A blog about dog training and dog breeding…and other sundry matters

Can Dogs Count?

There’s an old joke that if you want to figure out whether or not dogs can count, put two cookies in your pocket, then give your dog only one.

Earlier tonight I did a bit of training with Gretchen, my black and tan German Shepherd bitch.  I’m hoping she will be my next obedience champion, if only I had the time to consistently train her. Oh well…

Anyway, we rehearsed sits and downs, and I not only mixed up the sequence of the exercise, but varied the amount of treats that I gave.  So sometimes I’d ask for a sit, then I’d give Gretchen a treat when she complied.  Then I’d ask for a sit and down, and give one or two treats.  Next I’d ask for a sit–down–sit and give three treats.  In clicker-training parlance, that’s called a variable schedule of reinforcement, and it’s a powerful training tool.

Somehow during my training, I lost track of how I was treating.  Perhaps I inadvertently kept giving three treats for the tri-fold sequence, sit–down–sit.  At one point I asked for this tri-fold pattern, and gave Gretchen a treat.  Instead of gobbling it up, she dropped it on the ground between her paws and looked at me expectantly.  I released her from the last cue and encouraged her to eat her treat.  She didn’t budge.  I gave her a second treat.  She put it between her paws beside the other treat and looked at me as though I was rather slow.  Finally I relented and gave her a third.  She ate it and then proceeded to eat the other two treats.

Dogs are smart, and I’m beginning to wonder if they may have numeracy skills!

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