Tag Archives: cognition

How Dogs Interact with Others Plays a Role in Decision-Making

Researchers at Canisius College found that the relationship between two dogs living in the same household may impact how much influence they have on each other’s behavior.

Dogs who showed little to no aggression towards their housemates were more likely to automatically follow each other than dogs who viewed their canine housemates as rivals. The study results are reported in the latest issue of Animal Cognition.

Familiar dogs

Dogs were tested in their own homes because a laboratory setting would have introduced other influences into how the dogs reacted

To conduct this study, Christy Hoffman, Ph.D., and Malini Suchak, Ph.D., assistant professors of Animal Behavior, Ecology, and Conservation, traveled to 37 multi-dog households to test the dogs in their own homes. This was an unusual approach, since most studies test dogs in the laboratory and often pair them with other dogs they don’t know. “We really wanted to look at the impact of the relationship between the dogs on their behavior, and doing that in a setting natural to the dogs, with dogs they already know, is really important,” Suchak says.

To classify how competitive household dogs were with each other, the owners were asked to fill out a survey known as the Canine Behavioral Assessment and Research Questionnaire (C-BARQ).

Dogs that were low in rivalry never or rarely displayed aggressive behavior toward the other dog. Dogs that were high in rivalry displayed some degree of aggression around valuable resources, suggesting they have a more competitive nature.

After their owners completed the C-BARQ, the dogs participated in a simple task. A research assistant placed two plates containing food in front of both dogs. One dog was allowed to approach the plates and eat the food from one plate before being walked out of the room. At that point, the second dog was allowed to make a choice. If the second dog followed the first dog, he arrived at an empty plate. If he didn’t follow the first dog, he went straight to the plate that still contained food.

Dogs that were low in rivalry were more likely to follow the first dog and frequently ended up at the empty plate. What surprised the researchers was that low rivalry dogs only blindly followed the demonstrator when allowed to make their choice immediately. “Low and high rivalry dogs only differed in the choices they made when there was no delay,” Hoffman says. “When they had to wait 5 seconds before making their choice, all dogs tended to go directly to the full plate.” 

Suchak adds, “This suggests that the low rivalry dogs may have been automatically following their housemates. When we forced the dogs to wait, it was as if the low rivalry dogs actually took the time to think about the situation, and they went straight for the food.”

The researchers also tested the dogs in a condition where a human removed the food from one plate before the dog made a choice. Interestingly, low rivalry dogs were more likely to follow the human demonstrator when there was no delay, a finding that paralleled what happened with dog demonstrators. Hoffman suggests this may have to do with the personality of low rivalry dogs, “Since the tendency of the low rivalry dogs to follow was seen when the demonstrator was both another dog and a human, competitiveness may be a characteristic of the individual that extends beyond their relationship with other dogs.” 

This means that if owners have a high rivalry dog “that dog may be more likely to think for himself, and less likely to blindly follow, than a dog that is less competitive,” says Hoffman. “On the whole, our findings show there is variation in the ways dogs make decisions and that how dogs interact with others plays a big role in how they respond under conditions that require quick thinking.”

Source:  Newswise

Praise or food?

Given the choice, many dogs prefer praise from their owners over food, suggests a new study published in the journal Social, Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience. The study is one of the first to combine brain-imaging data with behavioral experiments to explore canine reward preferences.

“We are trying to understand the basis of the dog-human bond and whether it’s mainly about food, or about the relationship itself,” says Gregory Berns, a neuroscientist at Emory University and lead author of the research. “Out of the 13 dogs that completed the study, we found that most of them either preferred praise from their owners over food, or they appeared to like both equally. Only two of the dogs were real chowhounds, showing a strong preference for the food.”

food-or-praise

Praise Pooch: Most of the dogs in the experiments preferred praise over food, or liked them both equally. Kady, a Labrador-golden retriever mix, was the top dog when it came to the strength of her preference for praise.

Dogs were at the center of the most famous experiments of classical conditioning, conducted by Ivan Pavlov in the early 1900s. Pavlov showed that if dogs are trained to associate a particular stimulus with food, the animals salivate in the mere presence of the stimulus, in anticipation of the food.

“One theory about dogs is that they are primarily Pavlovian machines: They just want food and their owners are simply the means to get it,” Berns says. “Another, more current, view of their behavior is that dogs value human contact in and of itself.”

