05 March 2010

"How did dogs get so smart?"

Via Ryan Sager, offered without comment: "Social Cognition in Dogs, or How did Fido get so smart?" (Based on research presented in Hare et al. 2005.)
Domesticated dogs seem to have an uncanny ability to understand human communicative gestures. If you point to something the dog zeroes in on the object or location you’re pointing to (whether it’s a toy, or food, or to get his in-need-of-a-bath butt off your damn bed and back onto his damn bed). Put another way, if your attention is on something, or if your attention is directed to somewhere, dogs seem to be able to turn their attention onto that thing or location as well.
Amazingly, dogs seem to be better at this than primates (including our nearest cousins, the chimpanzees) and better than their nearest cousins, wild wolves.
And so it was that biological anthropologist Brian Hare, director of the of Duke University Canine Cognition Center wondered: did dogs get so smart because of direct selection for this ability during the domestication of dogs, or did this apparent intelligence evolve, in a sense, by accident, because of selection against fear and aggression?
Duke has a whole lab doing dog science? I could have studied to be a dog scientist? Man, I missed out.

2 comments:

  1. Maybe YOUR dog looks at what you point to. My dang ACD/Corgi cross takes her tennis ball into the water, then abandons it three feet off shore. If I point at it, she ignores me, and then barks for me to throw her a ball.

    Sigh.

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  2. Apparently some dogs are smart, but *definitely* not mine.

    He never managed to master the idea that fetching works much better when you bring the toy back to the thrower, rather than just pouncing on it and then dropping it again before returning.

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