Many dog lovers are interested in learning more about their beloved friends’ thoughts. Fortunately, scientists can now find the solution.
In a recent study that was published in the journal Animal Cognition, researchers from Eötvös Loránd University in Budapest’s Family Dog Project found that dogs had a “multi-modal mental representation” of their familiar items. This suggests that when dogs ponder about something, they picture all of its sensory components. Considering, for instance, how it appears or smells.
Theoretically, the senses that dogs use to identify objects, like their toys, correlate to how those objects are conceptualized in their brains, according to scientists. According to Shany Dror, one of the study’s key researchers, “If we can identify which senses dogs utilize while searching for a toy, this may show how they think about it.” Dogs who hunt for a toy using their senses of smell or sight do so because they are aware of the toy’s characteristics.
Only a small number of unusually gifted canines have been found to be able to memorize the names of items, according to earlier studies. According to Dr. Andrea Sommese, the second-leading researcher, “These Gifted Word Learner dogs give us a window into their thinking, and we may uncover what they think about when we ask them – Where is your Teddy Bear?”
In the first experiment, they taught 10 typical family dogs and 3 gifted word learners to fetch a toy associated with a reward. Typical family dogs are dogs that do not know the names of toys. Throughout training, dogs were praised and given treats for choosing this toy over a few distractor toys.
The researchers then watched as the dogs, always placed amid four other toys, searched for it both with and without the lights on. In both the light and the dark, all dogs chose the trained toys with success. In the dark, though, it took them longer to locate the toys. The second experiment was limited to the Gifted Word Learner dogs. The purpose of this study was to see what these dogs’ reactions are to hearing the names of their toys.
According to Dr. Claudia Fugazza, co-author of the study, “revealing the senses employed by the dogs to hunt for the named toys provided us the potential to deduce what these canines imagine when they hear, for example, Teddy Bear.
The gifted canines had success choosing the toys that their owners had named in both the light and the dark. This shows that when they hear the name of a toy, they remember its various sensory characteristics and can recognize it using a “multisensory mental image,” even in the dark.
Dogs have an excellent sense of smell, but according to Prof. Adam Miklósi, head of the Department of Ethology at ELTE University and co-author of the study, “we found that dogs preferred to rely on vision and that they utilized their noses only occasionally, and nearly solely when the lights were out.” In the dark, dogs sniffed more frequently and for longer. Even though they spent only 20% of the time looking when the lights were off, they spent 90% more time sniffing.