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Dog Smart: Exploring the Canine Mind
Researchers exploring the canine point of view
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Canine Mind

Doesn’t it sound reasonable to study the behavior of cranes? After all, cranes are quite different from humans — they can f ly, spend lots of time on one leg and don’t need an external GPS to find their way to Florida.

But what if we replace “cranes” with “dogs”? Why study dog behavior? Unlike cranes, dogs are not a wild species with feathers, migratory patterns or conservation needs. Dogs have lived alongside humans for at least 15,000 years; are ubiquitous in human cultures; and regularly find their way into our literature, hearts and beds (also unassisted by GPS, it must be noted). We think we know dogs just fine. What’s the point of all this scrutiny?

Dogs aren’t new in the world of research.
Our shared mammalian physiology has given us reasons to open up dogs for inspection (literally) at least since the time of Descartes. In the previous century, dogs were the star subjects of Pavlov’s work on the “conditioned ref lex” (you remember: bell + food (then repeat) = dog salivates in anticipation of food after hearing bell).

In other academic arenas, Marc Bekoff, Ian Dunbar, Michael Fox and the late Frank Beach all conducted extensive investigations into canine social behavior, physiology and development. And of course, in 1965, Scott and Fuller produced their seminal text, Genetics and the Social Behavior of the Dog. Konrad Lorenz, Nobel Prize–winner and acclaimed ethologist, also had dogs on the brain; if you doubt that, pick up a copy of his book, Man Meets Dog.

Despite the thousands of years dogs and humans had spent in close proximity, scientists had never explored either the relationship or the factors that allowed dogs to become our social partners.

Dogs’ perspective as members of the human environment was missing from the equation. “It’s odd that this companion animal who has been at our side longer than any other is really not well understood,” observes Kristina Pattison, researcher at the University of Kentucky’s Comparative Cognition Laboratory.

“Dogs suffer from a failure of imagination by those asking the questions,” explains Mary Lee Nitschke, professor of psychology, Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist (CAAB) and founding member of the Association of Pet Dog Trainers (APDT). “If you already ‘know’ a dog can’t think, you’re not going to ask whether it can think.”

In 1994, imagination and an open mind prompted the creation of the Family Dog Project at Eötvös Loránd University in Budapest, initially under the guidance of Vilmos Csányi, and now headed by Ádám Miklósi. Rather than taking the position that dogs’ place among humans was unworthy of scientific investigation, they put the dog, and the dog-human relationship, under the microscope.

While previous studies had investigated owners’ intimate feelings toward dogs, the dog’s perspective on this relationship had not received comparable attention (probably because canine penmanship is quite poor and they rarely complete questionnaires in a timely fashion).

To explore the dog’s perspective, the Budapest group placed companion dogs and their owners in a modified version of the Strange Situation Test, a behavioral experiment initially created to explore the mother-infant relationship from the infant’s perspective. The test is simple enough. In a novel environment, a dog experiences separations from and reunions with an owner and a stranger while a researcher records the dog’s behavioral changes. It turned out that dogs behaved much like human infants. The conclusion? The dogowner relationship, like the motherinfant relationship, fulfills the criteria for attachment.

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Submitted by Anonymous | July 20 2012 |

I got my dog when she was two weeks old. She is now 19 months. I've nearly spent every hour with her since first I held her. She was very sick when first I held her tiny body. She now weighs 78 pounds and is a beautiful and loving animal like I am. The only difference is that she's a German short-haired pointer and she thinks I am her mother.:)

The article states: "Thompson looks at the breadth of cognition research from a different angle; she wonders whether owners are providing for their dogs’ mental needs. “It’s important for owners to realize that dogs have real mental abilities and needs. Putting food in a dog’s bowl is just wasting his brain. It’s the little things — Kongs, Tug-a-Jugs, hiding kibble around the house — it’s not hard, and it’s a simple way to engage their natural abilities.”"

