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Dogs understand numbers, says study

Issue: 03/01/2020

New research has revealed that dogs have the ability to understand numbers.
A scientific study, Canine sense of quantity: evidence for numerical ratio-dependent activation in parietotemporal cortex, has found that dogs have neurological sensitivity to numbers. It means that dogs innately understand quantities.
Neuroscientists at Emory University in Atlanta gathered 11 dogs from different breeds to participate. The Breeds included a Border Collie, Labrador and a Golden Retriever as well as a number of crossbreeds. There were nine bitches and two dogs used in the study and their ages ranged from two to 13.
All the dogs were scanned by an MRI machine and they all had a screen in front of them. On the screen a series of dots appeared, changing ever 300 milliseconds. Each time there would be a different number of dots.
‘We went right to the source, observing the dogs’ brains, to get a direct understanding of what their neurons were doing when the dogs viewed varying quantities of dots,’ said cognitive psychologist Lauren Aulet. ‘That allowed us to bypass the weaknesses of previous behavioural studies of dogs and some other species.’
It was shown that the dogs’ brains showed more activity in the dedicated region for representing quantities when the number of dots was very different.
Scientists have long believed that dogs have an ‘approximate number system.’ For instance, they can rapidly estimate the number of sheep in a flock.
In the study they write, ‘this research provides novel evidence that dogs spontaneously discriminate visual numerosity.
‘Our findings suggest that the ability to represent numerosity and the mechanisms supporting this system are deeply conserved over evolutionary time, perhaps owing to a role in foraging or predation’
Krista Macpherson, a canine cognition researcher at Western University, London, Canada said, ‘These findings support our understanding of the Approximate Number System; previously, these effects had only been demonstrated behaviourally in dogs, so this is an important contribution to our understanding of canine cognition.’
She believes that this study will be of interest to dog trainers as it suggests that dogs may pay more attention to the number of items as a reward rather than the volume.
To see the full study go to -

Name: Kathy Wilkinson
Comment: Re your article on 3 January 2020 headed "Dogs understand numbers, says study", we did not need scientists to MRI scan their brains - all they had to do was give one biscuit to one dog and two biscuits to another dog, and the first dog would tell you in no uncertain terms that they had been short-changed! Un-scientific, but it works! Kathy Wilkinson Otterkin Counting Border Terriers

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