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Dogs thinking?

This WaPo story, reporting on a study published in the journal "Current Biology", asserts that dogs think more than we thought they think. Well, at least they seem to imitate selectively (depending on the context) and may use the same cognitive process as an infant. Some researches are saying that a dog can put himself inside the head of another dog, and perhaps even people, in order to make relatively complex decisions; perhaps even think about a person’s intention; they may even have a sense of awarness that may be a higher level of consciousness than previously thought.

I got a dog (a puppy) for my mother on her birthday three weeks ago. It is a Miniature Schnauzer. She named it Choki, (as in choki, but with a short "o", not as in choke, rather as in chuck) meaning "little chocolate."
To my surprise she fell for Choki immediately even though she has never been a dog lover. She liked this particular dog, but she doesn’t like Great Danes, or the Bull Terrier down the street. In short, my mother knows that the various individual dogs she has met or seen are in fact dogs. She knows that dog is a universal, and Choki is just a particular dog; she knows that this cute and loving creature named Choki is a dog. She recognizes the universal dog in her particular dog. Or, as an old friend used to put it, she understands what a common noun is, and her speech about dogs (or anything else) is therefore inteligible, albeit in Hungarian (most of the time). She also knows this, and would contend that her mind is free to think about all kinds of common nouns.

One of the scientists, a Marc Bekoff, in the article says this: "Every day, we’re discovering surprises about animals and finding out animals are far more intelligent and far more emotional than we previously thought. We’re really breaking down the lines between the species."

Now, my mother knows that Mark Bekoff is a scientist, and that all scientists are human beings. She also knows that human beings, even Mark Bekoff, can think about dogs. She also knows that even when a particular man is wrong in his thinking, he is still more intelligent than any dog, although, in this case it may be a close call because she also thinks Choki is very, very smart.

Discussions - 25 Comments

Animals are not smart nor do they think or have feelings. I own dogs, cats, horses, pigs, goats, cows, peacocks and pigeons and have for the greater part of my lifetime. I have never seen or heard of any animal graduate from Harvard Medical School and go on to find a cure for some horrible disease. Although domestic animals may be somewhat "smarter" than say wild animals such as lions, tigers, elk, etc, this "smarterness" comes from interaction and training that man has done over hundreds of years. Labs did not come into this world with an automatic instinct to hunt. Man developed this trait. I have Great Pyrenees Dogs - they are Guardian Livestock Dogs and very good at it. However it took "MAN" over a period of about hundred years to develop this "instinct" into the breed.

Unlike people, there are two kinds of animals in this world - Prey and Predators. This causes the Fight or Flight instinct which all animals have in order to survive. Horses are prey animals, thus their instinct is to run. Once you know this and understand this, you can work with a horse and tame it. However, you need to keep in the back of your mind that the smallest action can bring this instinct out in the biggest way such as kicking or running away. Dogs are predators and will fight. The best dog in the world can revert to this behavior for an unknown reason. Many people are bitten or attacked by dogs that have never bitten anyone before.

I really love animals. I spend a great deal of time and money on them. But they are just animals and one must keep that in mind.

You have explained much more eloquently than I could one of the reasons why I am a vegan. (The others being that animal products cause heart disease, cancer and other health problems at much greater rates than a plant based diet and that the resources needed to support a meat based diet are far higher than for a plant based diet). In fact, in my opinion the only irrefutable reason for eating meat is that it tastes good (sometimes, and to some this is also debatable). It is hard to argue taste.

I'm not sure that anything Cowgirl has mentioned don't also apply to people with respect to fight or flight or the unknown propensity for attacking random people. In fact, attacking random people seems to be the basis of our current foreign policy.

I own dogs, cats, horses, pigs, goats, cows, peacocks and pigeons and have for the greater part of my lifetime.

Please excuse my skepticism. I seriously doubt that you have owned all those animals. Even Old McDonald's farm was not so diverse.

May I ease your skepticism. Except for the peacocks, those animals are pretty typical on farms. There are farms in my area that have kept peacocks with their other fowl. They make good pets.

