Archive for September 15th, 2009

I’m a lifelong dog-lover, and I’ve always felt they were much more intelligent than our “dumb dog” jokes make them out to be. In fact, we used to say around the house that, while our dogs couldn’t talk, they certainly knew how to communicate.

Anyway, Time Magazine has a really neat article on investigations into the evolution of canine intelligence. The whole piece is worth reading, but this especially caught my eye:

To understand how dogs evolved this skill, Hare traveled to Siberia. In the 1950s, Soviet scientists set up an experiment on a farm outside the city of Novosibirsk to understand how animals were domesticated. They decided to study foxes, which are closely related to wolves and dogs.

The Russians began by breeding a group of foxes according to one simple rule: they would walk up to a cage and put a hand on the bars. Foxes that slunk back in fear and snapped their teeth didn’t get to breed. Ones that came up to the scientists did. Meanwhile, the scientists also raised a separate group of foxes under identical conditions, except for one difference: they didn’t have to pass a test to mate.

More than 40 generations of foxes have now been bred in Novosibirsk, and the results speak for themselves. The foxes that the scientists bred selectively have become remarkably doglike. They will affectionately run up to people and even wag their tails. In 2003, Hare traveled to Novosibirsk and ran his pointing test on baby foxes. The ordinary ones failed miserably. As for the doglike ones, “they did just as well as puppies right out of the box,” Hare says. As the animals were bred for their affability, a new side of their social intelligence was apparently awakened.

The article also argues something I’ve long suspected: they train us nearly as much as we train them. 🙂

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