Welcome back to "The Animal House." I'm Sam Litzinger. On the subject of intelligence, much of contemporary thought is influenced by ideas expressed three centuries ago by French philosopher Rene Descartes. In short, Descartes believed that animals were pretty much mindless biological machines. Experts have been working to refute Descartes assertion as evidenced by modern science and best-selling books proposing extraordinary levels of animal cognition.
One of the books was published by our next guest in "The Animal House," Dr. Alexandra Horowitz, professor of psychology at Barnard College in New York, and author of "Inside a Dog: What Dogs See, Smell, and Know." Recently she wrote an article which details some research papers that indicate humans have some catching up to do in areas of competence where animals excel. Professor Horowitz joins us from the Radio Foundation studios in New York. Glad to have you back with us in "The Animal House."
Glad to be here, thanks.
Is the bottom line here that intelligence is relative? Because dolphins can't do long division, we may say, boy, they're not as smart as we are, but on the other hand, they can do lots of things that we can't do.
Yeah. And I'm not so sure they can't do long division. That remains to be seen. You have kind of summed it up. We used to think of intelligence as that thing that humans do, and sure, if we compare all other animals behavior to human behavior, along those lines, sometimes they don't stack up. Other times they surpass us, and other times they demonstrate some cleverness, some ability, some skills which we can't touch.
I was looking at the New York Times article that you co-wrote with (word?) Shea. You're talking about laughing chimps, I didn't know chimps laughed.
Right. I think even that's a bit of a surprise, because either we over attribute, we assume that animals that have exactly the emotions we do, which is probably wrong, or we under attribute, we assume that some of these things which are so -- seem so characteristically human aren't found in other animals. But a lot of other animals laugh and chimps have a laugh -- a panting laugh, and dogs have a laugh that's been detected which is a kind of pant as well, and rats also laugh when tickled.
Can this gap be bridged, this knowledge gap, this problem that we have about getting inside an animal's head, how far along is neuroscience in terms of being able to say, oh, this is what the dog is actually thinking?
I think neuroscience has one potential approach to bridging that gap, but it is a large gap, and I don't think that it's obvious that just because we have neuroimaging and so forth that we can really start to understand the question of how a brain is translated into a phenomenal experience and thoughts and a feeling of self, a concept of self. On the other hand, I don't think it's therefore the case that we can't start to ask these questions and use what science we have to give inceptive beginning answers.
Alexandra Horowitz is professor of psychology at Barnard College in New York, and the author of "Inside a Dog: What Dogs See, Smell, and Know," and of course her next book I assume will be, "Inside a Cat (word?) ." So you'll be working on that soon?
Right now I'm working on a project about observation generally, learning to just bring a new attention to ordinary events like just taking a walk in your city, and it is a little bit trying to get an infelt of other people, but maybe cat will be after that.
(laugh) Thank you very much for being with us.
My pleasure. Thanks.
Decoding the behavior of domestic dogs. John Bradshaw, our next guest in "The Animal House" has spent about a quarter of a century doing exactly that, and his new book, "Dog Sense" contains numerous enlightening observations on the subject. Dr. Bradshaw is foundation director of the world renowned Anthrozoology Institute at the University of Bristol. He joins us today from NPR studios in New York. John, glad to have you with us in "The Animal House."
Very pleased to be here.
Talk a little bit about dog intelligence. You write in the book, other scientists make direct comparisons between the cognitive abilities of dogs and those of human children, but these are not necessarily helpful. For example, in one study, dogs' word-learning ability was claimed to be comparable to that of a two year old. Their ability to understand goal-directed behavior to that of an infant between three and 12 months old, and so on. Are we applying the wrong standards when we say, gee, my dog is really smart?
Well, I think we are. The comparisons with children are inevitable because scientists who study brains are often studying animal brains because they're interested in how human brains work. So those comparisons come out in the literature. I don't think they help us very much though to understand what a dog is. I think a dog is a dog. It's adapted by tens of thousands of years of evolution or domestication, whichever way you want to look at it, to live with us and to understand what we want from them, and that's a package that's evolved, and it's a very effective package, and that's the way I like to think of it.
What are the implications in the book for training?
Well, I think the -- from the perspective that dogs have essentially evolved to -- like us, to form bonds with human beings, we need to regard training in that light. Essentially, you can reward a dog by being nice to it, by being kind to it, by offering it some sort of social reward. You don't have to feed it unless it's a very food-orientated dog. And so, reward-based training is the natural way to train a dog.
The whole idea that you have to punish a dog because if it doesn't -- physically punish a dog that is, because if it doesn't receive punishment it won't know where it stands in the human scale of things, I think is a myth. I think it's just simply wrong. The latest research suggests that really they don't make those kind of links at all. Reasoning is not something that dogs are very good at, and I think we make the mistake if we talk to the dog and tell it, well, it's that thing you did which was bad, the dog is just going, what just happened?
My owner came into the room and now I'm being punished. I don't understand it. I just don't get it. And so if the bad thing that the dog has done like chewing something or whatever was originally triggered by a feeling of anxiety, then that's gonna make it worse. It's gonna make the dog more anxious when you go out rather than less.
By the way, what put you into this area, because obviously you're devoting your life to it, it's something you're really interested in.
Yes. I'm just fascinated by the whole relationship that we have. I mean, why on earth do we have these animals around us is an intriguing question. It's not one that's really in the book, but it's an interesting in its own right, and in particular, I've always been interested in how animals use their sense of smell to get around and relate to one another and communicate with one another, and it struck me that the dog was actually a very good way of studying that because you can do so much with dogs that you can't do with wild animals, and yet they just carry on sniffing all the time, everything they can find.
They're clearly very interested in smell. They're clearly very good at it. They have very, very sensitive noses, and so that's what really got me into the whole thing.
Is that their primary source of information about the world, smelling it?
Their sense of sight is pretty good, they're color blind, but I don't suppose that handicaps them very much anymore than it handicaps a human to be color blind. Their sense of hearing is a little bit better than ours, but it's the sense of smell that really defines them, and I think it doesn't just define them, it defines their world for them. They want to know what things smell like. They don't really care what things look like, it's the smell of something which intrigues them the most, and which they are so sensitive to, much more sensitive than we could ever be.
The book is "Dog Sense: How the New Science of Dog Behavior Can Make You a Better Friend to Your Pet." John, thank you very much for being with us in "The Animal House."
It's a great pleasure.
Message for the gods gone to the dogs? This is Sandra Tsing-Loh with the Loh Down on Science saying, well, yes, in ancient Egypt. For years, researchers had been mapping out temples and animal burial grounds under Egypt's desert sand. The mummy bestiary has been discovered to includes bulls, cows, baboons, ibises, hawks, cats, and now dogs. Archeologists from Britain's Cardiff University have recently been excavating a sprawling complex of underground tunnels that contain about eight million -- boo hoo -- dog mummies.
The dog catacomb as it's called, sits close to a temple to Anubis, the jackal-headed god. Anubis was a tour guide of the underworld for -- ahem -- new visitors, and was even lord of the dead for a while. In a new study, the Cardiff scientists say the Egyptians killed very young canines, some only days or hours hold to honor Anubis. These mummified pups weren't simple sacrifices, they were messengers acting as intermediaries between mortals and eternals. But in modern times, dog is my co-pilot, please leave it for a bumper sticker.
The Loh Down on Science online at lohdown.org. Produced by 89.3 KPCC and the California Institute of Technology and made possible by TIAA CREF.
Dr. Gary Weitzman answers your animal-related questions, next in "The Animal House."
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