All of StyleOfDog's Comments + Replies

Your Dog is Even Smarter Than You Think

Fully agree on the bias part, although specialists being incompetent isn't a thread in my article? There's an entire aside about why some research doesn't get done, and incompetence isn't among the reasons.

  1. I've read the Slate article you linked, and I think it's good. I don't see anything in there that I disagree with. The article is from 2019 when the amount of evidence (and importantly the number of people who successfully replicated it) was just one Instagram dog. Even back then in the article scientists are cautious but lukewarm and want a more rigo

... (read more)
Your Dog is Even Smarter Than You Think

word order is effectively random, length of sentence does not correlate with information content

That seems to be the case with dogs, and it won't surprise me if they never progress much further than that.

Your Dog is Even Smarter Than You Think

I've updated the article to include a more in-depth explanation of the study design and philosophy instead of just two links (I suspect almost nobody clicked them). Also added responses to common criticism and titles and short explanations for video links (I suspect a lot of people didn't click on most of the videos). Also removed the revolution part.

If you've already read the article, I suggest you read the research and criticism parts under Bunny and watch the new Stella video I added, which is more representative of the kinds of videos that led me to watch the dog space more closely. All of the good Stella stuff is on Instagram, but not on YouTube.

Your Dog is Even Smarter Than You Think

I think we're mostly in agreement, and I'm not disputing that it pays to be careful when it comes to animal cognition. I'd say again that I think it's a meta-rational skill to see the patterns of what is likely to work and what isn't, and this kind of stuff is near-impossible to communicate well.

I've read about the car-nutracker thing somewhere, but without the null result from research. If you had asked me to bet I'd say it would be unlikely to work. But it's illustrative that we both still agree that corvids are smart and there's a ton of evidence for it... (read more)

Your Dog is Even Smarter Than You Think

I think you hit the nail on the head here. When I was writing the article I definitely had someone with a high prior in mind, to the point where I expected people to say "so what, why wouldn't dogs do that if you trained them".

Sometimes people seem to put dogs closer to reflexive automatons like insects than to fellow mammals. My prior is the base affects that we feel aren't fundamentally different between us and dogs (and most higher mammals). I'm talking about stuff like fear, excitement, generalized negative or positive affect, tiredness, sexual arousal... (read more)

6Archimedes5dMy priors include the idea that both animal intelligence is not that different from humans and also that humans tend to overly anthropomorphize animal cognition. The biggest misunderstandings of animal cognition are much like misunderstandings humans have of foreign cultures, often involving forms of mind projection fallacies where we assume other's values, motivations, priorities, and perceptions are more similar (or more different) than is justified.
Your Dog is Even Smarter Than You Think
  • I agree I should've summarized the study methodology in the article. For some reason I expected people to click the links and actually read and watch everything (this is not a knock on anyone, one shouldn't expect that when writing articles).
  • There is a lot of evidence, it's just weak and easy to misinterpret, and it's in the form of youtube vids, which goes against aesthetic sensibilities of what "evidence" looks like. If you want to have a holistic picture, you'll have to actually watch a lot of them, I'm sorry.
  • I think it's quite obvious that the evide
... (read more)

I think both of us made our arguments clear, so instead of answering point by point, let me give a quick holistic response that should summarize what I think, and provide a general interesting point of view on animal cognition.

(Maybe you know about the following, but I think it is interesting enough by itself to be presented here to other people)

Corvidae are very intelligent birds. There's ton of evidence of that. You can read studies that test how they can solve problems, you can watch tons of youtube videos showing them interact with their settings and w... (read more)

Your Dog is Even Smarter Than You Think

Plenty of concern was raised in the comments, have you gone through all of them and all the replies?

I'm aware of comparative cognition, the people posting the pet videos are participating in ongoing research at the Comparative Cognition Lab at the University of California, San Diego. They give a description of their methodology, but the status updates appear hidden to ensure integrity of the data.

