Dogs can count.
Not talking about that carnival kind of counting, either. The kind where a carnival worker tells a dog to count to three and the dog barks three times.
No, not that at all.
Rather the kind of counting that really counts.
For starters, if you regularly give your dog three treats at a time, you’re giving your dog way too many treats. That said, if you regularly give your dog three treats, then cut it to two treats, your dog knows that’s not the right amount of treats. The dog will sniff around for the missing treat then stare at you wondering if you’ve forgotten how to count.
The dog may not have a concept of the number three but she knows what the components of three should be and a component of the regular three-treat ratio is missing … at least that’s my translation of dog logic.
Any time, a dog, cat or any animal does something we consider beyond their intelligence, we humans are impressed.
Animals likely aren’t smarter than we believe them to be but rather we are not as intelligent as we think we are.
Or as famed astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson noted: “Any time we’re impressed by what a non-human animal does, it’s simply because we previously underestimated its intelligence.”
But what do I know, my dog has been outsmarting me for years.
When she was younger, she’d find a gap in the fence and escape. She seemed to love wandering around the neighborhood, running, barking at people and lots of sniffing around … probably looking for that third treat.
I’d fix one gap and she’d find another in the fence and off I’d go chasing her.
One time, I was fixing one gap, looked up and there she was on the other side of the fence looking at me like I’m the one meant to be penned in the backyard. I felt like Yosemite Sam dealing with Bugs Bunny. This is one of the reasons I curse and grumble under my breath.
At some point, the dog trained me to open the backdoor as if I’m inviting her to go do her business outside. If I don’t hold the door a certain way or stand in a certain place, she stares at me, unmoving, waiting for me to get her invitation just right to go outside.
I assume my dog is pretty smart, but as some readers have pointed out through the years, I may just be pretty dumb.
As Tyson also notes: “Odd that our measures of animal intelligence are often tests for what we do best, rather than tests for what they do best.”
In his book, “Cosmic Queries,” written with James Trefil, Tyson writes that “it doesn’t take much of a brain to produce highly complex behavior.”
He notes the “tiny-headed honeybee … executes sophisticated mathematical waggle dances to communicate the location of distant food sources to its fellow bees.”
The octopus has a “primitive brain” but can “navigate mazes and often escape its enclosure” while independently coordinating and controlling eight appendages. Given most of us can’t tap our heads and pat our bellies simultaneously with only two arms, and some of us can’t walk on two legs and chew gum at the same time, who’s to say we’re more intelligent than the octopus?
Humans often equate technology with intelligence, but as Tyson notes, dinosaurs ruled the world for 200 million years though likely never building campfires, proposing the theory of general relativity or watching Netflix. A random asteroid collision with Earth likely led the dinosaurs to extinction.
While people with all of our supposed technology and intelligence may likely doom ourselves.
“If intelligence is so important for survival, then why are we at risk of rendering ourselves extinct thanks to the creations of our own intelligence?” Tyson asks.
I may ask my dog but I better get her that third treat first.
Dean Poling is an editor with The Valdosta Daily Times.