Peter, I'm having a hard time following all those universal and particulars--but trying to get into the minds of the scientists, it's hard to see what is new here.

Looks like you've picked up the baton from dain.

I have a little dog at home; a pekingese we call Buddy. I got him from the dog pound when he was about a year old, and now he is nearly three years old. And I have to say, he does seem to have some sort of intelligent personality. Now, it may just resemble personality and I'm drawing lines connecting things, but it is still there. For example, when he knows he has done something he isn't supposed to do, he will go and--much like a little child--seem to get weepy and scared, hiding in the corner of his bed. One thing I find remarkable about him is that when he is mad at someone, he will seem to ignore them. One day he got angry with my younger brother for, apparently, not rubbing his stomach. So for the entire day the dog would not even look at my brother, keeping his back to him, and when my brother would reach down to pet him, Buddy would turn away. The entire day, the only time that Buddy addressed my brother was when my brother had a sandwich in his lap. As soon as the food was in my brother's stomach, the dog went back to avoiding him.


So, no, I don't think that dogs are intelligent as we are. But I do believe it is quite possible for them to have the cognitive abilities of small children, and to feel emotion.


I'm also a big fan of Twain's "The Damned Human Race" where man, the "lower" animals, have descended from the higher animals. Heh.

Flannery O'Connor read a lot into peacocks, but I can't figure out why they'd be good pets. On the particularity of dogs, they can't name but they know names, and they can experience the tension between self-interest and what they know they should do. But there are no dog physicists, presidents, poets, philosophers, or physicists, and there's no dog technology. A dog doesn't know what it means to be mortal. There's a bigger gap between a dog and a human being than between a dog and a flea. Our species has WORKED on the natural material that is the dog for millenia; we've bred them into beings that really, really like us--or at least know how to fool us really well. It's interesting that people who actually live on farms are rarely attracted to vegetarianism or use pet cemetaries. Dogs aren't vegetarians unless we cruelly make them so.

Better appreciation for animals' intelligence and soulfulness is a good thing, even though the intelligence and soulfulness of domestic animals undoubtedly owes mostly to human contact. However, it's crazy and sinister to speak of "breaking down the lines between the species." The guy who said it may not be, but the thought is dangerous.

I have never owned a peacock, but am only repeating what I have heard. Cowgirl can tell us if I rumor wrongly.


There are animals with which we feel a closeness. I could not eat a dog, though I know they are eaten and accept that a dog would eat me if I were dead. We had chickens for awhile, and I had no problem eating them when their time was up. There was no sense of a personal relationship with any one of them. A few years ago I had a winter coat, made in China, with a hood trimmed with fur. I wondered what fur that was until one day when I saw a dog with the same kind of fur as the fur on my coat's hood. I never liked the coat after that. Yet my grandmother's mink jacket is in my closet and that never bothers me at all. Not that I have much occasion to wear it.


If God made dog, then dog would be whatever is needed. That the situation so often seems to work out to mutual satisfaction, and sometimes to work into mutual dependence, seems natural in that event. Man's work on the project has improved the species, but I have met some mighty stupid dogs, too, bred for looks and not for companionship. A really good, smart dog is a pleasure, as is any good thing that fits its function very well. The traits that make a dog a pleasure might be a pleasure if found in a man, but if the man had only those traits, he would be a mighty incomplete man. A dog with truly man-like traits - I don't think that's possible, nor would we like that.

First, let me defend Cowgirls menagerie. The notion that people don't own such a diverse cast is frankly colloquial. I've owned far more myself.


I've had the privilege of owning an african grey parrot for about 8 years.


It is clear to me after years of interaction that the beast is perfectly capable of recognizing catagories.
Whenever he sees a cat he meows. He never does so with similar sized dogs.
I won't bother with extensive examples. Instead just a funny unrelated anectdote.


I lived in a condo for a couple years. My morning routine was pretty regular. One morning I walked down the stairs to the bathroom to pee.


I lifted up the lid.


