Millennium Post

Understanding canine senses

Understanding canine senses
Can dogs really understand human moods or is this just a quality we are projecting onto them?
Dogs and humans have lived together for 30,000 years and know each other very well. They are both familiar with the sounds of their environment. Scientifically how do they know when we are upset, happy or ready to play? In 2,000, it was discovered by Hungary’s Eötvös Loránd University that a  dog brain centre processes the emotions of a human voice. What is interesting is that it is the same brain centre in both humans and dogs, the auditory region in the most anterior region near the temporal pole. This is used for understanding the emotional content of spoken sounds. In this study, both dogs and humans reacted similarly to happy sounds or sounds of baby’s giggling. Other sounds elicited different reactions in both. Dogs and humans use similar parameters to tell emotions. A short “ha, ha” is happy but a longer “haaaaa” becomes a whine or other emotion.

Does the size of the brain have any bearing on the intelligence of the animal?
None whatsoever. In fact amoebas which have technically no brain have been found to react in surprisingly intelligent ways: even sacrificing themselves for one another. The soil dwelling worm Caenorhabditis elegans has only 302 brain cells but learns the smells, tastes, temperatures, and oxygen levels that predict dangerous chemicals or the presence or absence of food. Every animal on this planet has amazing intelligent. Bees, for instance, use abstract thinking and symbolic language as well as visual memory for the scenery and landmarks of up to five miles. Bees are able to solve the advanced mathematical problem of how to spend the most efficient amount of time in different quality flowers. 

They are able to self medicate, knowing where the medicines are, how to mix them and when to use them. Birds can remember landmarks for thousands of miles. They have been observed grieving for dead brethren. They name their offspring, learn by listening to others and follow rules of syntax in their language. Crows have metacognition (meaning they are aware that they know), as well as advanced memory. They remember specific people, cars, and urban situations, maintaining grudges with specific people and cars for several years. Birds show advanced planning and art. They can do arithmetic, invent words. Lizards have leaders who teach and protect them.

If we treat animals as the intelligent beings they are, would that benefit humans in general?
By appreciating the intelligence of animals humans would become more compassionate. Perhaps zoos would take a different view of their dependent, caged animals. Perhaps, people would use less cruelty when they try to make money using animals in marine entertainment parks, in dog fighting, in dog and horse racing. If people were in tune with the intelligence of  animals they would appreciate the intelligence of the animals that are slaughtered for food, including the pain felt by lobsters, crabs and other animals. There would be a decrease in the amount of meat eating. Less meat production would benefit the planet. People would be less cruel to each other as well, once the habit of compassion spreads. This could be a wonderful world if only we could stop being violent to animals.

Would the world be a better place if it were run by animals?
I could give you thousands of examples to show how it would be a Garden of Eden but here is just one:
 In a study done in 2008 capuchin monkeys learnt that two different types of tokens would exchange for food: one type would gain food for one only while the other token type provided food for both monkeys. In every case the monkeys preferred tokens that rewarded both individuals – even if they were strangers.

In an experimentation laboratory in Six Flags, New Jersey, a capuchin monkey taught himself to pick locks well enough to bust out of his cage. Not only did he let himself out. Instead of escaping immediately he went around and let all of the other animals in the area out - birds, snakes, other monkeys.

Compassion is what makes the world survive. And all animals except man have it.

Are monkeys and apes as smart as humans?
There is only a 1.3 per cent difference in the DNA so why should they not be as smart. In fact they are much smarter because they survive in a world that is dominated by another species and a very vicious and violent one. Many of them are much faster with mathematical and computer related problems than an average adult. One of the experiments in the primate research centre at the Max Planck Institute in Germany shows that, like humans, apes can set goals and follow through with them.

 Orangutans and bonobos in a zoo were offered eight possible tools — two of which would help them get at some food. At times when they chose the proper tool, researchers moved the apes to a different area before they could get the food, and then kept them waiting as much as 14 hours. In every case, when the apes realised they were being moved, they took their tool with them so they could use it to get food the next day, remembering that even after sleeping. The goal and series of tasks didn't leave the apes' minds. This is similar to a person packing luggage a day before a trip. This is one of the human’s central abilities.

 For a few years, scientists have watched chimpanzees in zoos collect and store rocks as weapons for later use. They even use deception. They create haystacks to conceal their stash of stones from opponents, just like nations do with bombs.
Can animals recognise themselves in a mirror?
 Scientists use something called the rouge test to determine whether animals can recognise themselves, and claim that only apes, elephants, dolphins, orcas and magpies can. Probably because these are the only animals they have tested. I brought home a baby chick in 2009 and within a few days of discovering the mirror and initially thinking it was another chick, she recognised and started preening herself regularly for a few days and then ignored it as we would ignore it.  Children, often till the age of 3 cannot recognize themselves, thinking the person in the mirror is a stranger.

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