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Your Dog is Even Smarter Than You Think

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 with other animals. These videos are all made in good faith, showing birds evolving in ecological or lab settings, and demonstrating their intelligence.

As you put it, you can build an "holistic picture" of them as very strong problem solvers.

Then comes this observation. You see crows dropping nuts on the road. Cars go over the nuts, crushing them. The crows delight themselves with the opened nuts.

What do you conclude? That the crows are using the passage of cars as a way to break the nuts open? Considering the abilities demonstrated by these birds, it seems like the logical hypothesis to me.

And so this was that a lot of people though back then (Maple 1974, in Cristol et al. 1997). Then people put this assertion to test (Cristol et al. 1997).

[The authors] reasoned that if crows were using cars as tools, the birds would be more likely to drop nuts onto the road when cars were coming than when the road was empty. Furthermore, if a crow was standing in the road with an uncracked walnut as a car approached, it should leave the nut in the road to be crushed rather than carry it away.

This was not what they observed. Despite the apparent simplicity of this hypothesis, crows do not use automobiles as nut-crackers. (If I remember right, the nut-dropping behavior is just standard crow behavior, I'm not even sure they took advantage of the concrete surface).

When dealing with animal cognition, you have to be extra-careful. You have to clearly define the abilities you want to talk about. And you have to put them to test rigorously, by assuming the "lowest" (whatever that mean) cognitive faculties. I don't think no amount of weak evidence can go over that, especially since there seems to be so much emotional charge involved.

EDIT: There's just one thing. You and some people here seem to think there are going to be some consequences to what is being discussed. Please feel free to post your predictions about what will be the outcomes. I predict FluentPet is at best going to become a niche hobby down the road, with less than 1% of dog owners having trained their pet in 10 years.

Your Dog is Even Smarter Than You Think

Sorry for over-reacting to what I perceived as essentially a curated list of youtube videos with no real context. I made a probably more substantial comment as an answer to the OP.

Your Dog is Even Smarter Than You Think

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 really happening in 2.

But 2. has a lot of issues and you know it, and I think you do a bad job at convincing me. Your justifications are:

  • "There's a study ongoing": good, I haven't read the methods and it's probably interesting, but there are no results yet. Maybe you could summarize it to people then if you want to introduce us to this work?
  • "early-stage science often looks like messing around": yes, but many other things also looks like messing around, and really are messing around in the end
  • "videos are made in good faith": Clever Hans, the most infamous exemple in comparative cognition, was literally also in good faith
  • "don't discount evidence just because it's normie YouTube vids": what evidence again? and evidence to what?

The main claim is that there's something interesting going on that makes me suspect dogs could possibly produce something that looks like language.

Ok, but you'll have to define what you mean by "language" here because even if the videos are made in "good faith" (which again doesn't make the owners immune to biaises, even if they can name drop Clever Hans), I don't see the dogs using a well defined grammar, nor adding unseen words to their vocabulary, nor composing existing structures to create new ones.

Their "language", even in the best case, seems to be "bag-of-word" based, or simple sequences of a few words that could be learned by reinforcement, especially given the owner's involvement. It also relies on the contextual pressing of a couple buttons, which again doesn't qualify for language. Finally, it also relies extensively on the owners interpretations.

All the recorded interactions span the course of a couple "sentences". I didn't see any "discussion" longer than that, but feel free to link a more impressive video as I didn't watch them all.

You say you're aware of comparative cognition, so you should have heard about Morgan's Canon

All of what I've seen in the few videos I watched can be very well explained using a mix of:

  • the dogs are heavily trained to produce some basic sentences composed of few words that give the illusion of grammar
  • the rest of the time dogs are able to map stimuli to some single buttons
  • dogs responds to physical and speech cues from their owner about which button to press (they are heavily encouraged to press some buttons to please their owner and get a reward)
  • heavy selection biais in the choice of videos

Given the extraordinary amount of efforts that went into training the animals in the videos, the results seem to be in accordance with what we already knew about cognition in dog.

This is a cool hobby for people who love their dogs and want to spend a lot of time training them. Not a groundbreaking discovery.

In the end, I think you and many other people here are being fooled by:

  • The fact that you like dogs as animal companions (and find cognition in non-human animal amazing in general, which I understand)
  • The fact that they're using speakers with pre-recorded speech, which gives you the illusion of language
Your Dog is Even Smarter Than You Think

Thanks for the precision, I was unaware of that. I still think this post is of very limited value nonetheless.

Your Dog is Even Smarter Than You Think

The fact that this post was curated, and raised so little concern in the comments is worrying.

The author expresses himself maniacally in a mix of meme-speak and LW-lingo. The main claim is never really clarified*, but is presented as if it were, and in an outrageous way. There is no evidence besides YouTube videos**. I have no idea what is going on, and don’t even know where to start.

Comparative cognition is a real scientific field. If you’re interested in the cognitive abilities of non-human animals, and how they compare with the abilities of other species, then there’s a whole scientific literature you can take a look at. Ironically, this post sends us back to the lowest of this field, more than a century ago, when researchers made abundant use of observational anecdotes and interpreted them as they wished.

 

*None of the videos linked show a use of language at the level of even a child, so it can’t be “Dogs can speak”. Incidentally, nobody ever doubted that dogs can communicate with humans, especially regarding things as food, the presence of other animals or affection.

**That is, cherry-picked, sometimes even edited, videos where the owners of the dog superimposes what they think the dogs are saying.