And the bird makes a flatuation sound.


And he was right. Part of my morning routine. The neighbors must have thought me a near abusive parent with the obscentities I launched at that thing.


Still have him. It would take a lot to make me part with that crazy bird.

There are peacocks all over the place in my neighborhood and also in several other local neighborhoods out here. I don't know if it's a California thing but they seem to be rather like cows in India. Cars stop to let them pass. Children stop to admire. People complain if the neighbor's cat shows up to do its business on their lawn, but no one bothers the peacocks. People actually feed them to encourage them to stay (and subsequently do more business). More proof that the pretty have their privileges.

But I love jdavenport's story about his African Grey. It reminds me of another. I have an older lady friend for whom I do some work and she has a cockatiel. One day soon after I met her, I was doing some work at the house when the cockatiel gave me a wolf-whistle. Her husband happened to be there to hear it and remarked that I should not be alarmed because, "The bird always whistles at pretty young women." The woman happened to be there to hear the husband's remark . . . so, unlike the peacocks above, I lost some privileges. Even so, I do love that bird.

To Abbie:

I love meat - prime rib is my favorite - obviously you have never be exposed to any animals of any kind. Unlike Disney and Animal Planet the Reality is that Animals kill and attack each other on a daily basis whether it be for food or survival - get real. If people were like animals as you claim, then we would have never gotten beyond cave men.

To Miers:

Please do not call me a liar. I will be more than happy to send you picturs of the 3 horses, the 2 pigs, the 3 dogs, the cat, the 37 peacocks, the pigeon, goat and steer. I'd be more than happy to send you the feed bills also.

As far as the peacocks are concerned. I live amongst many dairies and they are a fixture on a lot of them. They love instects do a great job as exterminators. They have adopted my ranch because they can nest in the manure spreader or in the haystack without fear of predators - my Great Pyrenees Dogs protect them the same as the horses, pigs, etc. I have been able to "tame" a couple of them as far as handing feeding them. They are wonderful watch dogs - almost as good as my Pyrs... They sound like banshees and when frighten will scream louder than any 3 year old. And only the boys are pretty and just for a few months during mating season - then they lose all their feathers. The girls, well they are just plane janes.....

I did say that "meat tastes good" is the only irrefutable argument for eating it...other than that it is basically a wasteful source of food with a lot of negative health consequences. But hey, I'm willing to live and let live. If people want to kill and eat animals that is their business. No where in my post did I try to tell anyone what else to do...I'm sort of a libertarian liberal in that regard (perhaps the result of growing up in the Northeast and moving out West).

Abbie:

Meat is not bad for you - the health consequences that you refer to have become an issue in the past twenty years. People have been eating meat since the beginning of time. Over 51 percent of the people in the US are overweight - thus the heart disease, cancer, diabetes. Excluding meat from your diet will not stop these diseases. Turning off the TV, video games, and getting off the couch and moving is what needs to happen. Try mucking stalls, bucking hay, grooming and bathing horses, dogs, pigs, etc. Granted a balance diet is also part of it - but becoming a vegeterian isn't going to change it. I know vegans that eat potato chips, candy, ice cream, starbucks, etc... Meat is not the issue. Vegans can and will develop cancer, etc - some of this is all determined by mom, dad, grandma, etc.

I don't care if you own Noah's Ark. Your response was reactionary. No one said that animals could graduate from Harvard Medical School or cure diseases. That doesn't mean they can't "think or have feelings" at all.

I eat meat because it's delicious. If you are lower on the food chain, too bad for you. Sooner or later you'll end up on my plate. But I don't delude myself into pretending that everything I eat is an emotionless rock.

Abbie:

Not to pick on you, but I am a born and raised Bay Arean - California. Being raised in the Northwest and moving west should not make you a vegan. When I was growing up in the Bay Area it was all farms and ranches. Silicon Valley was apple and orange orchards and most of the East Bay was cattle ranches. My husband was born and raised on the biggest ranch and one of the most famous ranches in the Bay Area. Being vegan is not a West-thing. It is imported - just like most of the fruits and nuts in California. By the way I still live near the Bay Area and I still eat meat.

