Similarities Between Dogs And Toddlers

on September 18, 2009
Posted in Fun

For many years, devout pet owners have often claimed that their beloved pets are able to read their minds and know exactly what they want or are thinking; and vice versa. Parents of young children have also stated the same thing. Now it appears that both types of ‘parents’ are correct: a recent study has shown that there are definitely strong similarities between dogs and toddlers.

Professor Stanley Coren, PhD, an author, psychologist and dog researcher, who presented his findings about such similarities during a speech at the American Psychological Association’s annual convention in Toronto earlier this year, explains:

“Darwin basically said that anything that is useful doesn’t just appear out of nothing.”

Coren’s research has indicated that dogs have a similar intelligence to that of a 24 to 30 month old toddler. Cats, on the other hand, are thought to have an intelligence level that is on par with an 18 month old child.

Toddlers and dogs also demonstrate the same basic emotions, such as fear and happiness. The only emotion that a dog does not ‘get’ is guilt.

Coren explains: “What we tend to be interpreting as guilt is really fear on the dog’s part. They get the impression you’re going to drop a piano on their head for something they’ve done wrong.”

Coren’s study also shows that dogs have the potential to understand fairness. One of the experiments involved a researcher who trained two different dogs to shake their paw when instructed. Once both dogs had mastered the trick, treats were then given by the researcher to only one of the two dogs each time he offered his paw. The researcher did not give any treats to the other dog.

Surprisingly, that dog refused to shake his paw and, in fact, would not look at the researcher at all.

“He doesn’t want any part of you. He doesn’t think this is fair,” said Coren.

Although they both walk around a lot on all fours, and if you let them they will share the same food dish, these are not the comparisons found by recent studies. It seems that dogs and toddlers are both fantastic at reading hand signals and even simple turns of the head or gaze shifting.

It was found that dogs have the same capacity as toddlers when it comes to understanding hand gestures, and it takes them no time at all to figure them out. For instance, when you say ‘go’ to your dog and point to a specific area they understand that they should go there rapidly.

If you ever hear someone comment that their dog listens better than their toddler, you can tell them they are correct! It is a fascinating idea that dogs understand humans better than chimpanzees which are supposed to be our closest relatives in the animal world.

The only confusion from dogs or toddlers in pointing gesture tests come from using the knee as a pointing device or pointing with a finger in an opposite direction from the rest of the arm. Researchers believe that dogs excel in these areas because pointing is a cooperative in nature and dogs are well versed in cooperation.

This is great news for dog owners and even parents of toddlers, especially those frustrated by an inability to communicate verbally with their child. However, it appears the canine abilities do not end there! Studies are showing that they understand basic human words and even arithmetic on the same level as a toddler.

An average dog can understand around 165 words as well as hand gestures and the top 20% of dogs can comprehend around 250 words! If dogs start talking soon, we are all in trouble! If all that were not enough it seems our furry friends, have a basic concept of arithmetic, now if only my dog would have helped me with algebra!

Tests used to gauge a human child’s understanding of arithmetic were used in a study with canines. In one such test dogs watch as researchers lower two treats behind a screen, in some instances researchers will remove or add a treat before raising the screen and gauge the dog’s reaction. Low and behold when there were more or less treats behind the screen dogs acted surprised and would stare for a long period just as a human child would.

Part of the answer to the canine intelligence is in the way we speak and interact with them. Many dog owners will speak to their dogs in the same manner as their children thereby exposing both to the same level of social stimulation. The bottom line is dogs are much more intelligent than some people give them credit for as has been proven by these studies.

Photo Credit: mollypop

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Read also: New Year’s Resolution for Pets

Our Expert

Dr. Janice Huntingford
Janice Huntingford, DVM, has been in veterinary practice for over 30 years and has founded two veterinary clinics since receiving her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine at the Ontario Veterinary College, University of Guelph. She has studied extensively in both conventional and holistic modalities. Ask Dr. Jan

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