NEW HAVEN, Conn. (CBSNewYork) – Everybody thinks their dog is smart, but is your best friend ready for the Ivy League?
Hundreds of dogs are being enrolled at Yale University to find out just how intelligent they really are, CBS2’s Maurice DuBois reported.
At Yale University, dogs are captivated by a performance much like a puppet show for dogs. In one scene a rat puppet helps a hedgehog up a hill, in another, the rat knocks the hedgehog down. But what are they actually thinking? That’s what Yale researchers are trying to find out.
“Similar studies have been done with human infants, and what you find is that human infants — they don’t like the guy who was mean. And so we’re doing the same thing with dogs to try to see — do dogs morally evaluate as humans do?” Professor of Psychology Laurie Santos said.
Santos is the director of the Yale Canine Cognition Center where all they do is study dogs; the goal is to learn everything they can about the dog’s mind.
“Dogs are just fascinating. We love them, they live in our home. Anyone who hands out with a dog is constantly wondering: ‘What are they thinking? Do they love me?’” she said.
To figure all this out, in addition to the puppet show, researchers put hundreds of volunteer dogs to a series of other tests.
One involving a book has the dog sit and watch as their companion sits and reads a book. They then put the book on the floor behind them and a moment later, someone comes into the room and takes the book.
“What we’re really trying to see is whether or not dogs know when they’ve missed some information. Can they realize that, first of all, and when they do realize it, are they motivated to help?” Santos said.
The results? Again and again, not only do dogs seem to realize something is wrong, but they also seem to be trying to alert their companions — many of whom were not one bit surprised by their pups’ concerned reactions.
“At home, he’s really observant. He’s always paying attention,” said April Ruiz, Ben’s owner.
“He’s a very concerned dog and there’s a lot of humanizing things about him,” rocket’s companion Sarah Locke said.
“He was just kind of like, ‘What do you think about this?’” said Angie Johnson, Vadar’s companion.
In another test, the dog and companion are relaxing in a room when the researcher suddenly introduces a new object.
“She’s telling him, ‘Wow, look at how interesting that is,’” Santos said.
The goal of the test is to see whether or not the dog will becomes interested in the same items humans are — and most were.
“When she did her pointing, all of a sudden, he was directing his gaze at the object, being really interested in it,” Santos said.
Back at the puppet show, when all the scenes have played out, the test dog does indeed seem to be a little leary of the mean rat.
So what, if anything, can researchers surmise from the testing they’ve done so far?
“The most surprising thing for me has been about how many of our intuitions about dogs are right. So we have these intuitions that dogs know what we’re feeling, and dogs want to communicate with us,” said Rebecca Spaulding, a junior at Yale.
“The relationship between dogs and humans, that’s very unique — They might have picked up on some of our cognitive skills,” Yale senior Sophia John said.
“One thing we have found consistently is how in tune dogs are with our emotions,” said Maddie Marino, a senior.
So far, Yale researchers have tested 300 dogs and found that the dog mind is much more complex than they originally thought.
The say there is a lot more work to be done with as many as a thousand dogs on the center’s waiting list.