An interesting report on the Australian TV show Catalyst yesterday documented the changes in the dog brain and behavior versus their canine cousins the Dingo and the Wolf. Dogs were timed in how long it took them to bypass a simple barrier to a food treat.
The general conclusion is that dog brains are 30% smaller than wild canids and that their problem solving skills have been limited as a result. Half of all the dogs given this simple test failed to retrieve the treat after one minute and the ones that succeeded took on average 20-40 seconds. The entire Dingo population solved the problem in under a minute averaging only 10 seconds. Of course, in the examples shown for the program the Border Collies buck this trend and perform the problem solving tasks with little or no deficiency compared to their wild cousins.
In another interesting experiment where the dogs were asked to overcome a barrier that was impossible to overcome, the dogs actually excelled by giving up and turning to the human handler to solve the problem for them. Dingoes attempted the problem for longer before seeking assistance and the Wolves stubbornly persisted on their own.
It’s not a great leap to see how this behavior (and human acceptance of this burden) has lead to the proliferation of Dogs and the marginalization and near extinction of Dingoes and Wolves. In return, Dogs have also mastered the ability to read human intent–demonstrated on the program by the ability to decipher their owner’s pointing hand with ease (a task which both wild canids and even chimps are deficient at)–and thus are easier to train and interact with.
The entire segment and transcript is available here.
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