter (e.g. how would college deans
hunt a bird?)
Rich Monastersky (Moderator):
We're midway through out time with Dr. Miklosi, so don't wait to
send in your questions.
Question from Marilyn Cooper, Michigan Technological University:
Marc Hauser (Willd Minds) argues that different animals employ
different "mental tools," and that behavior that looks the same in
different animals may not involve the same kind of thinking. Have you
considered this hypothesis, and how would you say it relates to your
work with dogs?
I think that is the correct approach. During domestication dogs
got the "mental tools" for how to behave/"manipulate" etc humans, and
they use them well because we are contributing a lot to their survival
(and doing it without force). For dogs this means that they have
abilities for understanding many forms of our gestural and to some
extent verbal communication, observe our behaviour and learn from it,
etc. Other animals (e.g. wolves) do not do this even if they have the
Question from Leslie, small liberal arts univ:
I've heard that dogs have learned to make eye contact with humans
whereas wolves do not do this. If this is true, have dogs learned that
by making eye contact they can get a human's attention and then
communicate with that human? My dog will come to me from another room,
place herself in front of me and, standing still, stare at me. When I
get up she runs to the door but if I don't follow she comes back, and
does the same stare. She's taught me that this means she needs to go
I think you are right. Dog-human communication goes both ways. We
teach them and they teach us, or they learn from us and we learn from
them. That is wonderful because it works so smoothly, and although it
can also be done with some other animals (e.g. dolphins) with dogs it
is very natural, and no special training is needed for either of the
Question from Rich Monastersky:
The article, "Clever Canines," talks about research showing that
foxes could be domesticated in as little as 18 generations (50 years).
In that short time, the foxes demonstrated a marked increase in their
ability to extract information from human cues. Does this research
suggest that dog domestication might have happened quite quickly? And
if so, might a research project with wolves be able to produce
domesticated animals particularly tuned to human communication in just
a few decades?
The fox experiment shows that you can get changes is social
behaviour very fast. However foxes have not reached the "level" of
dogs, there are still important differences. In principle one could
try to domesticate wolves but there might be differences depending on
what kind of wolf population one starts from. It is believed that our
dogs originated from Asian wolves that are very different from the
It is more intresting whether one can domesticate dogs "further"!
Question from Ryan Singer, in Chicago:
From the article:
<< Michael J. Owren, assistant professor of psychology at Cornell
University, says Mr. Csányi's team may be underestimating the
flexibility of associative learning, the most basic kind of learning
that comes not from "thinking" out the problem, but simply by
associating events or objects with one another, as Pavlov demonstrated
with his dogs. >>
I wonder how "associating events or objects with one other" differs
from "thinking" in the above. It seems that in order for two objects
to be associated in a mind, each object must be represented as a
concept (it must be something that can be differentiated from
everything else from the perspective of the experiencer) and the
activation of one concept should give rise to the other (if they are
indeed associated). This sounds a lot like thinking to me.
I do not like this debate (in science) about "associate" versus
"cognition". Actually we avoid saying anything about the inner
processes because there are no proofs for it. There is no mental or
cognitive ability without learning, so one cannot debate the existance
of "associations" but we have no test for it, and neither can one do
control experiments. The dog is not a rat despite of what many think.
So I like to speak about "abilities" that are special in dogs, some of
which, of course, might emerge by association learning.
Question from Dr. Alka Chandna, University of Western Ontario:
I was interested to read about the work of Manuel Berdoy, an
animal behaviorist at Oxford University. Berdoy released 75 lab-born
rats into a farmyard and documented the quick recovery of wild
behaviors in the rats once they were released. The rats found water,
food and hiding holes almost immediately. They started to establish
social hierarchies within days, and it was only a few weeks before
they had established an extensive pattern of paths across the colony.
Although the rats had spent their whole lives being fed on pellets,
the females immediately prepared for pregnancy by foraging and storing
appropriate food. I wonder whether Dr. Miklósi's work with rats would
offer similar insights into rat behavior and cognitive ability.
