Sunday, January 13, 2008

Can Dogs See Photos?

Julie Zickefoose’s post on Thursday, January 18, “Alpha Bird,” told the tale of an amusing incident between her dog, Chet Baker, and her macaw, Charlie. In the comments, she noted that Chet “won't look at the pictures on the computer screen, but he turns his head when I try to show them to him. Charlie, on the other hand, loves to look at pictures of himself and people he knows. It's a difference in brain organization between birds and dogs, I would guess.”

That stimulated a question from Sara: “I've wondered if dogs can see an image clearly on the computer screen; my dog won't look either. Any idea? KatDoc are you out there ?”

I punted a quick answer in Julie’s comment section, but since then, have fleshed out a more detailed response.

Over the years, my own dogs and cats have noticed rapid motion on the TV, and my cat Dixie comes running to investigate the sounds when I play DVDs with a lot of bird calls and songs, but in general, my experiences with my pets echo conventional wisdom. They won’t look at pictures, watch TV, or pay attention to their reflection in a mirror.

I was always taught that dogs couldn’t see photographs or images on TV or computer monitors, that they couldn’t grasp a two dimensional image and convert it into a recognizable object. That ability was thought to be limited to primates and birds. (Aside: My own thought is that for dogs, sense of smell is much more important than vision when it comes to object recognition. Since photos and TV pictures don’t include smell-o-vision, dogs don’t experience those images like they do the real live thing.)

A study released in November of 2007 busts that myth wide open. A research group led by Friederike Range, Dept. of Neurobiology and Cognition Research, University of Vienna, Austria, studied the ability of dogs to recognize computer images.

Here’s what they did: First, they taught four dogs to discriminate between photographs of dogs or photos of landscapes on a computer monitor, using 40 different pictures of each type. They rewarded the dogs with a food treat each time they selected a dog picture instead of a landscape. Then, they conducted a two-part experiment.

In part one, they asked the test dogs to choose between pictures of landscapes or dogs, but this time they used new photos, not the ones the dogs had been trained on. The dogs were able to correctly select the dog pictures, demonstrating that they recognized the category differences.

Next, the researchers tried to trick their subjects by showing them new dog photos superimposed over familiar landscape pictures. When asked to choose between “new dog/old landscape” versus “no dog/new landscape,” the dogs chose the pictures that contained dogs.

So, according to this study, not only can dogs see a two-dimensional image, they can learn to sort those images into categories.

Cool, huh?

. . .

Word of the Day:

argillaceous Clay-like; of, relating to, or containing clay or clay minerals. From the Latin argilla. Argil means clay, especially potter's clay.

"You might say my jeans are dirty after pottery class, but I prefer to call them argillaceous."


ncmountainwoman said...

We've had dogs all our lives and none were interested in TV. Now, we have a Golden Retriever who (without any prompting from us) loves to watch dog shows and trials, herding competitions, and the Dog Whisperer.

If a dog is running across the screen, she follows it with her eyes and even goes to the side of television where the dog disappeared to see if might be there. I wouldn't have believed it had I not seen it so many times with my own eyes. Sometimes she even looks up at me as if to say, "Where did it go?"

It's not the sound, either. We have muted the sound and she continues to watch. Too bad she couldn't have been in the study.

Lisa at Greenbow said...

Dogs are much more intelligent than most people give them credit. They just communicate different.

kayleen said...

Years ago when I was wandering through the pet store to buy cat food a vcr tape named something along the line of Video Catnip caught my eye. On a whim I bought it. I had two cats at the time, a Siamese and a part Siamese. When I put the video in the vcr the Siamese, who had never paid one iota of attention to the tv, ran over and started to try to get into the tv screen. It was hysterical watching him dance around in front of the tv. The part Siamese never budged. The video was of birds and bird songs.

I would occasionally put that tape in just to see the results and they were always the same.

Never did know what to make of it.

Kathiesbirds said...

I have a small Japanese chin mix who seems to use her eyes more than her sense of smell or hearing. She will recognise any man that looks like my husband and try to go to him. It isn't until we get close or the person speaks that she will confirm what her eyes have told her.

I also have 2 cats. The male ignore the TV, but the female will chase images and she goes nuts if there are birds sounds. She will climb all over the TV and bat it with her paws! The male just looks at her with disdain!

Julie Zickefoose said...

Thanks for treating this in more depth, KD. My gut feeling about Chet, when shown his reflection in a mirror, or a picture of himself on a screen, is that he instantly registers what he's seeing, but in the absence of olfactory or auditory cues, he quickly becomes either disinterested or uncomfortable and looks away in a submissive gesture. If you hold a mirror up to Chet and move it back and forth so the dog appears to come at him, he growls and barks appropriately. It's clear he "knows" that's a Boston terrier coming at him, but he reacts only when the mirror dog moves or appears to react to him.

The ultimate sign of dominance in a dog is ignoring a dog that approaches you; I saw a champion Portuguese water dog do this to Chet, and it completely disarmed him--he immediately showed submissive behavior, turning his head away and cowering.

Chet has watched dog shows with great interest for minutes at a time, so a moving image is much more compelling. I think a static image is confusing and ultimately a bit threatening, and Chet's turning away from it reflects that. I don't think it's that he doesn't know what he's seeing. I think it's that he doesn't know how to react to what he's seeing.

beth said...

My female cat, Scratchy (yes, Itchy's her brother), will stare at herself in the mirror attached to my vanity. She's the only cat I've ever seen do this. My others either ignored the image or turned away completely. Itchy shows great interest in animal shows, particularly dogs, on the animal rescue shows. These two grew up in a veterinarian's office and I think he's fairly attached to dogs.

littleorangeguy said...

I had a cat who liked to watch baseball. She was a Blue Jays fan, of course, so in that respect it is good she is no longer with us.

Sara said...

Thanks so much for finding and posting this fascinating information, our four-footed friends are just full of surprises ! I thought this was an issue of physical ability but the study brings to mind many questions about behavior and motivation in dogs. Julie's comments about her observations with Chet are very interesting and shine a lot of light on those questions.
Cool post, KatDoc ! Thanks again for helping us understand and care for our pets.

Word of the Day: At Lake Michigan yesterday, walking in the sand dunes, looking for the Townsend's Solitaire, my legs became argillaceous but I didn't care, once that LIFER was in the scope ! :>

Mary said...

Good information here! As far as TV watching, I've never had a dog that watches television with as much interest as Chloe has. She's coming up on 12 years old now, has lenticular sclerosis, and has decided to watch TV. Just in the past year. She finds a spot on the bed or couch and sits or lays directly in front of the TV. And watches - intently - for several minutes at a time or as long as it takes me to fold a small load of laundry. Games shows, commercials, nightly news, anything. Bella? I don't think she has ever looked at the TV screen.

Thanks for your comments on cold meds, Kathi. By the time I discovered Airbourne & Zicam, it was too late. And I enjoyed your top birding moments in 2007. Purple Martins - wow :o)

littleorangeguy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kathy said...

I have had cats who watched tv, but I don't remember any of my dogs paying attention to tv unless there is barking or doorbells ringing. Then they bark at the tv!

mle said...

Recently we changed the backdrop on our desktop computer to a picture of two dogs. Within minutes, our dachshund, Christopher, was growling at the image and wouldn't be diverted until we changed the image to something else. He also tries to play with his reflection if we leave a mirror anywhere that he can see it.

On a similar note, a local church has huge stone lions at the base of pillars near the front door. When Christopher walks past, he growls at the lions and gives them a very wide berth. Another local house has stone lions on *top* of the gateposts, and Christopher has never even noticed them.