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Dogs Really Like Looking at Doors

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Our canine companions pay close attention to us. So it’s no surprise that dogs are able to follow the human gaze, looking at what we look at. A new study in the journal Animal Behaviour provides evidence that dogs are capable of following the human gaze across a room (and not just to look at food). However, the study was complicated by one factor: the scientist in the study, whom the dogs were supposed to be paying attention to, was looking at a door. And dogs get excited when they look at doors. 

Scientists at the University of Veterinary Medicine in Vienna studied 145 border collies between 6 months and 14 years old with various levels of training, in the hopes of determining whether training or age impacted the dogs’ ability to follow a person’s line of sight. To do so, the experimenter looked at the dog with a surprised expression on her face, then looked at a door across the room to see if the dog would look with her. Many of the dogs did, though formal training decreased their tendency to do so, because a well-trained dog spent more time looking the person standing with them in the face. 

Image Credit: Wallis et. al, Animal Behaviour (2015)

Yet the scientists concede that their study may have been a little biased, just because dogs already know that a lot of action happens in doorways. The authors write that the dogs may have been more inclined to look at the door than anything else in the room, because experience teaches them that stuff tends to happen around doors: 

Doors may hold particular social relevance to dogs, as even dogs as young as 6 months already have ample experience with doors, and the possibility that an individual may enter at any time. Gaze cues towards areas of particular relevance for dogs, such as the door in this case, might have facilitated the gaze-following response by providing contextual relevance.

Either way, it's probably safe to go ahead and and add doors to the list of things dogs get worked up about

[h/t: Eurekalert]

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Pigeons Are Secretly Brilliant Birds That Understand Space and Time, Study Finds
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Of all the birds in the world, the pigeon draws the most ire. Despite their reputation as brainless “rats with wings,” though, they’re actually pretty brilliant (and beautiful) animals. A new study adds more evidence that the family of birds known as pigeons are some of the smartest birds around, as Quartz alerts us.

In addition to being able to distinguish English vocabulary from nonsense words, spot cancer, and tell a Monet from a Picasso, pigeons can understand abstract concepts like space and time, according to the new study published in Current Biology. Their brains just do it in a slightly different way than humans’ do.

Researchers at the University of Iowa set up an experiment where they showed pigeons a computer screen featuring a static horizontal line. The birds were supposed to evaluate the length of the line (either 6 centimeters or 24 centimeters) or the amount of time they saw it (either 2 or 8 seconds). The birds perceived "the longer lines to have longer duration, and lines longer in duration to also be longer in length," according to a press release. This suggests that the concepts are processed in the same region of the brain—as they are in the brains of humans and other primates.

But that abstract thinking doesn’t occur in the same way in bird brains as it does in ours. In humans, perceiving space and time is linked to a region of the brain called the parietal cortex, which the pigeon brains lack entirely. So their brains have to have some other way of processing the concepts.

The study didn’t determine how, exactly, pigeons achieve this cognitive feat, but it’s clear that some other aspect of the central nervous system must be controlling it. That also opens up the possibility that other non-mammal animals can perceive space and time, too, expanding how we think of other animals’ cognitive capabilities.

[h/t Quartz]

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The Queen's Racing Pigeons Are in Danger, Due to an Increase in Peregrine Falcons
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Queen Elizabeth is famous for her love of corgis and horses, but her pet pigeons don't get as much press. The monarch owns nearly 200 racing pigeons, which she houses in a luxury loft at her country estate, Sandringham House, in Norfolk, England. But thanks to a recent boom in the region’s peregrine falcon population, the Queen’s swift birds may no longer be able to safely soar around the countryside, according to The Telegraph.

Once endangered, recent conservation efforts have boosted the peregrine falcon’s numbers. In certain parts of England, like Norfolk and the city of Salisbury in Wiltshire, the creatures can even find shelter inside boxes installed at local churches and cathedrals, which are designed to protect potential eggs.

There’s just one problem: Peregrine falcons are birds of prey, and local pigeon racers claim these nesting nooks are located along racing routes. Due to this unfortunate coincidence, some pigeons are failing to return to their owners.

Pigeon racing enthusiasts are upset, but Richard Salt of Salisbury Cathedral says it's simply a case of nature taking its course. "It's all just part of the natural process,” Salt told The Telegraph. "The peregrines came here on their own account—we didn't put a sign out saying 'room for peregrines to let.' Obviously we feel quite sorry for the pigeons, but the peregrines would be there anyway."

In the meantime, the Queen might want to keep a close eye on her birds (or hire someone who will), or consider taking advantage of Sandringham House's vast open spaces for a little indoor fly-time.

[h/t The Telegraph]

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