We love our dogs. And research is showing that our dogs love us back and are much smarter than we often give them credit for.
A series of studies has shown that dogs are capable of understanding hundreds of words, can read human social and communicative actions, and even possess some reasoning ability. But perhaps most importantly of all, these studies show that dogs do in fact truly love us, and do not just view us as a big dog who provides them with food and water.
They can understand names
One question which dog owners have is whether dogs truly understand names. Does Fido actually understand that he is Fido or is he just responding when a certain sound is made?
Not only can dogs understand names, they can understand hundreds of names. A border collie named Chaser has shown how well dogs can remember them.
Chaser’s owner, former psychologist John Pilley, has shown in a study that Chaser can recognize the names of 1,022 distinctive objects as well as more common words like “house” and “tree.” When Chaser was tasked to retrieve a specific toy, she was able to find the correct one 95 percent of the time. The researchers also noted that there appeared to be no upper limit on the number of names she could remember, as they stopped due to time constraints rather than Chaser’s inability to remember more.
Perhaps most surprisingly of all, Chaser has shown the ability to figure out names through inference. The dog was placed in a room with several familiar toys and one new toy. She was then told the new toy’s name without identifying the toy with the name and was then told to retrieve the toy.
Chaser was able to understand that since she knew the names of every toy there but one, that one toy had to be the unfamiliar name. The ability to reason through exclusion is something scientists have not seen in dogs before.
They may possess a sense of self
In addition to these tests, there is additional evidence that dogs may understand the concept of “I am I”. One common test which is used to determine whether an animal possesses a sense of self is to place it in front of a mirror. The goal is to see if the animal understands that it is looking at itself and not at another animal. Elephants, chimpanzees, and dolphins all appear to understand this, but dogs do not.
However, researcher Marc Bekoff pointed out that unlike chimpanzees and humans, dogs depend more on their sense of smell rather than sight. Bekoff hypothesized that dogs may understand themselves by their scent instead of their appearance.
Bekoff thus conducted a test using his own dog’s urine. When his dog urinated on a patch of snow, Bekoff took the snow and deposited it by a place where other dogs had also urinated. He made sure to keep the transfer process a secret from his dog.
When his dog reached the spot, he seemed to recognize his own scene. He sniffed the snow path for a shorter period compared to the patches left by other dogs and left it alone. While Bekoff has stressed that this is not conclusive proof that dogs possess a sense of self, it is an indication.
They do love us
A sense of self and intelligence is all very fine, but people want to know if our dogs truly love us. That appears to be the case.
A neuroscience analysis of a dog’s brain shows that when a dog sniffs a cloth soaked by their owner, there is a spike in activity in their caudate nucleus. This is a section of the brain which may be associated with emotional attachment.
This spike does not occur when the dog sniffs the scent of itself, an unfamiliar person, or another dog. This can serve as evidence that dogs are truly pleased to see their owners, just like an owner should be to see his dog.
They are our intelligent, loving comrades
No one is going to suggest that dogs will be playing poker anytime soon. Also, because of the language barrier, it is incredibly difficult for humans to understand what a dog is thinking when it takes part in these tests.
But while we may be limited in our ability to communicate with dogs, it is clear that some dogs possess the ability to understand human words and react to them. There is also evidence that they possess a sense of self and most important of all, care about us.
As Anderson Cooper observed on 60 Minutes, scientists viewed dogs for decades as not worthy of serious study. It is now clear that this was an incorrect assumption, and it is time for scientists to pay attention to our closest companions, just like they do with chimpanzees and dolphins.
Featured photo credit: oneinchpunch via shutterstock.com