Easy living dumbing down our pooches

BY KATE BENSON
Last updated 09:00 16/06/2010
Pampered pooches
DEPENDENT: Domestic dogs are struggling with problem-solving.

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The owners of pampered pets have a lot to answer for. Domestic dogs have become so dependent on humans, they can no longer pass simple intelligence tests or solve problems which their counterparts in the wild find easy.

Homeless dogs seek food from rubbish dumps or garbage bins, rather than hunt for it, they struggle to find food hidden in a maze, and have learnt to look to humans first, rather than making an effort to help themselves, says Bradley Smith, a psychologist.

He studied dingoes living at the Dingo Discovery Centre, in Victoria, and found that even those socialised to be around humans were significantly faster and smarter than dogs.

When the dingoes were made to travel around a transparent barrier to find food, all achieved the task in about 10 seconds, Mr Smith said. Some quickly found trapdoors which made the journey to the food shorter.

But previous studies on dogs carrying out the same task showed that many failed to find a way to the bowl. Some pawed at the fence, dug at it or barked at their owners for help. Many looked confused. Closing trapdoors that had previously been open made the dogs even more puzzled, indicating they were not able to quickly adapt to a change in circumstance, Mr Smith said.

In other tests, dogs and wolves were shown to behave in very different ways when confronted with unsolvable problems. After both had been taught to retrieve food by pulling on a rope or opening a bin, the task was changed so that the rope could not be pulled and the bin could not be opened.

Dogs gazed at their owners standing behind them, while the socialised wolves ignored their owners. During the study, seven of the nine dogs looked back at the human after trying to obtain the food reward for only about one minute, while only two of the seven wolves looked back at all, instead attempting to solve the task on their own.

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- Sydney Morning Herald

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