Ep 217: Let’s Be Honest: Is Your Dog Really Intelligent?

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Are Dogs (or Cats) Really Smart?It’s easy to find videos on the web of animals showing what appears to be some pretty smart behavior. But is it really “smarts”? How can you tell? In this episode I’ll point out examples that look like intelligence but probably aren’t – as well as an example of animal behavior that is really hard to dismiss as anything but “smarts”. In doing so we’ll talk about the behavioral principle of “chaining” – the method by which you can get animals – and humans – to display some pretty sophisticated and complex behavior as the result of reinforcement, prompts and cues.

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Comments

  1. Hi there. Listened to your podcast. Very interesting discussion.

    Two comments:
    1) You mentioned how humans tend to anthropomorphize animals. The cat sits on your lap because its warm not because he's an affectionate cat. But then you say the cat shows how dumb it is by drinking water from the toilet bowl. I would argue that you're projecting your disgust of toilet water onto the cat. He's drinking water – it's not a dumb behavior. When he licks himself, its a pleasurable activity. Neither of those are dumb, and are explained as natural animal behaviors.

    2) I have spent some time thinking about this topic previously, and I can't explain some of the behaviors of my dog. For instance, I work during the day (say, 9am-5pm)and my dog acts fine at home with my wife. But if I am not home yet at around 8pm, he will sit by the door, and sometimes make a whining noise. The easy human explanation is that he knows I'm late home from work, and is waiting for me to arrive. What other explanation is there? Where did he learn this? What's he doing by the door whining except waiting for me to come home? How does he know "too many" hours have passed since I've been gone? 8 hours is fine but 10 hours is too much? It's hard to explain except he has learned something himeself, and acting intentionally. (A form of intelligence.)

    There's something there. I'm not saying dogs are as smart as humans, and I can see where a lot of behavior is learned and reinforced through our reactions. But sitting by the door at 8pm? No one taught him that.

    Good podcast! Thanks for posting it.
    Scott

  2. Good to hear you also listen to Sci Fri, I take it you've also been watching the new Cosmos show on Sundays?
    I don't understand the SciFri in January about our Milky Way colliding with Andromeda. I'm no astrophysicist so probably misunderstand something but I picture the Big Bang originating at the center of a sphere (like a basketball) and everything radiating outward in fairly straight lines from the center so I don't know how their paths could ever cross to collide. Perhaps some weird gravitational eddy currents? Or congealed early galaxies gravitationally pulling the line of neighboring stuff to bend its path but momentum propels it past after they collide? It's confusing to me: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Big_Bang
    And what's with this "dark matter/energy" stuff push the universe apart to accelerate its expansion? I thought there was gravitational acceleration so why couldn't the neighboring "universes" in the multiverse be pulling our universe apart and it accelerates the closer it gets to its neighbor?

  3. stephen m says:

    Michael,

    The question of animal emotions in your podcast suggests:

    Jaak Panksepp : Affective Neuroscience ; The Archaeology of Mind

    Enjoy
    Stephen

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