Dogs respond to objects that defy Newton’s First Law of Motion

I would expect dogs to respond to objects that defy Newton’s First Law of Motion. This is because this groundbreaking law describes the natural physical behaviour of objects. Dogs learn to experience how objects move and therefore when they move in an unexpected way, they notice it. This is what a study by Christoph Völter of the University of Veterinary Medicine, Vienna, concluded. We should not be surprised.

Dog respond to balls that behave abnormally

Dog respond to balls that behave abnormally. Image: MikeB based on images in the public domain.

But dogs were surprised when animated balls on a computer screen were made to bounce in ways that were unnatural. When this happened, the researchers found that pet dogs spent more time with wide-open pupils. They were clearly interested in what was going on and they noticed the difference in the movements of the balls compared to what they would expect.

Mr Völter said that this observation by the dogs “is the starting point for learning”. I agree with that too because when a dog observes something which is unusual, they will learn something about that object and its behaviour. And they might adjust their behaviour accordingly if it is required in order to improve survival.

He said:

“You have expectations about the environment – regularities in your environment that are connected to physics – and then something happens that doesn’t fit. And now you pay attention. And now you try to see what’s going on.”

And now for a bit of science ?. This famous law which you may have studied at school, if you were lucky (?), states that if a body is at rest or moving at a constant speed in a straight line it will stay at rest or keep moving in a straight line at constant speed unless it meets an outside force. In other words, objects move in an expected way but if they don’t something has impinged upon that object. That’s my rather crude interpretation.

The research involved 14 dogs. They were shown videos of objects which appeared to break Newton’s First Law of Motion. When this happened, the dogs stared at the screen for longer as if they couldn’t believe their eyes.

The study showed that dogs were sensitive to what is described as the “principle of contact causality”. I take this to mean that when something comes into contact with an object that is behaving normally it causes the object to behave abnormally. That, too, is my interpretation. Perhaps it is oversimplified but I think we need to try and get to the bottom of the scientific jargon that researchers regrettably feel that they must use when they report on their research. It is published in the journal Biology Letters by the way.

Final point: it does also show that dogs have a level of intelligence which is admirable. Although, I don’t think people need reminding of that.

Some more on dog behavior follows:

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