Now think of our dear dogs. They can't really count on their toes and they do not have words to call out numbers. They can, however, demonstrate abilities to recognize patterns and quantities. Scientists are beginning to believe that they can actually count and do simple math. As we learn more about the abilities of our dogs, we can appreciate the intelligence they bring to the roles they fulfill as our working and social companions.
Signs Your Dog May Understand Simple Math
With dogs, the tail will tell you much about their disposition at any moment. When your dog is feeling approachable and relaxed, you will see a tail that is down and relaxed. Your dog may show alertness as you are working and training with the animal. They will be using their problem-solving skills to understand what you are working on with them.
Their tail will be horizontal and may move a little from side to side. If the activity is one that has the dog feeling playful, you may find your dog in the play position, with tail and hindquarters up and the front legs down, as if bowing.
Pay attention to your dog's ears and mouth. If your dog is relaxed, you will see the ears up and relaxed with a slightly open mouth. When the dog is being attentive to you and alert, you will see the ears up and forward and the mouth will be closed. You will also note that the dog is posed with a slightly forward stance and upon the toes. Dogs are often alert when they are deciphering quantity or working out simple problems in their minds.
- Wag tail
- Low tail carriage
- Tail up
- Play bowing
- Forward-pointing ears
- Closed mouth
- Smooth nose
History of Dogs and Math
Some believe that this is an outcome of life having a common beginning. Others' believe that the ability evolved from having similar problems to solve. This is called convergent evolution, which is a shared deep evolution of number sense. The importance of number sense for survival is evident in the discovery that wolves have an even better ability to detect quantity than the domesticated dog.
Animal behaviorist, Stanley Coren, describes three kinds of intelligence in dogs. There is the instinctive intelligence from breeding, the adaptive intelligence that comes from learning experiences in the environment, and the working obedience that comes from training. Some breeds of dogs are more intelligent, such as Border Collies and Poodles. Basically, your dog is as smart as a two-year-old and can be trained to be a valuable assistant and companion.
Science Behind Dogs Solving Simple Math
The dogs were presented with two bowls. A treat was dropped into the bowls. More treats would be dropped into one bowl than the other behind a screen. The experimenter would then quietly remove a treat. When the screen was removed, the dog would spend more time looking at the bowl in which the number of treats was altered.
The scientists concluded that the dogs spent more time looking at the bowl with the unexpected amount because they had an expectation of number. In other words, the dogs had an innate sense that 1 + 1 = 2. When the study was replicated with the experimenter adding an extra treat to the bowls, the dogs also spent more time staring at the unexpected quantity.
Another study determined that dogs could reliably distinguish between no treats and one treat but they were not reliable with counting greater than one. Other scientists believe that dogs can count to four or five. While there is a natural sense of quantity that helps dogs to solve problems in their daily lives, simple math, as with humans, may need some schooling!
Training Your Dog to Count
You must first make sure your dog knows how to touch or point on command. You might need to train this skill first.
Start with one. Place one tennis ball on the floor, say, "One", and point to the target for 1. When your dog points to the target for 1, give a reward and praise. Repeat this practice until the dog consistently touches the 1 target when you say, "One".
Now go to two. Add a tennis ball. Say, "Two" and point to the target for 2. Again, praise the dog for pointing to the target for 2 and practice until the dog does it consistently.
Practice going back and forth between one and two.
Now you can add three, using the same procedure.
Like all of us, once we learn to count, you can continue to work with your dog to add combinations of targets and commands. That being said, remember to keep training intervals short and fun!
How to React to Your Dog Understanding Simple Math:
Be patient when training your dog.
Keep training intervals brief and positive.
Use praise as well as food rewards.
Appreciate the intelligence of your dog's breed.