Short recap of the comments: This is a very new thing, early-stage science often looks like messing around, so don't expect lots of rigor so early. If they had a ... (read more)

Thanks for responding, and also for illustrating all the issues I have in your post in a compressed way. Basically, what you're saying is:

  1. Something new and exciting is happening
  2. There's not a lot of evidence BUT

I think this community should be able to see the issue there. (To also be polemical, occultism was also something that was new and exciting in the 19th century, with many intellectual of their time spending their evening around a turntable, most of them also in good faith when they reported paranormal activity.)

1. is being conditioned on something re... (read more)

Your Dog is Even Smarter Than You Think

I don't think it's fair to say my dismissal of concerns is "cursory" if you include my comments under the post. Maybe the article itself didn't go deep enough, partly I wanted it to scan well, partly I wanted to see good criticism so I could update/come up with good responses, because it's not easy to preempt every criticism.

As for cursory evidence, yes it's mostly that, but cursory evidence can still be good Bayesian evidence. I think there's enough to conclude there's something interesting going on.

Are the vids even real?

For starters, all of this hinge... (read more)

2weft4dI am super-duper surprised she says it took a few weeks to teach the Outside button! It took about... 15 minutes to teach my dog to use her Food bell. And then the Outside bell and Treat bells were similarly fast. I don't think button pressing is inherently harder than bell ringing, so that shouldn't make a difference. I guess if the dog was starting at zero training it would take two weeks. (Robin already knew how to Target an item, which she learned after learning hand Touch, which she learned as part of the process of teaching how clicker-like training with positive reinforcers works in the first place. ) I can imagine abstract words like "Tomorrow" and "Where" taking a whole lot longer, but the words that are just ways to obtain concrete things are extremely easy to teach. Outside bells are a very well-known and frequently-done thing. Look them up on Amazon and you'll see about 20 options for sale.

I appreciate your response, and my apologies that for time-efficiency reasons I'm only going to respond briefly and to some parts of it.

I don't think it's fair to say my dismissal of concerns is "cursory" if you include my comments under the post. Maybe the article itself didn't go deep enough, partly I wanted it to scan well, partly I wanted to see good criticism so I could update/come up with good responses, because it's not easy to preempt every criticism.

I'm somewhat sympathetic to this. I do feel as though given large claims e.g. "revolutionary" and t... (read more)

Your Dog is Even Smarter Than You Think

I like the idea of interacting with the dog normally as you would a 2-year-old human, while having the cameras running 24/7 so less biased people can look over the data.

Yeah it's an important point that some phenomena (perhaps most phenomena) are impractical to recreate under a strict research protocol. If you tried to teach your dog with a very formal approach, you'd probably "lose the magic" that makes it happen. Kaj Sotala posted a comment that suggests that "incorrect" overinterpretation of babies' behavior is actually an important mechanism by whic... (read more)

Your Dog is Even Smarter Than You Think

I think I'm gonna keep the links, YT embeds are pretty large and break the flow of text.

Your Dog is Even Smarter Than You Think

I wasn't aware of this and it indeed looks very similar! Sue Savage-Rumbaugh who started the work did appear on Oprah and gave a TED talk, so she generated some attention. And in the Oprah clip she says she's living and sleeping with the bonobos 95% of the time, and is raising a small one (Teco) being exposed to lexigrams from birth. That's about as close to "parent-level effort" as one can get!

Unfortunately in 2012 she had a spat with her bonobo center over ethical concerns, which included a shadowy group of whistleblowers named "Bonobo 12" among other dr... (read more)

Your Dog is Even Smarter Than You Think

Different timescale is an important part of it. In a lot of those pet buttons videos you can see that the pet takes an uncomfortably long time to respond. They would often go away from the board to "pace" and then after a solid minute come back to finally respond. In Bunny videos this part gets fast-forwarded to make it watchable, in Billi vids you can see the cat go away and sit with her tail swishing, you can practically see the gears turning in her head.