Berns heads up the Dog Project in Emory’s Department of Psychology, which is researching evolutionary questions surrounding man’s best, and oldest friend. The project was the first to train dogs to voluntarily enter a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scanner and remain motionless during scanning, without restraint or sedation. In previous research, the Dog Project identified the ventral caudate region of the canine brain as a reward center. It also showed how that region of a dog’s brain responds more strongly to the scents of familiar humans than to the scents of other humans, or even to those of familiar dogs.

chowhound

Chowhound: Ozzie, a shorthaired terrier mix, was the only dog in the experiments that chose food over his owner’s praise 100 percent of the time. “Ozzie was a bit of an outlier,” Berns says, “but Ozzie’s owner understands him and still loves him.”

For the current experiment, the researchers began by training the dogs to associate three different objects with different outcomes. A pink toy truck signaled a food reward; a blue toy knight signaled verbal praise from the owner; and a hairbrush signaled no reward, to serve as a control.
The dogs then were tested on the three objects while in an fMRI machine. Each dog underwent 32 trials for each of the three objects as their neural activity was recorded.

All of the dogs showed a stronger neural activation for the reward stimuli compared to the stimulus that signaled no reward, and their responses covered a broad range. Four of the dogs showed a particularly strong activation for the stimulus that signaled praise from their owners. Nine of the dogs showed similar neural activation for both the praise stimulus and the food stimulus. And two of the dogs consistently showed more activation when shown the stimulus for food.

The dogs then underwent a behavioral experiment. Each dog was familiarized with a room that contained a simple Y-shaped maze constructed from baby gates: One path of the maze led to a bowl of food and the other path to the dog’s owner. The owners sat with their backs toward their dogs. The dog was then repeatedly released into the room and allowed to choose one of the paths. If they came to the owner, the owner praised them.

“We found that the caudate response of each dog in the first experiment correlated with their choices in the second experiment,” Berns says. “Dogs are individuals and their neurological profiles fit the behavioral choices they make. Most of the dogs alternated between food and owner, but the dogs with the strongest neural response to praise chose to go to their owners 80 to 90 percent of the time. It shows the importance of social reward and praise to dogs. It may be analogous to how we humans feel when someone praises us.”

The experiments lay the groundwork for asking more complicated questions about the canine experience of the world. The Berns’ lab is currently exploring the ability of dogs to process and understand human language.

“Dogs are hypersocial with humans,” Berns says, “and their integration into human ecology makes dogs a unique model for studying cross-species social bonding.”

Source:  Emory University media release

9 special abilities that show how smart dogs really are

I enjoy reading and sharing information about research involving dogs and their cognitive abilities.

Business Insider Malaysia has published a good synopsis of research in the area with references to the relevant studies.

2-dogs-make-eye-contact

The 9 special abilities are:

  1. Dogs feel empathy
  2. Dogs make eye contact
  3. With eye contact, they form a special bond with humans
  4. Dogs see humans as part of their family
  5. And they interact with us as if they were children
  6. Dogs understand gestures, like pointing
  7. Dogs brains react to human voices
  8. Some dogs can learn new words the way children do
  9. And some dogs have the ability to generalize

Kathleen Crisley, specialist in dog massage, rehabilitation and nutrition/food therapy, The Balanced Dog, Christchurch, New Zealand

Words we say to our dogs and other things

Yet more research on the human-animal bond.  This time the research was based at Barnard College’s Dog Cognition Lab.

Researchers Alexandra Horowitz and Julie Hecht asked members of the public to send them videos of playtime with their dogs.

Dog with frisbee

They received 187 videos from dog owners in 19 different countries and watched them all, looking for patterns in human behaviour and the dog’s responses.

For example, they created a list of the top 35 words owners used with their dogs:

List of words dog owners use

The research team also noticed gender differences.  Female owners touch their dogs more when at play; half of male owners didn’t touch their dogs at all.

There is a practical application for this research (although I do agree that it sounds like a fun job).  There is a growing interest in helping to train dogs as assistance dogs and understanding how humans and dog interact may help to refine training techniques.

The research has been published in the journal Animal Cognition.

Source:  Discover magazine

Inhibitory control in dogs

Inhibitory control may be an indicator of a dog’s ability to solve a problem, according to a study published February 10, 2016 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE.

Playing with objects may help dogs learn about their environment, similar to how it helps human infants. Scientists think dogs’ inhibitory control, or the ability to inhibit or regulate attentional or emotional responses, may play a role in their individual differences in physical problem-solving task performance.

Wait for it border collie

A Border Collie during the wait-for-treat task.Credit Clever Dog Lab/Vetmeduni Vienna

The authors of this study investigated the effects of pet dogs’ experiences interacting with the physical environment and their individual differences in inhibitory control on their physical problem-solving ability. A cohort of ~40 pet Border Collie dogs were assigned to three different conditions, and tested in an intensive series of inhibitory control tasks, such as wait-for-treat, and cognitive measures, such as size constancy over a period of 18 months.

