As dog owners and dog lovers we all probably think our pooches are pretty smart, right?  Well it looks like they may be even smarter than we thought! It seems dogs can do something that previously only humans, including infants have been shown capable of doing.

Friederike Range of the University of Vienna, who led a study to see if dogs could imitate selectively, depending on the situation.

Range and her colleagues trained Guinness, a female border collie, to push a wooden rod with her paw to get a treat. A dog generally does not use its paws to do tasks, preferring to use its mouth whenever possible. So the key question was whether dogs that watched Guinness would decide how to get the treat depending on the circumstances.

After making sure the owners could not influence their pets’ behavior, researchers tested three groups of dogs. The first 14, representing a variety of breeds, did not watch Guinness. When taught how to use the rod, about 85 percent pushed it with their mouth, confirming that is how dogs naturally like to do things.

The second group of 21 dogs watched Guinness repeatedly push the rod with her paw while holding a ball in her mouth. In that group, most of the dogs — about 80 percent — used their mouth, imitating the action but not the exact method Guinness had used. That suggested the dogs — like the children — decided Guinness was only using her paw because she had no choice.

The third group of 19 dogs watched Guinness repeatedly use a paw on the rod with her mouth free. Most of those dogs — 83 percent — imitated her behavior exactly, using their paws and not their mouth. That suggested they concluded there must be some good reason to act against their instincts and do it like Guinness. (The Washington Post)

Now this may not sound like a big deal but it says alot about the cognitive reasoning in dogs because this is pretty complex reasoning.  Now it seems that there is  quite a debate as to what this means and what it really shows.

Whether it’s as Brian Hare, who studies dogs at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology says, “What’s surprising and shocking about this is that we thought this sort of imitation was very sophisticated, something seen only in humans. Once again, it ends up dogs are smarter than scientists thought.  This suggests they can actually think about your intention — they can look for explanations of your behavior and make inferences about what you are thinking.”

And Stanley Coren at the University of British Columbia, who studies how dogs think comments, “It really shows a higher level of consciousness. This takes a real degree of consciousness.”

Or on the other side, Daniel J. Povinelli, a cognitive scientist at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette says, “It’s so easy for the human mind to look at a dog doing something like this and force our human way of thinking about it on the dog. This ability might happen automatically without any conscious reflection on the dog’s part.”

And as Bruce Blumberg, who teaches classes on dog behavior at Harvard University comments, “Dogs are really keen observers of the world around them. They use simple but reliable rules that capture just enough of a problem to be able to just do better than guessing. This may just be another example of that.”

From my point of view it shows me that one way or another, our beloved canine companions are alot smarter then we often give them credit for.

What do you think? Feel free to comment! 🙂

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