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MAGGIE - A SPECTACULAR DOG

 Maggie’s story:

When Jesse and Arthur Treff got Maggie, a Jack Russell terrier as a puppy, "she was a challenge,” explains Jesse. "Between chewing and just everything a puppy can do, magnify that by 10 — that’s what a Jack Russell puppy does.”

In an attempt to curb Maggie’s misbehavior, the Treffs thought they’d try redirecting her energy into learning tricks. It was immediately apparent that she was a natural. "She was picking up new things every three or four minutes,” says Jesse. "She’d get it. I’d come back and she’d still have it. It just accelerated from there.”

When Maggie was about 6 months old, a friend of Jesse’s said to her jokingly, "I bet she can even count.”

Not really expecting anything, Jesse held up four of her fingers for Maggie — who proceeded to tap her right front paw on the ground four times. Over the next couple of weeks, Jesse continued showing Maggie varying numbers of her fingers. "She was getting it right about 80 percent of the time,” says Jesse.

Initially, Maggie would respond only to Jesse, but eventually she began to answer mathematical equations from strangers as well. Sometimes, Jesse says, she still can’t quite believe that Maggie is able to do what she does. "I think she’s not going to be able to do it one day — it’ll go away. Someone will ask her something and she’ll just stand there.”

This summer, WLOS-TV did a short segment about Maggie’s ability to count and the piece was picked up by other stations nationwide. Since then, says Jesse, "I can’t go down the sidewalk in Asheville without someone saying, ‘My friend doesn’t believe your dog can count — can you show him?”

When asked about those skeptics who believe Maggie’s counting is some kind of hoax, Jesse says: "In Asheville, there are very few people who don’t believe Maggie can count. The few people who don’t believe it … I use to work hard at trying to change their minds. Now I feel like, ‘That’s fine. I couldn’t care less.’  And I really understand: You have to see it to believe it.”

Should we believe reports that dogs can do mathematical calculations?  Is Maggie’s owner telling us the truth?

Well… in science, as in all things, there’s a big difference between honesty and reliability. An honest observer can be unreliable and a reliable observer can be dishonest. Honest observers can make mistakes by focusing on the wrong aspects of an experiment or they can be fooled by their pre-conceived notions.  Either way, their mistakes can be gosh-darned hard to ferret out. 

Human beings have an odd tendency to be most impressed by animals when they seem to be able to mimic human activities like doing math or using language.  We are generally much less impressed when they excel at tasks that are beyond our abilities.  Obsessed with our own big brains, we also have a hard time accepting the idea that we aren’t always in conscious control of our actions.  Because of this we sometimes prefer to "dishonestly” believe that behaviors that occur outside our conscious control are governed by supernatural forces like mind reading or telepathy.

A classic example of this phenomenon is illustrated by the story of another clever animal – Clever Hans.  Hans was a horse who learned to cleverly and correctly respond to a range of questions involving mathematical calculations and other advanced cognitive tasks by tapping his hoof.  Hans was a sensation.  People flocked to see the horse that could think like a man.

Category: Video | Views: 394 | Added by: Meli | Rating: 5.0/2
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