Dogs 'Count' Just Like Humans, Study Reveals

Written by Camilla Jessen

Jun.03 - 2024 10:24 AM CET

Dogs process numbers similarly to humans.

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Humans have an instinctive knack for processing numbers, whether it's counting lamps on the ceiling or apples in a basket. Even infants can distinguish between different quantities of objects.

Now, it turns out, a fascinating study reveals that man's best friend shares this numerical ability, according to Science Alert.

Researchers at Emory University have discovered that dogs use the same part of the brain for counting as humans.

This finding, published in the scientific journal Biology Letters, suggests that the neural circuits for number processing have remained largely unchanged since humans and dogs went their separate evolutionary ways approximately 90 to 100 million years ago.

A Peek Inside the Canine Brain

"We wanted to understand how dogs' brains respond to different quantities, so we observed their neuronal activity directly," explains Lauren Aulet, a cognitive psychologist involved in the study.

The research team trained 11 dogs to enter an MRI scanner and lie completely still. The researchers did not signal to the dogs what was going to happen inside the MRI scanner, only that they should lie there. Because the dogs were unaware of the experiment's specifics, the researchers were able to get a completely 'clean' picture of how the animals' brains reacted.

Inside the MRI scanner, the dogs were shown screens displaying varying numbers of dots. Remarkably, the same brain areas that humans use for counting lit up in the dogs. When the number of dots changed, these areas became even more active, showing a specific response to the number of items rather than their size or location.

The study points out that dogs can naturally process numbers, without any need for human training.

Earlier research indicated that dogs can count up to five and have a basic understanding that 1+1 equals 2, while recognizing that 1+1 does not equal 3.

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