The secrets inside your dog's mind

This blog is about human behavior, and I have consciously avoided posts about animals.  But there's a recent article in Time about dogs that I recommend.  Click here to read it.  And here some fascinatin' excerpts:
We've all seen guilty dogs slinking away with lowered tails, for example. Horowitz wondered if they behave this way because they truly recognize they've done something wrong, so she devised an experiment. First she observed how dogs behaved when they did something they weren't supposed to do and were scolded by their owners. Then she tricked the owners into believing the dogs had misbehaved when they hadn't. When the humans scolded the dogs, the dogs were just as likely to look guilty, even though they were innocent of any misbehavior. What's at play here, she concluded, is not some inner sense of right and wrong but a learned ability to act submissive when an owner gets angry.

...while chimps and even wolves lack an innate ability to understand what pointing means, dogs come by the knowledge naturally. They're not limited to reading hands and fingers alone. Dogs understand what Hare means if he points with his foot or sets a piece of wood on top of a container with food inside. Even puppies understand, which means it can't be a skill they need to learn. "This is something that dogs just do," says Hare....
A team led by cognitive scientist Josef Topál of the Research Institute for Psychology in Hungary recently ran an experiment to study how 10-month-old babies pay attention to people. The scientists put a toy under one of two cups and then let the children choose which cup to pick up. The children, of course, picked the right cup--no surprise since they saw the toy being hidden. Topál and his colleagues repeated the trial several times, always hiding the toy under the same cup, until finally they hid it under the other one. Despite the evidence of their eyes, the kids picked the original cup--the one that had hidden the toy before but did not now.

To investigate why the kids made this counterintuitive mistake, the scientists rigged the cups to wires and then lowered them over the toy. Without the distraction of a human being, the babies were far more likely to pick the right cup. Small children, it seems, are hardwired to pay such close attention to people that they disregard their other observations. Topál and his colleagues ran the same experiment on dogs--and the results were the same. When they administered the test to wolves, however, the animals did not make the mistake the babies and dogs did. They relied on their own observations rather than focusing on a human.

One question the research of Topál, Hare and others raises is why chimpanzees--who are in most ways much smarter than dogs--lack the ability to read gestures. Hare believes that the chimps' poor performance is one more piece of proof that the talent is rooted not in raw intelligence but in personality. Our ape cousins are simply too distracted by their aggression and competitiveness to fathom gestures easily. Chimps can cooperate to get food that they can't get on their own, but if there's the slightest chance for them to fight over it, they will. For humans to evolve as we did, Hare says, "We had to not get freaked out about sharing."

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