Dogs who can perform mathematical calculations


Dogs who can perform mathematical calculations

Around 1940, Stuppke became famous for being the dog that barked as many times as the number that was shown written on a small blackboard by its owner, Mr. Pilz. Its skill was so prodigious that Stuppke was even able to read the number blindfolded. More recently, there have been several cases of dogs that have become famous for knowing how to solve multiplication and square roots, and who give answers by barking or moving a paw the correct number of times. However, scientific research has redefined canine skills with numbers and suggests that dogs only have a very basic numerical sense.

These skills have been explored with techniques similar to those used with young children who do not yet speak. As we are unable to ask them directly, the duration of the gaze is used as an indicator of what they think, and in this case of the so-called “surprise effect”. The experiment is organised so that while the animal is looking at the person, the latter hides two bone-shaped biscuits behind a screen. After a few seconds, the person withdraws the screen. If, instead of the two cookies that the dog saw were being hidden, there are three cookies or only one, the dog is surprised. Its expectation does not correspond to reality and its surprise is measured with the duration of the gaze, which lasts longer when the same two cookies that the dog had seen being hidden at first do not appear. This suggests that the dog has basic numeracy and can differentiate between 1, 2 and 3. But this does not prove that dogs can count and do calculations. Most likely, its ability simply includes making rough estimates of the numbers and seeing that the X amount is greater or less than the Y amount. It is thanks to this ability that given the choice between two different amounts of food rewards, dogs know how to choose the largest. However, this skill has limits, and if between the two amounts of rewards there is only a difference of a few pieces, the dog’s choice becomes random. Thus, between 1 and 4 rewards, the dog chooses 4 without a doubt, but between 3 and 4 it does not clearly notice the difference.

If these are the scientifically proven numerical abilities, ¿how do you explain cases of dogs who can solve mathematical operations? The answer is that dogs cannot solve them. In reality, the person is sending the dog a very subtle body signal. This may be a slight raising of the eyebrows, a movement of the shoulder or the contraction of any other muscle. It is the signal which tells the dog to stop moving the paw or to stop barking. Therefore, the incredible skill of some dogs to solve mathematical questions is in reality the incredible ability to read minimal human body signals that very often not even the people themselves are able to detect.