Thanks very much!
Actually, I had only a very limited experience with rats testing
their ability to learn by observation of others. On the other hand, if
Berdoy had released the rats in the wild, as opposed to the farmyard,
none or may be a few would survive there. This is not about cognitive
abilities but about experience and genetics because laboratory rats
have been selected against living in the wild: e.g. that should not
avoid predators (as it would be normal). This way humans (resarchers)
can work with them.
Question from Bruce Friedrich, Grinnell College:
I see that you are also studying rats and fish--that's extremely
interesting. I've read that fish have memories, learn from one
another, and can do better on some cognition tests than dogs, and that
rats can dream and play and learn, also. It's all so interesting. How
would you compare the cognitive capacities of dogs, rats, and fish?
What other interesting little tidbits do you have about rats and fish,
from your behavioral research with them? Where, in English, might we
find some of your studies? Thanks so much--very, very exciting stuff.
Thank you for doing it.
I would never compare dogs, rats and fish (actually there is no
such thing as a general "fish", but there are individuals belonging to
certain fish species). These animals live in different environments so
the abilities and challenges are very difficult. When you ask about
comparison you want an objective answer but this is impossible. Could
you tell me a problem that would be similar for "fish", rats and dogs.
Our group has published over 50 papers on dogs, I have another 15 on
various animals. They are all in English, and you can get some of them
by searching on the web, or looking at our webpage (or write me by
Question from Bob Louisell, Professor Emeritus, St. Cloud State
Some say humans can be distinguished from animals because of their
facility with language. Others say mathematics; still others say
morality. Do you have any evidence of moral behavior having evolved in
No or very little. I am not a philosopher but I think of
"morality" as a kind of social aggreement among people. This would
mean that we should have such kind of aggreement with our dogs which
seem to be unlikely. But there are behavioural traits both in humans
and dogs that can be the basis of "moral" behaviour, for example
"helping" or "cooperating". I think only human social system (with the
means of communication, etc) can form such abilities in complex
Question from Debbie Huerta, Colgate University:
I certainly concur with Judith's comments and also thank you for
your research and papers about dogs. We have had dog's (companions)
who initiate interesting behaviors after making a connection between a
certain behavior and a desirable outcome. For example, our standard
poodle would go to a window and bark with great enthusiasm. Our
labrador would join her abandoning her food, bone, toy, spot on couch,
etc. Said object or place would then be taken by the poodle. Perhaps
it is unfairly easy for a poodle to deceive a labrador, however, I
wondered if you or members of your team have had the opportunity to
observe or study this sort of behavior? Thank you.
In our class on "animal cognition" this is one of the examples I
use, because I can explain that this behaviour ("deceit") can be the
outcome of both "learning" and "cognition." However at the moment, it
is very difficlult to find out what really goes on here. Such
behaviour is also very difficult to test in the laboratory or even at
the home of the owners. Neither dogs nor humans "lie" on command but I
agree it is a very interesting topic. An interesting question would be
whether your poodle would do it also at other places or with other
Question from Cecile McKee, U. of Arizona:
I'm raising a dog the belongs to an organization that breeds and
trains dogs to help people with various disabilities. The experience
has helped me appreciate individual variation across dogs in new ways.
A couple of questions have already hinted at variation issues. Could
you comment more on this, both across individuals in a breed and
Next, most organizations that train service dogs have a high
proportion of dogs that don't make it through the testing. Some of
this is of course health issues (a dog that's going to sometimes pull
a wheelchair cannot have hip trouble), but a lot of it relates to
training and 'attitude' (like gentleness or willingness to 'work').
Can you speculate on what such organizations might do to improve
training? Or what puppy raisers might do to improve dogs' chances to
do well in the later training?
