06 December 2007
NewScientist.com news service
Four dogs were simultaneously shown photographs of a landscape and of a dog, and were rewarded if they selected the latter using a paw-operated computer (Image: Huber et al / Springer)
Next time you sort through your holiday photos, maybe your dog could lend a hand. It seems dogs can place photographs into categories the same way humans do, an ability previously identified only in birds and primates.
Friederike Range at the University of Vienna, Austria, and colleagues trained dogs to distinguish photographs that depicted dogs from those that did not. "We know they can categorise 'food' or 'enemies' from experience," says Range, "but this is the first time we've taught them an abstract concept - 'a dog' - and shown they can transfer this knowledge to a new situation."
In the training phase, four dogs were simultaneously shown photographs of a landscape and of a dog, and were rewarded if they selected the latter using a paw-operated computer touch-screen. When the computer-savvy dogs were shown unfamiliar landscape and dog photos they continued to identify those containing dogs. And when shown an unfamiliar dog superimposed on a landscape used in the training phase, they were still able to pick it out in preference to an image of just a landscape, showing that they could distinguish a dog by its features (Animal Cognition, DOI: 10.1007/s10071-007-0123-2).
"We are starting to see that dogs have some good reasoning abilities," says Range. "I hope this might impact how we treat them at home."