Yale Study: Canine Minds Far More Complex Than Originally Thought

LOS ANGELES (CBSLA.com) — Researchers at Yale are using cognitive interactive studies to learn more about how dogs’ minds work.

Laurie Santos, director of the Yale Canine Cognition Center, explains that hundreds of volunteer dogs are used as subjects of puppet shows and a series of other cognitive tests.

“Dogs are just fascinating,” Santos said. “We love them, they live in our homes. Anyone who hangs out with a dog is kind of wondering, ‘what are they thinking, do they love me’.”

In the puppet show exam, the dogs are shown one scene, where a rat puppet assists a hedgehog puppet up a hill. In a different scene, the rat puppet knocks the hedgehog puppet down.

“Similar studies have been done with human infants, and what we find is that infants don’t like the guy who was mean,” Santos said. “So, we’re doing the same thing with dogs to try and see if dogs morally evaluate, the way humans do.”

By the end of the puppet show test, the dogs did indeed appear to be weary of the rat puppet.

Another test involves a book. In the book test, the dog looks on as his or her companion sits and reads, and then puts the book on the floor behind them.

Moments later, someone comes into the room and takes the book.

“What we really want to see is whether or not dogs know when we’ve missed some information,” Santos said. “Do they realize that, first of all, and when they do realize it, are they motivated to help?”

The results indicate that, not only do the dogs seem to realize something is wrong, but that they also appear to be attempting to alert their companions, many of whom did not seem surprised by their dog’s concern.

“At home, he’s really observant,” dog owner April Ruiz said. “He’s always paying attention.”

A third test includes the dog and companion relaxing in a room, when a researcher appears and introduces a new object. The goal of this test is to see whether or not a dog will become interested in the same item as humans.

The results suggest that most were.

“The most surprising thing so far is how many of our intuitions about dogs are right,” Yale junior Rebecca Spaulding said. “That dogs have feelings and dogs want to communicate with us.”

Yale researchers have tested approximately 300 dogs, and have found that the dog mind is more complex than was originally assumed.

There are as many as 1,000 dogs on the center’s waiting list.

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