The Quantum Pontiff

Your Dog is in Your Head

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What’s that you say Dave? Dogs may be able to think about what their owners are thinking? Sounds like interesting research, Dave. If someone could actually find the real research and not just this science by press release, I would really like to read the paper, Dave! And then I’d like to chew it up and hide it in the backyard.

Comments

  1. #1 Mark P
    November 7, 2007

    Yeah, interesting, but it’s hard to know exactly what the researcher found based on the press release, as you say. It would come as no surprise to any reasonably observant dog owner that dogs are highly attuned to their human companions. They are obviously able to detect and interpret subtle behaviors that indicate certain things, like going for a walk (and not only when you pick up the leash), or getting ready to feed the dog (and not only when you pick up the bowl), or leaving (and not only when you pick up the car keys). They also appear sensitive to certain aspects of mood or physical feeling. Based on my observations, dogs are able to predict human behavior in the short term. If that means they have a theory of mind, then I guess they do. Of course it might be nice to have a really good theory of mind for our own minds.

  2. #2 Ahcuah
    November 7, 2007

    I have to agree that dogs are quite attuned to the quirks of their owners. After all, they’ve had tens of thousands of years of evolution to do so.

    In my case, my dog has gotten particularly attuned to the fact that, just before I put the remainder of scrambled eggs on the floor after breakfast, I first put down my fork. That seems to be the cue for her to leap up to get ready for the arrival of the plate.

  3. #3 JohnQPublic
    November 7, 2007

    I knew the Hollywood celebs would never throw away good money on dumb ideas like pet psychics. This must also explain why my dog drools after she’s been around my wife.

  4. #4 Chris
    November 7, 2007

    The researcher was interviewed on New Zealand radio the other day. You can listen to the MP3 version which despite the URL, doesn’t imply that the dogs are psychic, merely that they posses a theory of mind.

  5. #5 Dave Bacon
    November 8, 2007

    Thanks for the link Chris. Now I have something to listen to on my busride!

  6. #6 ZacharySmith
    November 8, 2007

    For what it’s worth, and I’m sure this will not be a surprise to dog owners, my dogs are very well tuned-in to cues from the humans.

    For instance, they know a walk is coming when I reach for the plastic poop bags. They know we are leaving when we put on our shoes or change clothes. And the clanking of silverware scraping on plates can sometimes mean leftovers – they keep a very close eye on us as we clean up after dinner!

  7. #7 JohnQPublic
    November 8, 2007

    Does no one think it’s operative conditioning? My dog seemed to have an amazing sense of people who walked on our property in the front yard even though she was in the back and could not see the front at all. It *seemed* as if she sensed people who crossed over the property line. However, I became curious, experimented and found that she simply heard footsteps when they hit cement driveway. I found that should be completely fooled by imitating the sounds. Turned out there was nothing mysterious at all about it.

  8. #8 K
    November 8, 2007

    All I can say is that my university (UC) is getting pretty clever on the marketing front.

  9. #9 Carl Brannen
    November 8, 2007

    I’ve run a long series of experiments with my buddy’s dog, mostly in figuring out how she understands the geometry of his house.

    I can throw a ball out of certain windows, and expect that she will retrieve it by going through the house, looking for an open door, going outside, getting the ball, and reversing the operation.

    This doesn’t work between one set of windows downstairs and a bushy region outside. And she can’t figure out where the ball has gone when I throw it over the house onto the other side.

    But as far as understanding what I am thinking, not a chance. I agree that she has an understanding of mind, but there is no psychic abilities I’ve seen.

  10. #10 Mark P
    November 8, 2007

    Who said anything about psychic abilities? I personally think they have every bit as much as humans, but that amouns to … let’s see … none? But they are quite good at sensing our intended behavior, and that’s all I think anyone – certainly me – has suggested. Whether that indicates “theory of mind” is another matter. I have a hard time associating my dog’s mental abilities with the word “theory.”

  11. #11 JohnQPublic
    November 8, 2007

    Who said anything about psychic abilities?
    The announcer in the MP3 audio states right up front, “…dog owners who think their pooches can read minds may well be right.”

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