# Can dogs count?

Discussion in 'Mathematics' started by obloquy, Feb 22, 2011.

1. ### obloquy

I have some trepidation posting this, but a friend of mine is convinced that dogs can count - i say not.

We tried to find out why we disagreed, touching on what makes humans human, what constitutes counting and so on - an interesting discussion but ultimately without resolution.

Is there a consensus here?

2. ### suef11

why would they need to?

3. ### bombaysapphireStar commenter

I've just asked my two lurchers some basic counting questions and they didn't answer. They either can't count or can't be bothered. Inconclusive I'm afraid.

4. ### GoldMathsNew commenter

Im sure counting would be quiet useful in survival, thinking Wolves and hunting. Probably more important to be able to tell the time.

5. ### Molesworth2New commenter

Dogs can't count, but they can make ruff approximations.

6. ### florapost

circus animals that are trained to 'count' doso by tapping the ground with a paw/hoof the requisite number of times
what they are actually trained to do is pick up tiny signals from their handler that they have reached the correct number of taps and shoud stop tapping
your friend may be giving off such signals without even realizing - if they are rewarding the dog with much affection or treats, the dog will soon catch on

7. ### brookes

My understanding is that some animals have the concept of more and less, along the lines of a bird won't miss one egg if it gets stolen, but will be in distress if most are taken and a dog will choose a larger pile of treats over a smaller one.

8. ### NazardNew commenter

I agree.
So if this is what the OP means by "counting" then yes - many animals do have an informal knowledge of the number of objects in a group. Deciding whether to attack another group of dogs, based on the size of your own pack, etc, uses this.
If "counting" means "making a one-to-one correspondence with..." then no.
Presumably a female dog will notice if one of their pups is missing? Do they do this by couning or by knowing them all individually?

9. ### Betamale

<u>Argument 1 </u>
No, they cannot, they have no perception of numbers
If they did why do they
(1) bark 431 times at 4:15 in the morning for 6 years despite nobody seeing to their needs yet continue for years to follow
(2) Insist on you taking them to the vets 4 times a year at &pound;75 a go. If they had any idea of the magnitude of this cost they would shut up and sit in the corner when they had a cold
(3) refuse to eat tescos value dog biscuits at &pound;2 and insist on designer ones at triple the price
<u>Argument 2</u>
Yes they can.
(1) How would they know when they had done enough laps to win the greyhound race?
(2) How do guide dogs remember which number house their owner lives at?

10. ### obloquy

Absolutely my intuition too, and in an evolutionary way it would seem useful to be able to identify more or less food / children / predators - Nazard I like your distinction between counting and knowing each one individually.

There does seem to be evidence that animals can be more accurate than identifying the bigger quantity though - . experiments where birds, monkeys can reliably identify a bigger number, independent of the size / colour / shape of the objects in that set [see <a>here[/URL]].

So if we accept that animals do have some innate 'number sense', at what point is our concept of number and counting beyond other animals' abilities? btw I am immovable on the PoV that we do have a 'higher' ability re: number - we do, and i'll fix my argument to guarantee that outcome - but I'm interested as to what it is that distinguishes our capabilities with animals'. Is it our use of language? or symbols?

And this is not out of interest in animals mathematical competence, rather ours. At what point does a child's incantation of one-two-three-four... become meaningful other than as a habit, a memorised sequence of sounds?

any thoughts appreciated.

lol @ &beta;

12. ### weebecka

Hmmmm, when do we become human and what does that mean?
Happy days, I love questions like this. We were looking at some of Gattegno's views on this a while back when I noticed a sudden change in my daughter. She was about 22 months. She changed from learning 'in the moment' to being able to 'time travel' in her mind. It seemed like remembering the past enabled here to consciously explore alternatives in her future. Suddenly the scope of her language and intelligence started to take off. I'm now fascinated by Margaret Donaldson's views on this (and more - see her book 'Human Minds'). My youngest is now 28 months and confidently counts 'one, two, five' and knows she's got the right answer.
Certainly intelligence goes through a step change when you can deliberately access memory (rather than learn from experience in a conditioning way). Can dogs do this? I suspect not.
With respect to number specifically, it can be consider that their is a deeper primitive than the ability to count discrete objects which is the ability to 'scale' - to judge the relative sizes of things. So if there are more of something this will be peceived by greater visual space filled, greater length, greater measure or some other aspect which can be measured and experienced. This, I supect, a dog can do. How accurately it can do it?............?
er maybe this depends on the dog and its prior experiences. maybe it depends on the way the dog is perceiving the objects to be counted........

13. ### obloquy

FYI weebecka, from my skim-reading of the research in this field it seems common practice to assign an equivalent human age to a given animal's numerical capabilities, e.g. "dogs can count as well as a 2 year-old" etc.

Memory and recall is surely a key component of conceptual development - but is it the key in developing a sense of number? Do we need to be able to remember to be able to "see" what three bricks and three trees have in common? Is this 'threeness" - the quality that is common to the set of bricks and trees - what distinguishes (older) humans' and animals' numerical capabilities?

14. ### bolzanoweierstrass

A bit harsh on your offspring, surely? What species do you reckon she was before?
BTW, we are thinking of decorating the spare room but can't decide between magnolia and beige. What would Gattengo recommend?

15. ### weebecka

Yup, I'm suggesting that until this point the way in which she learned was similar to that of animals. And after that point their was a clear difference.
Why don't you ask him bolzanoweierstrass? Perhaps he's in one of your past lives...

16. ### weebecka

Dunno. I think so maybe.

17. ### tiny9

I dont know about all of this, but our 4 dachsunds certainly are good at dealing in irish thirds. (Think about it)