Miers:

Then prove to me that everything that you eat can feel emotions and think.

Like can you tell how to get my horses to think about using a toliet so that I don't have to muck stalls.

Too much Disney and Animal Planet for you.

Thanks for proving my point. The article said that animals may use similar cognitive processes to an infant. No one said horses can use the toilet or go to Harvard. Your response was reactionary and overreaching.

Miers

An infant cries when it is hungry, wet or hurt. None of my horses, dogs, cats, pigs, etc, etc, cry when they are hungrey, wet or distressed. They don't process thinking, reasoning or emotional capabilities. Since it is obvious you know very little about animals, you would not understand that if an animal is starved,it will do nothing about it. There will be no emotional response. The same goes for being hurt - there is no emotion.

You did not read the complete article as it stated the following:

"Some researches are saying that a dog can put himself inside the head of another dog, and perhaps even people, in order to make relatively complex decisions; perhaps even think about a person’s intention; they may even have a sense of awarness that may be a higher level of consciousness than previously thought."

Which makes your point useless.

Please quit being Darwin and comparing animals to humans. Your emotions are overriding any ability to be logical.

Amazing. The article said something uncontroversial, in fact, something that everyone who owns a dog already knows. They are capable of miminal cognitive processes. You came back with a strangely bitter response that had nothing to do with that.

"if an animal is starved,it will do nothing about it."

I have never seen this mysterious animal that does not eat or look for food or do anything else about hunger. And obviously my first assumption about you was correct. You clearly don't have a farm, or you would have known that animals often bellow when they are hungry or hurt.

"Please quit being Darwin and comparing animals to humans. Your emotions are overriding any ability to be logical."

I can't believe that the same person wrote both of those sentences.

Miers:

The post also said, which you obviously choose to miss because you have no experience with animals - you probably own a dog and that is about it (I can tell you have never been up all night with a colicy horse or a colicy baby or had to pull calves in the middle of the night, or stitch a horse or dog):
Some researches are saying that a dog can put himself inside the head of another dog, and perhaps even people, in order to make relatively complex decisions; perhaps even think about a person’s intention; they may even have a sense of awarness that may be a higher level of consciousness than previously thought - here is what my original post addressed. Engage your congitive abilities if you can. Animals do not think nor do they reason. It is all based on instinct -please look the word up in a dictionary if you need help with it.

Your post then claims that animals have a cognitive abilities similar to an infant. They do not - babies cry endlessly and react with great emotion when they are hungry, wet or hurt. I have never never never never seen a horse cry when they are hungry wet or distressed. Same with dogs or cats. THey do not CRY CRY CRY when they are hungry wet or distressed.

You clearly know nothing about animals as dogs, cats, horses don't bellow or cry when they are hungry. They don't smile or laugh when they are happy. The don't understand either emotion. Their instinct is find food but if they can't they will just starve. They don't cry and or become emotional like a child. I have a child, which means I have raised an infant and I have animals. There is no comparison. Not even close - It is so unbelieveable to me that you could even attempt to make a connection between infants and animals emotions and cognitive abilities. Darwin would be proud of you.

Like the rest of your rant, your obsession with Darwin is reactionary and overreaching.

Note, your pets will always eat you if you die and they have no other source of food. Humans, on the hand, will not always make that same choice and, I assert, it is the rare occasion that humans eat humans due to hunger.

Note 2, animals will eat other animals, be they different or same if hungry enough.

Note 3, animals tend to go for the crotch/butt area first.

So, look at scrappy with fondness, but remember, that pet is still an animal with animal instincts, no less, no more.

Another note, vegan babies seem to die of hunger, at least that is what the casual perusal of the media's headlines suggest.

Why is that I wonder .... hmmmm?

One last note, the human body depends upon three things for survival aside from water, and they are ...

Protein, sugar, and fat.

You screw with that ... well ... you set yourself up for a sooner death than later!

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