Episode 455 – Canine Cognition and Theory of Mind

As a youngster, a  friend’s Australian shepherd radiated the intelligence and high-energy characteristic of the breed. As the dog explored every nook and cranny of the property, her daily rounds included attempts to find a way into a thick cluster of berry bushes that sheltered the burrow  of a rabbit mom and her young. At first, my friend would call the dog away from the area. But as the dog got older and more adventuresome, the rabbits in the thicket were the least of my friend’s concerns. After one particularly difficult day that involved what appeared like the dog’s singular attempt to dismantle the barn, my exhausted friend sat in the yard relaxing not that far from the thicket. When she saw the Aussie approach the brier patch with a long stick in her mouth, my friend’s  first thought was, “My God, she’s learned to use tools!”

Those of you familiar with the studies of tool use in certain species of wild animals and birds will understand why this spontaneous comment regarding tool use in her dog elicited a combination of humor and unease. But was it unreasonable?

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