Tag Archives: toys

A glimpse into the dog’s mind: A new study reveals how dogs think of their toys

Many dog lovers want to know what goes on in their furry friends’ minds. Now scientists are finally getting closer to the answer. In a new study just published in the journal of Animal Cognition, researchers from the Family Dog Project (Eötvös Loránd University University, Budapest) found out that dogs have a “multi-modal mental image” of their familiar objects. This means that, when thinking about an object, dogs imagine the object’s different sensory features. For instance, the way it looks or the way its smells.

The group of scientists assumed that the senses dogs use to identify objects, such as their toys, reflect the way the objects are represented in their minds. “If we can understand which senses dogs use while searching for a toy, this may reveal how they think about it” explains Shany Dror, one of the leading researchers of this study. “When dogs use olfaction or sight while searching for a toy, this indicates that they know how that toy smells or looks like”.

In previous studies, the researchers discovered that only a few uniquely gifted dogs can learn the names of objects. “These Gifted Word Learner dogs give us a glimpse into their minds, and we can discover what they think about when we ask them – Where is your Teddy Bear? –“ explains Dr. Andrea Sommese, the second leading researcher.

In the first experiment, they trained 3 Gifted Word Learner dogs and 10 typical family dogs (i.e., dogs that do not know the name of toys), to fetch a toy associated with a reward. During the training, dogs received treats and were praised for choosing this toy over a few distractor toys.

A picture of Gaia, one of the Gifted dogs (from Brazil) searching for her toy in the light (on the left) and in the dark (on the right)

The researchers then observed how the dogs searched for the targeted toy, always placed among 4 others, both when the lights were on and off. All dogs successfully selected the trained toys, both in the light and in the dark. However, it took them longer to find the toys in the dark. Only the Gifted Word Learner dogs participated in the second experiment. Here, the researchers aimed to find out what these dogs think about when they hear the name of their toys. “Revealing the senses used by the dogs to search for the named toys gave us the possibility to infer what these dogs imagine when they hear, for example, Teddy Bear explains Dr. Claudia Fugazza, co-author of the study.

The Gifted dogs were successful in selecting the toys named by their owners in the light and the dark. This reveals that, when they hear the name of a toy, they recall this object’s different sensory features and they can use this “multisensory mental image” to identify it, also in the dark. “Dogs have a good sense of smell, but we found that dogs preferred to rely on vision and used their noses only a few times, and almost only when the lights were off” clarifies Prof. Adam Miklósi, head of the Department of Ethology at ELTE University and co-author of the study. “Dogs sniffed more often and for longer in the dark. They spent 90% more time sniffing when the lights were off, but this was still only 20% of the searching time”.

To conclude, the dogs’ success in finding the toys and the different senses used while searching in the light and the dark reveals that, when dogs play with a toy, even just briefly, they pay attention to its different features and register the information using multiple senses.

Source: Eötvös Loránd University (ELTE)

Ban this toy from your household

Ball launchers are ‘cheap’ and plentiful – and full of hazards for your dog

I follow a number of Facebook pages dedicated to pets. On some, the main theme appears to be ‘what’s the cheapest?: What’s the cheapest vet? What’s the cheapest groomer? What’s the cheapest food… and, of course, what is the cheapest toy?

These plastic ball launchers are plentiful in supply and sell for about $2 each. It would seem like an easy solution: buy one and stand still in the park while you chuck a ball at high speed for your dog to chase over and over so they come home tired and exercised. Yet, it is this chasing that puts undue strain on your dog’s joints and increases their likelihood of painful injuries – some of which will require expensive surgery and intensive physical therapy.

You’re basically taking a pet dog and asking them to run like a sprint athlete, and then leap and twist to get the ball. They start from a standing position and then sprint before braking hard to catch the ball. At speed, the forces on the dog’s muscles and joints is much greater and the repetitive nature of the exercise is likely to cause micro-tears in the tissues of the muscles and the cartilage of the joints.

It probably is fun, until your dog ruptures a cruciate ligament or develops arthritis over the years of chasing balls in this way.

Often, I see these toys being used in the park on wet grass (a slip hazard) or at the beach over soft sand which isn’t supportive to joints and exacerbates the effects of a twisting and landing.

