Vol. 16, No. 09 – Jan 25 – Feb 7, 2023 – The Pet Page

• SPAN Thrift Store is open to the public and looking for donations of adult clothing, household items and tools.  SPAN Thrift Store provides $10 spay and neuter clinics for low income households for cats and dogs. Upcoming clinics: Tues, Feb. 7th, Albert H. Soliz Library parking lot, El Rio, 2820 Jourdan St., Oxnard, 93036; Tues., Feb. 14th, Shiells Park parking lot, 649 C St., Fillmore, 93015, and Tues., Feb. 28th, SPAN Thrift Store parking lot, 110 N. Olive St., Ventura. Please call to schedule an appointment (805) 584-3823. www.spanonline.org.

• Researchers from the University of Helsinki assessed the cognitive abilities of over 1,000 dogs from 13 breeds with ten tests. Border Collies scored at or near the top in social cognition, inhibitory control, and spatial problem-solving ability, while Labrador Retrievers scored near the bottom. While prior research has shown that a dog’s breed isn’t as predictive of its personality and behavior as many think, the present study suggests that there are noteworthy differences in certain cognitive abilities.

Researchers at the University of Helsinki in Finland put over 1,000 dogs from 13 distinct breeds through a battery of cognitive tests in perhaps the largest laboratory study of canine intelligence ever conducted. Their findings were recently published in the journal Scientific Reports.

Between March 2016 and February 2022, the researcers invited dog owners to bring their one- to eight-year-old pups into a large indoor field to undergo the smartDOG test battery, which was developed by study author Katriina Tiira.

smartDOG features ten separate tests that measure traits like activity level, exploratory behavior, inhibitory control, problem-solving ability, logical reasoning, and short-term memory. In one assessment, which measures social cognition, the owner is instructed to gesture toward a bowl which contains food using different prescribed gestures ranging from emphatic pointing to a simple gaze to see if the dog will understand its caretaker’s hints. In another, a test of logical reasoning, the dog is shown two upside down bowls and a treat, then a visual barrier is placed between the dog and the bowls. The human tester then places the treat in one of the bowls, removes the visual barrier, then lifts up the empty bowl. If the dog correctly reasons that the treat is under the other bowl by moving to it, it is given the treat.

Thirteen breeds, all medium to large in size, each with at least 40 individuals, were assessed. Included were the Border Collie, Belgian Malinois, English Cocker Spaniel, German Shepherd, Golden Retriever, Labrador Retriever, and the broad category of “mixed breed,” among a few others.

No differences emerged between the breeds in measures of short-term memory and logical reasoning, but differences were found in the categories of social cognition, inhibitory control, and spatial problem-solving ability. At or near the top in all these categories were Border Collies. The medium-sized herding dogs already have a reputation as brainy pooches. Many are capable of learning the names of dozens of objects and can follow detailed commands.

Labrador Retrievers, on the other hand, scored near the bottom of all the breeds in problem-solving ability and inhibitory control. The most popular breed in the U.S., Labradors are lovable, loyal, friendly, and trainable, but not generally considered to be the brightest.

Mixed breed dogs scored near the bottom in social cognition and spatial problem-solving ability, but scored well in inhibitory control, the ability to restrain themselves from performing a behavior that is ineffective but used to be beneficial, effectively testing whether they can alter strategies on-the-fly to attain treats.

There was one glaring limitation to this study of dog intelligence.

“There is a possibility that the differences seen in our study were not based on genetic differences between breeds but rather due to variation in life experiences or training, since these have also been found to influence behavior in cognitive tests,” the researchers wrote. The large sample size should have helped to smooth out this variability, however.

While prior research has shown that a dog’s breed isn’t as predictive of its personality and behavior as many think, the present study suggests that there are noteworthy differences in certain cognitive abilities.

• An international team decided to investigate the purpose of the dog’s tail after studies showed that numerous animals from lizards to squirrels used their tails to pull off impressive maneuvers, such as righting themselves mid-air when falling from trees.

While cats don’t need a tail to flip themselves over and land on their feet, they do use their tails for balance and as counterweights to perform extreme hunting moves in the wild, including rapid, tight turns to keep up with their prey.

With dogs more inclined to stay on the ground, scientists were unclear whether the animals’ tails helped with agile movements or primarily served as waggable communication devices, and/or to fend off unwanted visitors such as flies.

To learn more, Dr Ardian Jusufi – who studies animal locomotion at the Max Planck Institute for Intelligent Systems in Stuttgart – and his colleagues built a mathematical model that allowed them to check what happens when dogs twist and turn their torsos, and move their legs and tails, when they bound into the air.

Their conclusions appear in a preprint titled: “Tail wags the dog is unsupported by biomechanical modelling of Canidae tails use during terrestrial motion.” In the paper, which has not been peer-reviewed, the researchers describe how the modelling showed tail movements made almost no difference to a dog’s trajectory when it leapt into the air.

The finding suggests that tails are not as critical for agile movements in dogs as they are for other animals. Moving the tail mid-jump, the researchers found, changed the dog’s trajectory by a mere fraction of a degree.

Across the dog family, “It appears the inertial impacts that tail movement has on complex maneuvers such as jumping, have little to no effect,” the authors write. “The utilizing of the tail during jumping … achieves very low amounts of center of mass movement across all species with the largest being under a single degree.”

“We believe that this implies that dogs utilize their tails for other means, such as communication and pest control, but not for agility in maneuvers,” they add.

Dogs notice when computer animations violate Newton’s laws of physics

Dogs seem to understand the basic way objects should behave, and stare for longer if animated balls violate expectations by rolling away for no obvious reason

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