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Dogs Do Understand Mathematics

Can Dogs do Maths?

Christina Sng for Maths@Singapore

Dogs are called man’s best friend for a reason: for their unwavering loyalty. But how mathematically inclined are they?

In his article “Do Dogs Understand Mathematics?”, Stanley Coren examines the many ways dogs exhibit signs of understanding math.

Comparing Sizes

Researchers have found that dogs “think in an opportunistic manner.” 

If two plates are at different distances, a dog always grabs the closest. If they are at equal distances, the dogs demonstrate their understanding of size by going after the larger one.

Determining Quantity

Another test is to determine a dog’s ability to compare two groups of items:

“A dog who runs to a pile containing 10 pieces of kibble rather than to the pile next to it that contains only two pieces of kibble makes that decision based upon his judgment of the number of kibbles in each pile.”

This is demonstrated in the laboratory. Dogs have proven their ability to judge numerosity by learning to press a panel that has more dots painted on it for a food reward.

Counting

Dogs frequently demonstrate their knowledge of simple counting. This is shown in field trials where retrievers count to know how many ducks are out in the field to retrieve.

Adding

The question now is can dogs do simple arithmetic?

Robert Young of the Pontifical Catholic University in Brazil, and Rebecca West of the University of Lincoln in the United Kingdom, sought to confirm this idea.

They measured the amount of time dogs spend looking at things. 

First they showed the dog a single large treat, then put a low screen in front of it. The dog watched as another treat was placed behind the screen. 

If the dog can add, it knows that one plus one equals two, so it expects that when the screen is raised, there will be two dog treats. 

If the researchers add an extra treat so that the dogs see three instead of the expected two, the dogs appear to be equally surprised. 

This suggests that dogs can do simple addition and subtraction too.

For more on this intriguing topic, visit https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/advice/dogs-understand-mathematics/

Thanks to Cristian Castillo @castillcc for making this photo available freely on Unsplash 🎁