Your Dog is Even Smarter Than You Think

I've checked him out, this kind of animal "speaking" always seemed like just a fun party trick, you can read anything into dog vocalizations. I expected nothing there, but in this clip (and only at 1:15) I can see him actually trying to mimic speech. But the rest is just reading on tea leaves. Like, there's no chance in hell that the dog would know the word "werewolf" and know to use it in context as happens later in the video.

Siri does understand his "hello", but "I know he can" a few seconds later is a ridiculous reach. T... (read more)

1Slider10dI understand that when a clear interpretaion is not super handy it is tempting to give up on it. However human mother will babble with their babies, they don't deem their children incapable of speech if they don't speak like they do. Siris tea leaf reading is not partial to dogs. There is also the mirror effect that because the buttons give them "perfect" vocalization there can be temptation that they mean more stuff with them. Making a dog pronounce English at a human level seems impossible but that is why the barks and whines. There are regional human accent with humans with native languages have certain dialects in english. These can already hinder comprehension so atleast similar if not greater patience should be extended to "dog english". If it could be clearly established to which word each dog sound corresponds then the vocals would be as good as buttons. It is proper for a trainer to treat the distinguishable sounds as proper dialogue lines. Part of the buttons is that it makes the human confident that word was meant (human has less chance to think it is a meaningless wiff and has more pressure to treat it as intentional communication) I did mean that homeschooling would be an adequate substitute but there is a diffrence of keeping your children sensory depirvation chamber in a cellar and giving a competent homeschooling. The expectations on what dogs can do and I tried to get afforded to do is very limited. We don't diagnose people with dyslexia if they have never been introduced to the alphabeth (I guess it has forms that manifest that don't depend on symbols, point is shortcomings need a baseline to stand out). The pets are around language ubt are they actually participating in the language games, is management of things that matter to them done throught language? People do not babble with their dogs and in that they are on uneven ground with babies. Sure the dog understand some words, better but hr can sometimes hold coversation to the point that h
Your Dog is Even Smarter Than You Think

When you say "Clever Hans" are you talking specifically about the handler's subconscious cues determining what the dog does? I think that's very unlikely, in a lot of interactions you can see an exchange where the pet is supposed to make a decision - the owner doesn't know the right answer! When Bunny presses "ouch stranger paw" to indicate a splinter in her paw, how was the owner supposed to "influence" that, without even being aware of the splinter? Some interactions are owner asking a question with a defined right answer, but there's clearly much more t... (read more)

I also mentioned Clever Hans, and you made a good point in response. Rather than sound like I am motte-and-baileying you, I will say that I was using "Clever Hans" irresponsibly imprecisely as a stand-in for more issues than were present in the Clever Hans case.

I've updated in the direction of "I'll eventually need to reconsider my relationship with my dog" but still expect a lot of these research threads to come apart through a combination of 

  • Subconscious cues from trainers - true Clever Hans effects (dogs are super clued in to us thanks to selection
... (read more)
2Josh Smith-Brennan10dI'm thinking of it more as a variation on that idea. I think it's possible that in the button case, the buttons could be stand ins for cues from an owner. Simply training with the buttons over time would modify a dogs behavior based solely on the presence or absence of the button. Work the toys in, and you're simply training a dog to respond 'correctly' or 'incorrectly' in the presence or absence of a 'thing' associated with a particular sound and visual cue. I think of lion tamers and other animals who have been trained to do tricks, like unicycling bears, and dolphins and orcas that are trained to jump through hoops when I see these types of things. Circuses things. It would be cool if dogs really could understand human language to the point where they could communicate back, but I just don't believe it's the case. Our brains developed complex areas devoted specifically to making and decoding speech, which depend on specific structures of our throats. These are all things all animals except for humans lack. I sometimes think modern life is just learning to inhibit our reflexive actions, which are based on our reflexive states. We do this inhibiting not only because of social training (like dog training or obedience school, what to do, not why to do it), but also because of our reflective ability (why or why not to do it), which allows us to (theoretically) do things like putting off getting rewards now for more rewards in the future, or to develop interpersonal relationship skills to try to work with people we reflexively dislike. These are things dogs can't do, as they involve ability to think abstractly about concepts like time and etiquette. Dogs can be trained to inhibit their reflexive behavior, and 'act' a particular way (don't bite, don't bark, come to me when I make particular sound or give a particular gesture, or press this button when they hear a particular sound) but not to reflect on why it's important to do so. If they can be taught to reflect li
Your Dog is Even Smarter Than You Think

Thank you for the info, I was not aware of Chaser! By the way, how did you do the YouTube embeds? I couldn't make them work in my article.

