We are familiar with the fact that dogs have keen senses. We know that, like humans, they can see, hear, smell, taste and feel. And sometimes, these keen senses are put to good use. For example, some well-trained dogs can sniff out electronic devices to help solve crimes. Of course, there are many physical differences between humans and dogs. For instance, humans have hands, and pets have paws, so our sense of “touch” is different. And while humans discern broader spectrums of color, dogs can see better in the dark and detect movement we two-legged folks might not see. And though we have more taste buds than dogs, their noses function about 10,000 times better than ours. Though we have all this knowledge, there is always more to learn about dogs, particularly zeroing in on how dogs think. This field of study is called dog cognition – and it’s quite interesting.
There have been lots of studies on dogs throughout the ages. If the name Pavlov rings a bell, that’s because the Russian physiologist, who lived from 1849 to 1936, experimented with dogs to understand how they responded to the unconditioned stimulus (food). The tests resulted in unconditioned responses from the dog (salivating). The dogs in the study would go on to form an association between a clicking metronome introduced before feeding and the food. The sound of the metronome caused the dogs to increase salivation. Since this was learned behavior, or conditioned, it is called a conditioned response. So, we do know that dogs learn through association. However, there is still much to learn about how dogs think and what goes through their furry heads.
Verve Times sheds some interesting light on the subject. They explain that in a new study published by the journal Animal Cognition, researchers from the Family Dog Project discovered that dogs have “a multi-modal mental image” of familiar objects. When dogs were told to retrieve specific toys, they used some of their senses to identify them from other toys. The test was done in the light and the dark with “gifted” pets who could identify toys and with family pets who couldn’t. Per Shany Dror, a researcher of the study, “When dogs use olfaction or sight while searching for a toy, this indicates that they know how that toy smells or looks like.” Thus, it is believed that the features of toys are ultimately registered in the dog’s brain using their senses.
This recent research uncovers the important connection between the mind and senses – and how they work together to help our four-leggeds identify objects like favorite toys. Not only can dogs pay attention to the different features of toys, but they can also register that information using the many senses they are gifted with. In a separate study performed by Laura Cuaya, a brain researcher in Budapest, the mental activities of dogs were analyzed when hearing different languages. The study demonstrated a different brain activity pattern for familiar and unfamiliar language. This means that dogs’ brains can differentiate between two languages. Thus, when people ask the question, “How smart are dogs?” – the acceptable answer based on these studies is “Pretty darn smart, indeed!”