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They’re Smarter Than You Think

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Do you ever wonder if your pet understands what you’re saying to him?  A PBS show last night showed that animals may very well be much smarter than we thought.

In one example, a Border Collie (believed to be the smartest dog breed) was trained to identify his toys by name.  The narrator of the special set out a large pile of toys, then one by one called the names of each.  In every case the dog selected the right toy.  Then, while the dog was out of the room, the narrator added a new toy to the mix and asked the dog to select it.  The dog went to the toy pile, was gone for a bit, then came back to the man with a confused look on his face.  The man again asked the dog to find the new toy.  After being gone for only a moment, the dog picked out the new toy.

In another example, the dog was trained to pick which cup was hiding the ping pong ball.  In an identical test, chimpanzees, thought to be closest to us in mental development, were not able to correctly pick the cup.

Another example involved dolphins.  The test was to determine whether dolphins acted solely based on trained stunts or if they were able to think of new tricks on their own.  Trainers told the dolphins to do a new trick, and sure enough, the dolphins performed a trick the trainers had never before seen from them.

One last segment involved Alex the parrot.  Alex was able to identify shapes, actually saying the word.  He could determine, when two numbers were placed in front of him, which had the higher value.  The researcher working with Alex taught him many words and concepts.  Alex had developed quite a legion of fans that mourned his passing in 2007 at the age of 31.

As these examples show, animals are much smarter than we ever knew.  They can teach us much about the process of learning, if we’ll just pay attention.


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