Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Sit. Speak. Read.

Continuing with yesterday's theme, there is a book called Paws & Effect: The Healing Power of Dogs in which author Sharon Sakson tells of dogs who can predict when a person is about to have a seizure, with near perfect accuracy.
"How dogs detect an oncoming seizure in a human remains a mystery. Some trainers and researchers think they detect subtle changes in their owner's behavior or movements. Some think they can sense the 'aura' that precedes a seizure. Or maybe they are aware that the brain waves of a person about to seizure are substantially different from normal. But most researchers are arriving at the opinion that what is at work here is the dog's incredible power of scent."
So research is focusing on the scent idea rather than some of the other possibilities. (Some of the other possibilities aren't even universally acknowledged to exist.)

What I found notable was the part of the book about Bonnie Bergin, at the The Bergin University of Canine Studies, who says that dogs can be taught to read.
"For a person with a handicap, it could be useful to tell the dog, 'Exit,' and have the dog look for and locate the appropriate sign, and then go there. The same would be true for 'Restroom' or 'Park.'. . ."
So she wrote such words as, Sit, Down, and Stay on separate sheets of paper, and set out to teach her own dogs to read.
"'It was straight classic conditioning,' Bonnie says. She showed Keila the 'Down' card, and asked her to lie down, and gave her a reward. Within one lesson, whenever she showed the word, Keila lay down. Lesson learned."
And the number of words that a dog can recognize by sight appears to be quite large.

Funny that this abstract pattern recognition is so seldom mentioned in discussions of animals' intelligence.

Further details, and tips for teaching your dog to read, can be found at this page at the International Parti Poodle Gazette.

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