Living with humans has taught dogs morals, say scientists
By Daily Mail Reporter
Last updated at 6:39 AM on 21st August 2008
Dogs are developing a sense of fair play, scientists have found. Dogs are becoming more intelligent and are even learning morals from human contact, scientists claim. They say the fact that dogs' play rarely escalates into a fight shows the animals abide by social rules.
During one study, dogs which held up a paw were rewarded with a food treat. When a lone dog was asked to raise its paw but received no treat, the researchers found it begged for up to 30 minutes. But when they tested two dogs together but rewarded only one, the dog which missed out soon stopped playing the game.
Dr Friederike Range, of the University of Vienna
The first Canine Science Forum in Budapest was attended by more than 200 experts to discuss what is going on inside the mind of a dog. Human's inclination to invest dogs with human-like states of mind isn't as unscientific as it might appear as they really do have some remarkable mental skills that allow them to thrive in their strange habitat - our world.
Domestic dogs evolved from grey wolves as recently as 10,000 years ago since when their brains have shrunk so a wolf-sized dog has a brain around 10 per cent smaller than its wild ancestor.
Dr Peter Pongracz from Eotvos Lorand University, Budapest, and colleagues have produced evidence dog barks contain information that people can understand. They found even people who have never owned a dog can recognise the emotional 'meaning' of barks produced in various situations, such as when playing, left alone and confronted by a stranger.
His team has now developed a computer program that can aggregate hundreds of barks recorded in various settings and boil them down to their basic acoustic ingredients.
They found each of the different types of bark has distinct patterns of frequency, tonality and pulsing, and that an artificial neural network can use these features to correctly identify a bark it has never encountered before.
This is further evidence that barking conveys information about a dog's mental state, reports New Scientist magazine. They also discovered people can correctly identify aggregated barks as conveying happiness, loneliness or aggression.
'Even children from the age of six who have never had a dog recognise these patterns,' says Dr Pongracz.
Dogs are not just able to 'speak' to us - they can also understand some aspects of human communication. At the forum in Budapest, Dr Akiko Takaoka from Kyoto University in Japan described as-yet unpublished work that examined what is going on inside a dog's mind when it hears a stranger's voice.
She played dogs a series of recordings of unfamiliar voices - both male and female - with each voice followed by a photo of a human face on a screen. If the gender of the face did not match that of the voice, the dogs stared longer, a sign that their expectations had been violated.
Dr Takaoka said: 'This suggests dogs generate an internal visual representation of a male or female correlated with the voice.' She suggests that this ability to infer information about a person from their voice alone might help dogs communicate with people.
It is generally accepted that a few other animals, including great apes, are capable of this mind reading to some extent, but it is nevertheless a quality reserved for only the most intelligent of species.
But Dr Alexandra Horowitz from Barnard College in New York prefers the term "theory of behaviour" to describe dogs' apparent insight.
She said: 'I think there is a massive territory between a theory of mind and a theory of behaviour.'
Her own recent study illustrates the point - when dogs play together, they use appropriate signals for grabbing attention or signalling the desire to play depending on their playmate's apparent level of attention, such as whether it is facing them or side-on.
That could be interpreted as mind reading, she admits, but a simpler explanation is that dogs are reading body language and reacting in stereotyped ways.