6JenniferRM10dI put a raw URL in the raw text, and javascript rewrite magic happened to it and made it an embedded video. I was strongly tempted to try and hit ^z on the rewrite because in my experience embedded stuff changes over times and thus makes the writing "not able to persist in archives for the ages", but... :shrugs: I'm not surprised that the article didn't have it. LessWrong has had the issue that "comment markdown stuff and article markdown stuff work differently" essentially forever. I guess another possibility: maybe the LW forum software devs changed the WYSIWYG javascript editor(s) to work the same, but you have a different browser than me, or that they tested on? If you respond with a raw youtube URL, and don't get an embedded video based on a javascript rewrite of the comment, that would help clarify what might be going on :-)
Your Dog is Even Smarter Than You Think

By induction: it's obvious that you can teach most dogs to press a button for "Food", "Outside", "Pets", "Play", and they won't need to rely on clever hansian subtle cues from you to express desire for food, they're already doing it just with a different modality.

For more abstract concepts like mad, happy or concerned or the ever-popular "love you", you're supposed to model those buttons when the dog is feeling these things, so you need to understand your pet very well, and it's easy to delude yourself into thinking you understand when you don't.

So the dan... (read more)

So the danger is over-interpreting their output. Was this sentence intended or just random babbling? Does the dog understand the word differently from what it means in English? E.g. "bye" seems to become a verb meaning "leaving", "love you" is used for affection but obviously doesn't reflect deep understanding of the human concept of love. 

Interestingly, there's an argument that human infants also learn language by their parents over-interpreting their input, with the infants then adopting those interpretations as true. So one could argue that even if... (read more)

5Josh Smith-Brennan10dI tend towards the 'Clever Hans' hypothesis on this one too. Human language skills are much more complex due to our neurology, as are our cognitive abilities. That doesn't mean dogs aren't communicating at some rudimentary level, as they are at least able to recognize patterns and determine likely outcomes, even if they are at a more reflexive instead of reflective level. Hot dogs for example satisfy reflexive hunger based desires, instead of reflective philosophical desires to be seen as intelligent. Of course one reason more of this type of research isn't done in academia anymore is that no one wants to shell out tons of money to disprove a lot of 'crazy' hypothesis. Proving things tends to be seen as more productive, especially in the short term, although the long term implications of disproving multiple hypothesis is that it tends to point one in a better direction for particular areas of potential for truth. At any level, money is always a polarizing factor in the consideration of 'scientific validity', whether it's selling buttons to 'Dog Parents' or selling data processing clout to Corporations and their beneficiaries. Just making something more convenient to study though doesn't necessarily make the overall scientific community better I think, as it will just provide more resources to easier topics to research, not necessarily more important topics. In this case though, I think animal cognition is important to study. In a Cohumane sense, it can provide clarity on issues like the ethical use of animals for food sources, experimental subjects, and issues regarding the destruction of the natural environment and extinction of animal and plant life. Is animal suffering even a thing first of all (of course, but does that extend further to insects or plant life?) and if it is a thing, what kinds of considerations are there for our past and present treatment of these life forms as 'resources' akin to minerals we mine out of the ground ( or for that matter, for 'h
Your Dog is Even Smarter Than You Think

I've had that thought as well. So far it doesn't look like dogs spontaneously use the buttons to communicate among themselves (they mostly don't have the opportunity though). Some of Bunny's neighbor dogs' owners got on the button craze as well, so maybe we'll see some of that.

I think the mama dog would still likely teach it to puppies as a way to communicate with humans, even if it's not used as a way to talk between them.