Studies by researchers from the University of Vienna in Austria have shown for the first time that dogs can classify complex color photographs and put them into categories in the same way that humans do, in other words, that dogs are capable of and use abstract thinking.

In order to test whether dogs can visually categorize pictures and transfer their knowledge to new situations, four dogs were shown landscape and dog photographs and expected to make a selection on a computer touch-screen.

In the training phase, the dogs were shown both the landscape and dog photographs simultaneously and rewarded with a food pellet if they selected the dog picture (positive stimulus). Then they took part in two tests:

In the first test, the dogs were shown different dog and landscape pictures. They continued to choose the dog photographs, demonstrating that they could transfer their knowledge gained in the training phase to a new set of visual stimuli, even though they had never seen those particular pictures before.

In the second test, the dogs were shown new dog pictures pasted onto the landscape pictures used in the training phase, facing them with contradictory information: on one hand, a new positive stimulus as the pictures contained dogs even though they were new dogs; on the other hand, a familiar negative stimulus in the form of the landscape.

Faced with a choice between the new dog on the familiar landscape and a completely new landscape with no dog, they reliably selected the option with the dog, showing that they were able to form a concept i.e. ‘dog’.

This result is further evidence of the substantial mental capabilities of dogs and the fact that we know so little about the mind of the dog, as well a reminder not to underestimate them. They are far more complex than we recognize.

For the complete Science Daily article, go here.

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