Dogs Can Do Math, According to Recent Study

published Jan 5, 2020
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We all know dogs are smart, but they may be even smarter than you realized. A new study shows that dogs can do math, and they use the same part of their brain to do it that humans use.

While dogs may not be able to help you with your monthly budget or with calculating tips, they can estimate numbers and understand simple ratios, according to the study, published recently in the journal Biology Letters

Scientists know that primates, including humans, use something called the approximate number system (ANS) to quickly estimate quantities (of food or predators, for example), a skill that helps them survive. Researchers knew going into this particular experiment that dogs appear to be able to estimate quantities (as do fish and even bees!). However, because non-primates require training in order to exhibit this behavior, researchers didn’t know whether they were using the same parts of the brain that primates use, or whether they could use ANS on their own without the motivation of treats.

In order to see how dog brains use ANS, researchers placed dogs in an fMRI machine and, without using treats as rewards, showed them various configurations of dots, all the while tracking their brain activity.

“The key was looking at the ratios between the dot arrays,” explains Inverse. “When the ratio between two side-by-side dot arrays was more dissimilar — that is, when the numbers were further apart — eight of the 11 dogs showed more brain activity than when the numbers were closer together.” In short, dogs can estimate quantities without being bribed with treats, and like humans, they use a region of the brain called the parietotemporal cortex to do it.

We’ll keep this in mind next time we’re considering putting our dogs on a diet or throwing out one of their shredded toys.