Dogs can count, new study reveals

In total, 11 of the dogs passed the test with flying colors and, no doubt, earning a well-deserved treat.

Three dogs (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Three dogs
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Dogs are one of the few animals bred for intelligence, but even still, humans can be surprised at just how smart man's best friend can be.
While dogs already display the intelligence needed to come when called and recognize their own name, it was thought that counting is something that eluded them.
However, according to a new study from Emory University in Atlanta, dogs absolutely can count – at least, the amount of treats put in their bowls, Science Magazine reported.
In his study published in the journal Biology Letters, Emory neuroscientist Gregory Berns used 11 dogs from a variety of different breeds to ascertain whether there was a sense of numbers.
Using pioneering brain scanning techniques created for dogs, the canine test subjects were fixated on a light array showing gray dots on a back background – changing these numbers every 300 milliseconds. As these numbers changed, activity was detected in the dogs' parietotemporal cortex. A similar region in the human brain – the parietal cortex – is what allows humans to have any comprehension in a change in numbers.
“We went right to the source, observing the dogs’ brains, to get a direct understanding of what their neurons were doing when the dogs viewed varying quantities of dots,” explained Lauren Aulet, a PhD candidate and the first author of the study. “That allowed us to bypass the weaknesses of previous behavioral studies of dogs and some other species.”
In total, 11 of the dogs passed the test with flying colors and, no doubt, earning a well-deserved treat.
“Our work not only shows that dogs use a similar part of their brain to process numbers of objects as humans do — it shows that they don’t need to be trained to do it,” said Berns in a university press release.
The implications for this study are hugely important for evolution, as even though humans and dogs have over 80 million years of evolution between them, “Our results provide some of the strongest evidence yet that numerosity is a shared neural mechanism that goes back at least that far,” explained Berns, who is also the founder of the Dog Project, which focuses on evolutionary studies regarding our canine companions.
Regarding more complicated math, however, this is something beyond canine capacity. Humans are able to draw from their prefrontal cortex to do complex math like algebra, something dogs aren't able to do.
As for numerical capabilities of man's most aloof companion, the cat, the jury is still out. While it has been hypothesized that cats can, in fact, count, tests remain inconclusive.