There’s so much more we can do for our dog’s fitness, flexibility, and stamina as well as enrichment. And we shouldn’t be lazy dog owners – standing in the park chucking a ball is hardly a sign of commitment as your dog’s guardian.

In as little as one session, I will interview you about your lifestyle and your dog’s health and we can come up with the basics of a fitness regime for your dog. Fitness is fun!

Kathleen Crisley, Fear-Free certified professional and specialist in dog massage, rehabilitation and nutrition/food therapy, The Balanced Dog, Christchurch, New Zealand

Cloning of a different kind

Love your dog and want to keep them with you forever?  Well, here’s a low-key way of cloning your dog – Cuddle Clones.

This innovative company takes a photo of your dog and creates a unique plush version of your dog which you can keep forever.  The likenesses and workmanship are remarkable.

Cuddle clones

Norm cuddle clone

Tatum cuddle clone

The company does other animals, too (not just dogs).  A cuddle clone of your dog will be US$249 and the company is already fully booked for Christmas 2015.  They will ship internationally, too, which is a real point of difference from many craft/pet companies.  (Shipping will be an additional cost, of course).

I’d love to have one of these of Izzy someday.

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

 

Izzy learns something new

I ‘commissioned’ a new toy for Izzy this Christmas – it was not a new or innovative design and there are many videos circulating with dogs using similar ones.  It’s made of wood and re-used drink bottles.

And until a couple of days ago, Izzy didn’t understand it was for her.  All she managed to do was to chew on the wooden frame and screws that held it together a few times.

But then, Izzy had a play date with her friend, Helga,  who is a Bernese Mountain Dog.  And Helga showed some interest in the toy with the addition of a little peanut butter at the top of one of the bottles.

Izzy and Helga take a break from playing together

Izzy and Helga take a break from playing together

Helga went home and, within minutes of her leaving, Izzy started to engage with her new toy.  Best of all, I caught it on video:

Clever girl, she just needed a little doggy leadership to show her the way!

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

Dog intelligence

Most dog owners have an opinion about their dog’s intelligence.  I regularly hear comments like, “He’s so smart, he’s ahead of the rest of his obedience class” or “He’s not very bright, but we love him.”

 When I was working on my management qualification years ago, we were told to go home and ask our partner/flatmate about how they solved problems.  Ebony, my Labrador flatmate at the time, came up with these tips, which I thought were very intelligent:

  1. Remember that chasing your tail does not get you anywhere.  It also makes you dizzy and less able to focus on the task at hand.
  2. Eat regularly and often.  Problem solving is hard work and requires energy.
  3. Don’t underestimate the value of a nap.  A problem looks different after you’ve had a good sleep.
  4. If you stare at a problem long enough, it might move on its own.
  5. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.  Try looking cute.
  6. If looking cute doesn’t work, try whining.
  7. If whining fails, loud retching noises are guaranteed to get the attention of those around you.
  8. Some problems soften over time.  Burying them in the garden hastens this process.
  9. Some problems require more immediate attention.  An immediate problem, if left unattended, is likely to result in a much more smelly mess to be cleaned up later.

There are many published works on the subject of dog intelligence.  Over the years, I’ve read countless research studies into this subject.  There are many institutions involved in the research.  All projects have the goal of understanding how dogs think.

Professor Stanley Coren of the University of British Columbia has authored several books about dog intelligence.  He states that dogs have the intellectual capacity of a two-year old and can understand more than 150 words.[1]

Researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology have studied the ability of dogs to interpret human gestures.  When researchers hid food beneath one container in a group and pointed to the ‘right’ container, dogs consistently picked up on those cues better than even chimpanzees (a species widely studied because of the evolutionary link between apes and humans).

Earlier this year, a research team at the University of Otago reported on their study that showed that dogs could readily distinguish happy human sounds from sad or angry ones, suggesting an ability to understand human emotions.

Even the dog toy market has recognised that dogs need mental stimulation.  The Nina Ottosson range, for example, offers a range of skill level toys designed to make your dog think about how to reveal their food reward.

Daisy demonstrates her intelligence with a Nina Ottosson toy

Despite all of this evidence, including videos of my Daisy using her interactive toys, many of the non-dog people in my life remain unconvinced about the intelligence of dogs.  I believe that persistence will pay off.  Over time we will see more and more research about the intellectual capacity of our dogs.  The non-believers will become believers.


[1] Science Daily, 10 August 2009