Animal Emotions

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The Dog's Mind: What They Think About and Know

Read about the fascinating research that's being done on our best friends

Dogs are amazing beings. They play a large part in the lives of numerous humans and much fascinating research is being done to learn about what's happening in their very active brains and minds. 

A review of dog behavior and cognition written by Annie Murphy Paul was recently published in Time magazine and is well worth reading. Clearly, dogs have highly evolved capacities to learn words, abstract concepts, and to count. 

Some teasers: 

"The average dog can learn 165 words, notes psychologist Stanley Coren of the University of British Columbia, and some superdogs can have a vocabulary of 250 words." Dr. Coren writes for Psychology Today.

[And there are some amazing superdogs. You can read here about Chaser. a border collie, who has a vocabulary of 1022 nouns including "800 cloth animals, 116 balls, 26 Frisbees and a medley of plastic items."]

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"Most impressive of all is dogs’ ability to learn about humans. They respond to our gestures, they attend to our body language, and they follow our gaze to figure out what we’re looking at. They even are susceptible to repeating human yawns, according to a study published in the journal Biology Letters."

"Scientists this year reported the results of the first brain scans conducted on awake, unrestrained dogs that were trained to lie perfectly still inside an MRI machine. The aim of the experiment was to find out which brain circuits would respond when the dogs’ human owners made a gesture offering food. The scans showed that when a treat was promised, a pattern of activity appeared in the caudate nucleus, a part of the brain associated with the anticipation of reward."

I strongly suggest you read this essay and look at the links to see just who dogs are and what they know, think about, and are able to do. I learned a lot by reading it and I look forward to what future research will reveal about the cognitive capacities of our best friends. I'm sure many surprises are in store.

If the world goes to the dogs, it just might be a good move. 

 

Marc Bekoff, Ph.D., is Professor Emeritus of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Colorado, Boulder.

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