The authors found that differences in previous object-related experiences do not explain variability in performance in problem solving tasks. Depending on the cognitive task, inhibitory control had a positive or a negative effect on performance and turned out to be the best predictors of individual performance in the different tasks.

The authors think that dogs likely do not transfer knowledge about physical rules from one physical problem-solving task to another, but rather approach each task as a novel problem. In addition, individual performance in these tasks may be influenced by the subject’s level of inhibitory control. The authors suggest that studying the interplay between inhibitory control and problem-solving performance may make an important contribution to our understanding of individual and species differences in physical problem-solving performance.

Journal article may be found here.

Source:  EurekAlert! media release

Mensa dogs

Dogs have measurable IQs, like people, suggests new research from the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) and the University of Edinburgh.

The research, published in the journal Intelligence, looked at whether dog intelligence is structured in a similar way as in humans. When IQ, or ‘general intelligence’, is tested in people, individuals tend to perform comparably across different types of cognitive tasks –  those who do well in one type of task, tend to do well in others.

Dog intelligence test

The researchers created a proto-type dog ‘IQ test’ which they used to assess the intelligence of 68 working border collies. These tests included: navigation, tested by timing how long it took the dogs to get food that was behind different types of barriers; assessing whether they could tell the difference between quantities of food and; their ability to follow a human pointing gesture to an object.

The researchers found that dogs that did well on one test tended be better at the other tests. Furthermore, dogs that did tests faster were likely to do them more accurately.

Dr Rosalind Arden, a Research Associate at LSE, said: “Just as people vary in their problem solving abilities, so do dogs, even within one breed. This is significant because in humans there is a small but measurable tendency for people who are brighter to be healthier and live longer.  So if, as our research suggests, dog intelligence is structured similarly to ours, studying a species that doesn’t smoke, drink, use recreational drugs and does not have large differences in education and income, may help us understand this link between intelligence and health better.

“In addition, dogs are one of the few animals that reproduce many of the key features of dementia, so understanding their cognitive abilities could be valuable in helping us to understand the causes this disorder in humans and possibly test treatments for it.”

The suite of tests was conducted in under an hour per dog, which is comparable with the time it takes a person to do an IQ-type test.  Previous research on canine cognitive abilities has taken much longer to administer.

Dr Mark Adams, Research Fellow at the University of Edinburgh, said: “This is only a first step, but we are aiming to create a dog IQ test that is reliable, valid and can be administered quickly.  Such a test could rapidly improve our understanding of the connection between dog intelligence, health, even lifespan, and be the foundation of ‘dognitive epidemiology’

“Dogs are excellent for this kind of work because they are willing to participate and seem to enjoy taking part.”

In order to get a large sample of dogs from similar backgrounds the researchers recruited working border collies, which meant that there weren’t big differences in how they were raised.

Source:  London School of Economics and Political Science media release

Personal comment:  Dogs must be a popular research topic if even the London School of Economics is getting into the act!

The great escape – an example of dog intelligence

Any reader of my blog knows that I enjoy following research topics, and I’ve written a number of posts about dog cognition.

This video, of a German Short Haired Pointer, shows that dogs are smart and can work things out.

She’s working on her great escape…watch her as she works it out (don’t just jump to the end)

Kathleen Crisley, specialist in dog massage, rehabilitation and nutrition/food therapy, Canine Catering Ltd, Christchurch, New Zealand

Barking characterizes dogs like voices characterize people

An international group of researchers has conducted a study on canine behavior showing that gender, age, context and individual recognition can be identified with a high percentage of success through statistical and computational methods of pattern recognition applied to their barking.

The results of the study have been published in the journal Animal Cognition.

This research aimed to understand the acoustic signals obtained from dog barking when the dog subjects are subjected to certain situations. The research was conducted through the development of a computational system based on statistic modeling that is able to recognize diverse characteristics of the dog (gender, age, individual, situation).

This diagram has been used to help ‘map’ the computing system behind the research:

Photo credit:   Universidad Politécnica de Madrid (UPM)

Photo credit:
Universidad Politécnica de Madrid (UPM)

The experiments were carried out in Budapest with eight Mudi breed dogs from Hungary, usually used as sheep-dogs—three males and five females. Each dog (aged between one and 10) registered 100 barks. A total of 800 barks was obtained by placing the dogs in seven different situations: (a) alone, after the owner tied the dog to a tree; (b) playing with a ball; (c) fighting, when a human pretended to attack the dog’s owner; (d) receiving their food ration; (f) in the company of a person who was foreign to the dog; and (g) preparing to go out with the owner. Each one of the 800 barks was characterized from 29 acoustic measurements.

