Researchers have discovered that dogs are capable of forming a multi-modal mental image of familiar objects. Many dogs can easily locate a particular toy or object that they are obsessed with, from a pile of other items. As part of a new study by the Eotvos Lorand University in Budapest’s Family Dog Project, researchers attempted to understand how a dog’s brain visualises their favourite objects.
“If we can understand which senses dogs use while searching for a toy, this may reveal how they think about it. When dogs use olfaction or sight while searching for a toy, this indicates that they know what that toy smells or looks like,” said Shany Dror, lead researcher of the study published in Animal Cognition.
For the study, the researchers conducted an experiment in which they trained 3 Gifted Word Learner dogs and 10 typical family dogs. While the GWL dogs could learn the names of objects, family dogs are unable to do so. Both types of dogs were trained to fetch a toy which was associated with a gift. Once they would successfully locate the toy, researchers would give them goodies and praise.
It was observed that all the trained dogs could select the targeted toy placed among four other objects both in dark and light. However, when the lights were switched off, it took longer for the dogs to locate the toy.
The researchers then conducted another experiment in which only the gifted dogs participated. They aimed at understanding what these dogs think when they the name of their toys.” Revealing the senses used by the dogs to search for the named toys gave us the possibility to infer what these dogs imagine when they hear, for example, Teddy Bear,” said Dr. Claudia Fugazza, co-author of the study.
It was noted that the gifted dogs successfully zeroed in on the toy which was named by their owners both in light and dark. Hence, it was concluded that dogs recall the sensory features of an object when they hear its name. They form a multisensory mental image in their minds that help them locate an object even in the dark.