Sunday, August 1, 2010

Do dogs do math?

For a lot of people, at least for many of my statistics students, math proves to be a significant challenge. But then there's Ellie, who today seemed to do the math in order to get to her reward as quickly as possible, by traversing the shortest distance possible, even when the shortest distance isn't a straight line.

This morning, Ellie and I practiced recalls in the back yard. I'm keeping recalls pretty simple for now.
  • "Come" means to come to me and sit in front of me.
  • "By me" means to come and sit at my left side, facing in the same direction I'm facing.
She is nearly 100% reliable with both behaviors in the house so we are adding distance and distraction by practicing outside.

Given that we live in Arizona, our back yard is pretty much a old (yet functional) pool The pool is pretty useful for creating angles and distance for the recalls. Cats, birds, dragonflies and bees do a pretty good job of providing the distraction element.

Cueing Ellie into a "Sit or Down-Stay", I take up various positions around the pool and give her recall cues. Typically, if I'm facing her, I give the "Come" and if I'm facing any other direction, I'll give her the "By me" but I do mix it up to keep it interesting.

Ellie decided to keep it interesting by choosing her own direction, for approach - the shortest distance on the ground.

So, for example, I might give her a "Come", and instead of just running towards me (around the pool), she opted to turn around, come up from behind, and face me for her reward. She also opted to run towards me and change her position for the "By Me". The maneuvers are more complicated for her, but the time is shorter.

Next up is to see how often she does and to research to see what other information there might be out there on dogs determining distance and time. Doe she just mix it up to keep it interesting for her? Is it all random (I think not.) Is it an innate instinct? And maybe I need to brush up on my trigonometry.

What do you think?