1. with regard to breed, the situation is easier because there are
certain limits both physical and behavioural for many breeds. As you
would not use a small poodle for helping people in wheelchairs, you
prefer dog breeds with ceratin characteristics (e.g. retreival
abilities) for you goals. The question of individuals is more
difficult. At the moment there is no test for young puppies telling us
how a dog will behave in the future. In addition, they will experience
a lot (and we will not know about most of this because we are not
there). Then comes the training experience etc. So I think large
variation is the normal situation in most cases. And this brings me to
the second point because I have always wondered why people think that
dog should pass the training at 100%. At our university we have 160
biology students, and only 10 or 20 of them will be a biologist. Are
we doing a bad job as teachers? I think not. Being a biologist or
helping a disabled person are very complex things. It is inevitable
that only a minority can do it. Of course there is also room for
improvement with very early training and selection of the puppies as
training proceeds. But there will be no perfect solution partly also
because the task for these dogs is also very different depending on
the future owner (actually we also train dogs for disabled here in
Hungary and have the same problems)
Question from Linda Sommer, U of Indianapolis:
Have you done any work with dogs that develop a disability and how
that affects their interaction with their environment? I grew up
around a blind dog who was quite remarkable at adapting, and as an
adult had a dog who went deaf. Both learned to cope quite well without
human intervention. That seemed quite an indiction of intelligence to
Actually, not but I think this kind of adaptation to loss of
senses is based on the flexibility of the nervous system and not
"intelligence" as such. The problem is that, in wild animals, such
individuals would not survive for long but in captivity they have a
better chance. In Budapest in the Zoo we had a blind male wolf living
with his son, and the younger wolf brough the meat to his father
Question from Mary, medium public comprehensive college:
Certain breeds are noted for certain traits--hunting, retrieving,
pointing, herding, digging. Does your research have any implications
supporting or questioning this characteristic?
We try to avoid compapring breeds. In the mind of dog-loving
people, breed" is a well-defined category, but in reality, it is not.
This is because people think in pictures (the photos of a breed) and
not actually in terms of real animals and their behaviour. You can
find in all breeds individuals who might dig, retrieve etc. But in
some cases, it is very difficult to train a dog for doing such and
such a behaviour whilst in other cases it is easier. So breed
difference is not a black or white issue!
Question from Ellen Dannin, Wayne State University Law School:
Jó napot! I saw a positive review of your book in Science News
this week. What are the intriguing questions you see out there with
regard to canine intelligence?
And I have a dog I got when he was 4. I thought was not very bright.
So I never tried to train him. But I noticed one day he was trying a
trick I had taught my other dog. He learned by watching his canine
companion. It helped that treats were involved.
Each of my dogs is smart in a different way. Figuring out their
strengths is a lot of fun.
First of all it is not my book but my professor's Vilmos Csányi.
There are many questions to answer. Actually, I prefer smaller
questions to bigger one. We are conducting studies to find out how
much really (on an everyday basis, without special training) dogs
understand about human's visual and verbal communication. We are
running studies to find out what dogs can learn from each other or
from humans (just as your example shows). We are looking into issues
how the relationship of the dog with different members of the family
influences their behaviour. We are also studying dog barking to see
whether there is information for other dogs or humans. Köszönöm a
Question from Tom Boyer, non-instituted:
Have you ever heard of a dog immitating vocal exercizes? As a
singer, I sometimes do this descending ooh sound, down an octave. I
had a jack russell that copied me,and even could be prompted by a
pitch pipe to do the exercize, and pretty in tune too!
I know of stories (anecdotes) about such "singing" dogs, and we
have also some around that would start "calling" or howling after
listening to some musical instrument. Actually, this is one experiment
that we are running now, so I hope to report on this in the next few
Rich Monastersky (Moderator):
That's about all we have time for. I want to thank Mr. Miklosi for
staying up late (in Budapest) and answering these interesting
questions. And thanks also go to all of you who participated in
45. mailto:amiklosi62 at hotmail.com
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