By using the diverse computational models obtained from the collected data during the experiment, researchers successfully recognized the dog’s gender 85.13% of the time, while the age of the dog (recoded as young, adult and old) was classified without mistakes 80.25% of the time. The task of identifying the situation in which the dog was engaged was successful 55.50% of the time, while the recognition (among the eight dogs participating in the study) of the Mudi breed was successful the 67.63% of the time.

Whilst a highly technical bit of research, particularly for those of us who are challenged by computer programming and mathematics, there are applied uses for this research such as in assessing dog behavior.  Software programs using these models could help to identify fear, anxiety and levels of aggressiveness in a dog.

Source:  Phys.org

Canine research goes to the Ivy League

Yale University’s Canine Cognition Center has recruited hundreds of dogs for a study into how the dog’s mind works.

In a puppet show-like performance, dogs watch a rat puppet help a hedgehog up a hill.  In another scene, the rat knocks over the hedgehog.  And the researchers want to know what the dogs think about that…

“Similar studies have been done with human infants, and what you find is that human infants — they don’t like the guy who was mean. And so we’re doing the same thing with dogs to try to see — do dogs morally evaluate as humans do?” Professor of Psychology Laurie Santos said.  Santos is the Director of the Center.

So far, the results show that the dogs are wary of the rat.

In another test, the dog sits and watches as their human sits and reads a book. The human puts the book on the floor behind them and, soon after, the book is taken by someone who comes into the room.

“What we’re really trying to see is whether or not dogs know when they’ve missed some information. Can they realize that, first of all, and when they do realize it, are they motivated to help?” Santos said.

Consistently, the dogs not only realize something is wrong, but they also seem to be trying to alert their companions.  Owners regularly give feedback that they believe their dog is observant and knows what they are thinking.  This research seems to back up those (amateur and probably biased) observations.

So far, Yale researchers have tested 300 dogs and found that the dog mind is much more complex than they originally thought.  There’s more work to be done and thousands of dogs on their waiting list…

Source:  CBS News

Dogs pay attention to what we are saying

When people hear another person talking to them, they respond not only to what is being said–those consonants and vowels strung together into words and sentences–but also to other features of that speech–the emotional tone and the speaker’s gender, for instance. Now, a report in the Cell Press journal Current Biology on November 26, 2014 provides some of the first evidence of how dogs also differentiate and process those various components of human speech.

I'm listening...new research proves our dogs are paying attention to what we say and how we say it

I’m listening…new research proves our dogs are paying attention to what we say and how we say it

“Although we cannot say how much or in what way dogs understand information in speech from our study, we can say that dogs react to both verbal and speaker-related information and that these components appear to be processed in different areas of the dog’s brain,” says Victoria Ratcliffe of the School of Psychology at the University of Sussex.

Previous studies showed that dogs have hemispheric biases–left brain versus right–when they process the vocalization sounds of other dogs. Ratcliffe and her supervisor David Reby say it was a logical next step to investigate whether dogs show similar biases in response to the information transmitted in human speech. They played speech from either side of the dog so that the sounds entered each of their ears at the same time and with the same amplitude.

The input from each ear is mainly transmitted to the opposite hemisphere of the brain,” Ratcliffe explains. “If one hemisphere is more specialized in processing certain information in the sound, then that information is perceived as coming from the opposite ear.”

If the dog turned to its left, that showed that the information in the sound being played was heard more prominently by the left ear, suggesting that the right hemisphere is more specialized in processing that kind of information.

When presented with familiar spoken commands in which the meaningful components of words were made more obvious, dogs showed a left-hemisphere processing bias, as indicated by turning to the right. When the intonation or speaker-related vocal cues were exaggerated instead, dogs showed a significant right-hemisphere bias.

“This is particularly interesting because our results suggest that the processing of speech components in the dog’s brain is divided between the two hemispheres in a way that is actually very similar to the way it is separated in the human brain,” Reby says.

Of course, it doesn’t mean that dogs actually understand everything that we humans might say or that they have a human-like ability of language.  But, says Ratcliffe, these results support the idea that our canine companions are paying attention “not only to who we are and how we say things, but also to what we say.”

Source:  EurekAlert! media release

Journal reference:  Ratcliffe et al. Orienting asymmetries in dogs’ responses to different communicatory components of human speech. Current Biology, November 2014