JoAnna Lou
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Understanding the Human Mind
Study looks at whether dogs understand our point of view

My Sheltie, Nemo, is a master food thief. He seems to wait for the perfect moment to make his move. Given how successful Nemo is, I think he's learned to read me very well over the years. But can dogs really understand what's going through our head? Most pet lovers, including myself, would say yes.

Dr. Juliane Kaminski of the University of Portsmouth decided to explore this question. Her latest study begins to look at whether dogs have a flexible understanding of the human mind. And it turns out that canines are more capable of understanding our point of view than previously thought.

In Dr. Kaminski's study, people and their dogs were put in a room with food that they were not allowed to eat. Then the researchers varied the amount of light in the room and recorded whether or not the dogs stole the food. The scientists found that the dogs were four times more likely to steal food when the lights were turned off. This suggests that our pets consider what we can or cannot see, meaning that they might have an understanding of the human perspective.  

It's always been assumed that only primates have a truly flexible understanding of the mind and others' minds. Dr. Kaminski's findings are an important step to learning a dog's ability to understand how we think and behave. I can't wait to see more research in this area.  

JoAnna Lou is a New York City-based researcher, writer and agility enthusiast.

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