Top 50 Blogger

Become a Fan


  • Con Slobodchikoff, Ph.D.
    Slobodchikoff is President and CEO of Animal Communications, Ltd., specializing in pet behavior problems and in educating people about the behavior of animals.

« A Rudimentary Theory Of Mind In Dogs And Other Animals | Main | Cutting the Nails Of An Unwilling Dog »

November 04, 2008


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

 Small Dog Training

Reading these comments has really opened my eyes to the comparisons made by scholars canine to human? Can we really make a definitive of age comparison? I have a two year old grandson that could not protect my farm animals but my three year old blue healer sure can? Maybe my rural up bringing has narrowed my focus.


Randall Johnson

I’d like to thank Dr. Horowitz for providing more insight into human/animal comparisons. Admittedly, it can be a slippery area and, in the end, it probably tells us more about how we see things than it does about the reality of other animals. It also takes something away from their ‘otherness’ about which we may never fully comprehend.

With regard to gaze-following and other similar skills, to be sure, humans and dogs follow very different developmental trajectories, yet both species need to be socially flexible as adults, capable of behaving appropriately within their respective world views and it’s very interesting that gaze-following appears to be a crucial step in the maturation process. The fact that dogs exhibit this ability, whereas apes and wolves generally don’t, may be a consequence of our unique history (see Reconnect With Nature Blog, “A New View of Dog Domestication: Human-Canid Co-evolution”, June 15, 2008).

This co-evolution is still ongoing, which leads me to Dr. Horowitz’s observation that many of us who share our homes and lives with canine companions don’t do enough to advance their intellects. Now, my three dogs have regular opportunities to chase garden lizards, small birds, and explore a few nearby fields and I know these activities provide a natural form of mental stimulation. Still, I’d like to do more because my dogs are capable of doing more. I’m also thinking about dog owners who work outside the home and/or live in apartments.

So, what can we do that doesn’t involve fancy or expensive props?

Alexandra Horowitz

I am pleased, as always, to have such a careful reader and interlocutor as Randall Johnson. His post prompts two responses/thoughts:

First, as to the cognitive comparison between children and dogs: he is right that Miklosi and other researchers have found their results warrant comparing a dog's cognition to that of a young child. How young--3? 2? 18 months?--is an ever-moving ruler; as far as I am concerned, though, the particular age is irrelevant. While I find comparative human/animal work useful--and do it myself--I am less sanguine about the usefulness of equating the abilities of species at different ages. I believe this confuses a description of the behavior with a description of the behaver. The comparisons made are of performance on very specific experimental trials which are testing for very specific skills--gaze-following, for instance. But the meaning of gaze-following--its importance in the developmental trajectory; what it indicates about the level of understanding of the gaze-follower--may nonetheless be quite different for humans and animals that do this behavior. In normally developing children, gaze-following is one step in a growing understanding of the importance of others' attention and a budding social understanding. This trajectory ends in their being linguistic, socially flexible adults. But in dogs, gaze-following seems to be part of a much different understanding of the world, that never leads to their maturation into little people.

The comparison of the abilities of dogs and children is still worth making. But it is different than saying that dogs are little children.

Second, I'm glad Randall Johnson took up the gauntlet I tossed down of reflecting on how we treat this possible-theorists-of-mind with whom we share our homes. I've begun thinking about how to remedy this--it is part of my interest in considering the dog's point of view--and I hope other researchers follow suit.

The comments to this entry are closed.

FREE Report, 10 Secrets of Dog Body Language

Chasing Doctor Dolittle: Learning the Language of Animals