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Dogs Decoded


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I missed this when it was first broadcast the first week in November (too much going on that week and I forgot to set it up to record), but I finally got a chance to watch it last night:



Highlights: the part about Betsy, the Border collie with a vocabulary of more than 300 words, who demonstrates some fairly sophisticated abstract reasoning abilities. (Though I found the entire program fascinating, not just the part about Betsy).

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  • 2 weeks later...

Definitely recommend, what a fascinating watch!


It's especially interesting how even though the foxes were left in cages their whole lives, without any human interaction, besides being fed and given water twice a day, they were still extremely tame and loved humans. A dog raised in these conditions might be fearful and/or aggressive...

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I found the sequence of Betsy looking at photographs and retrieving the items pictured very interesting. I had an experience over a year ago when I placed a Lurcher with a new home. Her name is Grace, and she had practically raised another of my pets, Mugen, and was very close to him.


One day Grace's new owners e-mailed me a picture of Grace standing on the landing of their white-carpeted stairway. The picture was taken slightly below eye-level to the dog - the owner was at the bottom of the stairs. It was an extremely high-contrast picture, almost a silhouette, in color, and Grace was looking at the camera. Her ears were in the standard "airplane" Greyhound configuration, and her eyes showed up very well too.


I printed the photo out in an 8x10 format and held it up in front of Mugen. He gazed at the photo intently for some time, nostrils working and eyes not moving from the image. Finally he reached a tentative paw toward the picture, and uttered a long, deep meow - almost a sob, and then looked at me questioningly.


It was absolutely clear that Mugen recognized Grace. And even more interesting is that Mugen is a cat.


I once had a cockatoo that would react with varying degrees of interest in pictures of other parrots. He reacted most strongly to photos of other Sulfur-Crested Cockatoos, and would attack and destroy any picture of one with its crest raised.


What's amazing to me, is not that animals can do these things, but that scientists find it so remarkable. Where have they been all their lives?

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