Puppy Science Project

Are you thinking of getting a puppy?

Before you do, why not try the following experiment?

Go to your local ASPCA or animal pound. Ask the dog warden if you can conduct a scientific experiment. You will need the following equipment:

*dog treats;

*large can;

*piece of sturdy string or shoelace, about 1 m in length.

You’ll want a dog that is fairly smart.

To test that the dog can detect elementary facts about his world, conduct the following experiment. This tests how a puppy understands his environment. To pass, the puppy must be able to understand that the object that you’ve put under a can continues to exist, even though the puppy can’t see it. Be careful that you use something that doesn’t have a strong smell, because a puppy could use his or her sense of smell to detect its presence, instead of his or her intelligence if the object had a strong smell.

Step 1. Hold the puppy still on the floor in front of you.

Step 2. Show the puppy a treat and place the treat on the floor.

Step 3. Put a can over the treat.

Step 4. Release the puppy so it can move freely.

Step 5. Watch to see how the puppy reacts.

You can generalize some things by the results:

  1. If the puppy flips the can over, she/he realized that there’s food under there! In psychological terms, this is called “object permanence.” It’s a good thing, because the puppy then must have an idea that there is a world larger than the one s/he can see.

  2. Puppy is interested in the can, but not enough to knock it over. The puppy shows some intelligence, but what? Is the can too difficult to knock over? Is the dog lazy? Is the dog really too gentle to knock over a can?

  3. Dog is completely uninterested in the can. This means that the dog doesn’t ‘get’ that the treat is still under the can. This could well be because the puppy is too young to have developed enough brain power to make the leap of imagination necessary. Or, the puppy is just not smart enough to do the job.

Whatever the outcome, you will have learned something about the puppy. You can use the information if you decide you want to adopt a puppy.

If you do decide to get a puppy, you need to train the dog. You’ll want a puppy then that is a quick learner. Here’s a way to test his or her speed-of-learning:

You’re going to give the dog a task it’s never done before and see how long it takes before s/he learns how to do it.

Step 1. Tie a treat to the end of a string.

Step 2. As the dog is watching you, partially hide the treat under the sofa or someplace where the puppy can still see it. Leave the string half way trailing out.

Step 3. Coax the dog to pull the string to get the treat. But don’t let the dog eat the treat. If the dog doesn’t respond, show the puppy how to pull the string.

Step 4. Repeat these steps until the dog ‘gets’ the idea, unless he ‘gets’ it by the third time. Wait and see if he does. Don’t pull the string for him on the third try.

Again, you can generalize some things by the results.

  1. The puppy immediately pulled the string. Good boy or girl. Smart dog. Maybe s/he already knew this trick, or else is just really good at physical tasks.

  2. The dog takes some time, but eventually pulls or paws at the string to get the treat. Not bad. …. You know, a puppy isn’t born knowing that pulling a string will get her or him a treat.

  3. The puppy doesn’t ‘get’ that pulling the string will earn her or him the treat. Your choice. The dog isn’t as good at associating a reward with a physical task as the other two. Actually, when you think about it, this might be the smartest puppy after all. Think about it.