Minds of their own
Yesterday morning I found a puppy tooth on the bathroom floor. It’s the second one I’ve found in the past week. The teeth confirm what the animal shelter estimated: Winslow is about 4 months old. She’s teething. Even with the softer chewtoys, her gums occasionally bleed. The way animals grow teeth through living tissue is grotesque.
As a self-proclaimed “cat person”, my husband is surprised at both his fondness for our puppy…and how quickly she learns. Winslow is undergoing daily clicker training sessions; after one week she’s learned sit, down, stand and come.
Winslow is not alone in her capacity to learn from and communicate with humans. Certain dog breeds have an astounding capacity to both recognize unique acoustic patterns and learn to associate the particular sound with the action or object they represent. Border collies have been shown to know over 300 words, and to learn the meaning of a word after hearing it only once or twice. Given the border collies’ history of living in close association with humans as a sheep herding animal, the extent of inter-species communication this working breed shows is not entirely surprising. Dog know-how, and animal intelligence in general, is the subject of a great article from the March 2008 issue of National Geographic.
I’ve posted about animals living in zoos and the circus recently. What about the non-human animals used in behavioral research? Do there exist ends important enough to justify the animal research means? The Living Links Center for the Advanced Study of Ape and Human Evolution at Emory University seems to think so:
The primary mission of the Living Links Center is to study human evolution by investigating our close genetic, anatomical, cognitive, and behavioral similarities with great apes.
Apes may have retained traits in our common ancestor that we find hard to recognize in ourselves, or that we are not used to contemplating in an evolutionary light. While a century of studies have investigated how our physical attributes have been shaped by evolution, only recently has research begun to seriously address the role of evolution in human mental life.
The Living Links Center was established in 1997 for primate studies that shed light on human behavioral evolution. It is an integrated part of the Yerkes National Primate Research Center, which is the nation’s oldest and largest primate center. The Living Links Center is home to two socially housed groups of chimpanzees and two socially housed groups of capuchin monkeys.