A new study reveals that canines use both visual and cognitive cues to identify others of their species, no matter how different the breeds.
By Claudia Bensimoun (Pen name) Eleanor Griffin For Animal Wellness magazine
Nine adult dogs (five females and four males owned by students at the National Veterinary School) took part in this study. Two of the nine dogs were purebred (one a Labrador, one a border collie), and seven were cross breeds. None had the same morphotype in terms of form, color, marking, hair length and ear type, whether upright or drooping. All the dogs were between two and five years of age, had extensive prior experience of visual interspecific and intraspecific interactions, and basic obedience training. They also underwent ophthalmological and behavioral examinations.
How the study worked
Dr. Autier-Derian and her fellow researchers wanted to observe whether the nine dogs could discriminate any breed of dog from other species of animal, including humans, and whether they could group all dogs together, regardless of breed, into a single category.
The dogs were shown 144 pairs of colored digital head pictures depicting various dogs, animals and humans. The images were displayed on a pair of computer screens at the dogs’ own eye level. Each image pair included the face of an unfamiliar dog, and the face of an animal of a different species, including humans. The dog images encompassed many purebreds and mixed breeds and were picked to illustrate the wide variability of canine morphotypes, with different head shapes, hair length, color, and ear positions. The non-dog photos included people as well as 40 different species of both domestic and wild cats, rabbits and birds.
The dogs were trained to sit in front of an experimenter, on a line between the two screens. Upon hearing a command, each dog would make a selection between the two images in front of him by going to one of the screens and putting his paw in front of the chosen image.
All nine dogs in the study were able to group all the dog images, regardless of breed, into into a single category despite the diversity of breeds.
“Dogs display a very efficient visual communication system toward conspecifics [same species], and also to human beings,” she says.
“The fact that they are able to recognize their own species visually, and that they have great olfactory discriminative capacities, ensures that social behavior and mating between different breeds is still potentially possible. Although humans have stretched the canis familiaris species to its morphological limits, its biological entity has been preserved.”
We already know that dogs are smarter than most people think, but this study demonstrates they’re even more intelligent when it comes to knowing how to recognize their own species, whether it’s a toy poodle or a great Pyrenees.
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