My comment to the above mentioned quote is rather simple. My little girl likes to play with the laundry that I take down from the clothes line then proudly runs around in circles while I chase after her. It's a game she has made-up. She surely keeps me fit! When she finds her favorite small ball I do think she purposely rolls it under the bed then runs to me and whimpers while running back to the bedroom. I follow her and she knows I'll get a broom and get the ball rolling again with it. She is a very smart and lovable dog. I love her and she loves me. We have lots of fun together because she thinks I am her mommy.:) I think she is my sweet and precious adorable little girl and she knows that to be the truth. She loves to snuggle up with me all the time more than likely because I first held her in the palm of my hand when first I got her. She was very sick when I first held her in the palm of my hand. Tiny little thing she was. I do think we animals cling to love and attention.

Submitted by Anonymous | June 5 2013 |

Dear Julie,
I'm going to update you on my little girl that now weights 84 lbs. She is a little over 2 1/2 years old since last I wrote the above.:) She was socialized immediately after having her first rabies vaccine by taking her to dog parks, walks along the beach and neighborhoods, camping, and just introducing her to the world we live in. She travels well in the car and enjoys the company of friendly creatures.:)I'm constantly told that she is beautiful and sweet. I nod my head in agreement.

This past Christmas I received by mail a magazine "Southern Living" that had an article with a picture which looks very much like her(1)only that her shinny coat is white with a tan diamond on her forehead, tan ears, tan swirls on her behind, and a few tan spots on one side of her. She has black spots under her white coat and on her belly. She is a fox hound, which is rare to find in my neck of the woods! I'm still trying to figure out how she turned out to be the breed she is since back when I first told you about her I was told by the vet she was a German short-haired pointer though when she was first given to me I was told she was a spaniel. It doesn't really matter what breed she is since I love her no matter what. She is extremely intelligent and will forever remain my baby girl though I must tell you that she is my protector. She guards me. An example is when I went camping. A wolf came into the campground and her growl was darn frightening. I feel safe with her when she is with me. I love her and she loves me.:) Life is filled with surprises and blessings. Bye the way, humans and dogs are placental mammals.(2)

Thank you for allowing me to share a small piece of our life with you and others.

1. http://thedailysouth.southernliving.com/2012/12/01/virginias-holiday-fin... (Scroll down the page to the town of Middleburg.)

2. http://www.ucmp.berkeley.edu/mammal/eutheria/placental.html

Submitted by Anonymous | June 5 2013 |

Dear Julie,
I'm going to update you on my little girl that now weights 84 lbs. She is a little over 2 1/2 years old since last I wrote the above.:) She was socialized immediately after having her first rabies vaccine by taking her to dog parks, walks along the beach and neighborhoods, camping, and just introducing her to the world we live in. She travels well in the car and enjoys the company of friendly creatures.:)I'm constantly told that she is beautiful and sweet. I nod my head in agreement.

This past Christmas I received by mail a magazine "Southern Living" that had an article with a picture which looks very much like her(1)only that her shinny coat is white with a tan diamond on her forehead, tan ears, tan swirls on her behind, and a few tan spots on one side of her. She has black spots under her white coat and on her belly. She is a fox hound, which is rare to find in my neck of the woods! I'm still trying to figure out how she turned out to be the breed she is since back when I first told you about her I was told by the vet she was a German short-haired pointer though when she was first given to me I was told she was a spaniel. It doesn't really matter what breed she is since I love her no matter what. She is extremely intelligent and will forever remain my baby girl though I must tell you that she is my protector. She guards me. An example is when I went camping. A wolf came into the campground and her growl was darn frightening. I feel safe with her when she is with me. I love her and she loves me.:) Life is filled with surprises and blessings. Bye the way, humans and dogs are placental mammals.(2)

Thank you for allowing me to share a small piece of our life with you and others.

1. http://thedailysouth.southernliving.com/2012/12/01/virginias-holiday-fin... (Scroll down the page to the town of Middleburg.)

2. http://www.ucmp.berkeley.edu/mammal/eutheria/placental.html

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