We are training our labrador Albert to live in the 21st century. As a first step he needs to learn how to to press a button. We built a device that creates the conditions that allow him to learn by himself.
It is has been long established that dogs can use a complex tools in order to perform a task that they need – for example, to get food from a shelf or to get a tennis ball to be thrown. Of cause this complex tool is called a human.
But the question remains – can a dog use a simple tool, such, say, a lever . Archimedes proposed that a lever could be used to move the world. Can our resident scientist Dr. Albert use a lever to lift a ball, enabling it to roll it out of a box?
Of cause he really wants the ball so that he can exchange it for a treat using his vending machine, as we have seen in our [previous] experiments.
At first Albert tries to chew, dig and bark his way to the answer.
When a task is too complex, a scientist often simplifies it and solves the easier problem before re-examining the original question.
To solve the problem of using a lever, netting was placed around the device. This prompted Albert to apply a different strategy to complete his task. Subsequently, he discovered that pressing the lever with his paw would do the trick.
In this experiment our Resident Scientist Dr. Albert investigates how dogs make decisions.
Albert was given 2 vending machines and 5 balls. As seen in our previous experiments, Dr. Albert knows that the first vending machine (on the right of the screen) exchanges 1 ball for a one small treat and the second vending machine (on the left of the screen) exchanges 3 balls for a large treat (that is equal to about 4 small treats). He needs to decide how to spend his toys. He has plenty of choices – for example he can put 4 balls into machine 1 and receive 4 small treats and play with the remaining ball. Or he can put 3 balls into machine 2 , get 4 treats and then play with 2 balls. But Dr. Albert is a Labrador so he goes for the maximum food option which is 3 balls into machine 2 plus 2 balls into machine 1 – it gives him the maximum amount of treats !
In this experiment our Resident Scientist Dr. Albert conducts further investigations into the principles of trade.
The investigation was carried out with a vending machine which is programmed to take 3 balls before opening a mechanical door to a compartment with a large toy, filled with treats.
Here, Dr. Albert shows that a scientist must be persistent, as even if the first (first ball) and second try (second ball) fail (no food), the next try could lead to the success.
After multiple experiments Dr. Albert established the fact that 3 is a key number for this machine (he also become a bit fat!).
The Vending Machine for dogs exchanges toys for treats. It also allows our Resident Scientist Dr. Albert, to investigate the principles of trade.
The investigation is carried out using the vending machine for dogs which exchanges dog toys for treats.
Different types of toys have different values. A ball can be exchanged for a small treat. A lager elliptical green toy can be exchanged for a larger treat; however the scientist needs to orientate the toy correctly when inserting it into the machine – and it is more difficult. On the other hand the green toy has a greater chewing value. So there are some choices to be made – chew the toy now and exchange it later or trade the toy immediately and enjoy the food straight away or just play with it forever…These are serious choices, when the toy is inserted it won’t be returned any time soon.
Like all vending machines, sometimes it gets jammed. The Dog Scientist learnt how to outwit the system and get back the toys which he put in.
According to the Oxford dictionary, a scientist is a “A person who is studying or has expert knowledge of one or more of the natural or physical sciences.” These individuals tend to be characterised by several features:
Intelligence – They have the aptitude to learn new things and apply their skills to answer questions. Great scientists are able to see the world in a way that few people have ever looked at it before, allowing them to ask questions that no one had ever thought to ask. Albert Einstein questioned how space and time were related and described this relationship with the theory of special relativity.
Inquisitiveness – They are curious about the world. Charles Darwin spent 5 years on the HMS Beagle detailing the wonders of the natural world and speculating on how they may have arisen.
Persistence – They keep at a problem, they don’t give up. Marie Curie processed tons of pitchblende to isolate radium.
A Logical Mind – They can formulate models of the world which enable them to not just explain things, but to predict them. Meteorologists can predict the weather based on complex models and current weather parameters. Newton was able to formulate equations for the laws of motion and these could be used to predict how objects would move and allow us to calculate how long it would take an apple to fall on your head.
However, these traits are not specific to man (or woman). In fact they can be found in man’s best friend. Perhaps even yours?
Like humans, not all dogs are scientists. But some do deserve the title of Dog Scientist. We believe that most people underestimate the wisdom of dogs. This website is dedicated to dogs, their owners and everyone who possesses a scientific mind and an appreciation of canine intelligence.
We have a collection of experiments done by our chief scientist – Albert, together with information about training. We also share clips and information about smart dogs around the world.