Stop telling your dog you don’t have any treats left when they can quite clearly see the half-full packet.
It turns out our pups are not so easily duped, as they’re able to understand the basic concept of numbers and ‘more’ or ‘less’, according to a new bit of research.
Dogs were trained to lie still in an fMRI scanner, then had their responses to different numbers of dots flashing on the screen measured by the machine.
The researchers found that the dogs ’ parietotemporal cortex responded to differences in the number of dots – which is a scientific way of saying that they recognised that four dots is different to two dots, for example – and thus that if you lie and say you have no treats when your dog saw four in your hand earlier (and you’ve only given them two), the jig is up.
Scientists held the total area of the dots constant, showing that it’s specifically the number of the dots rather than their collective size that generated the response. So in a sense, dogs can do very basic maths. Smart.
The study was quite small, and thus didn’t delve into whether some dogs are better at counting than others.
11 dogs of varying breeds who had not received any advanced training in numerosity, were involved in the study. Eight of them showed greater activation in the parietotemporal cortex when the ratio between alternating dot arrays was more dissimilar than when the numerical values were constant.
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It’s thought that dogs are naturally able to understand numbers, amounts, and ‘more’ or ‘less’ because in the wild they may need to quickly estimate the number of objects in a scene, such as the number of predators approaching or the amount of food available.
This sense appears to be widespread throughout the animal kingdom, not relying on any training.First author of the study, Lauren Aulet, a PhD candidate, said: ‘We went right to the source, observing the dogs’ brains, to get a direct understanding of what their neurons were doing when the dogs viewed varying quantities of dots.
‘That allowed us to bypass the weaknesses of previous behavioural studies of dogs and some other species.’Gregory Berns, professor of psychology at Emory University in America, and senior author of the study, said: ‘Our work not only shows that dogs use a similar part of their brain to process numbers of objects as humans do – it shows that they don’t need to be trained to do it.’