Dogs Can Naturally Count and Process Numbers Like Humans, New Study Finds

"Understanding neural mechanisms, both in humans and across species, gives us insights into both how our brains evolved over time," said one of the study's authors

people love pets
Photo: Getty

Dogs might not know what W-A-L-K spells, but they are learning to talk and soon they might be your math tutor.

In a study titled “Canine Sense of Quantity” published in Biology Letters earlier this month, researchers from Atlanta’s Emory University found that a dog’s brain processes numbers in a similar way to the human mind.

The four-legged animals use a specific portion of their brains to compute basic numerical quantities, much like the region where humans have number-responsive neural patterns, according to the study.

“Our work not only shows that dogs use a similar part of their brain to process numbers of objects as humans do — it shows that they don’t need to be trained to do it,” Gregory Berns, a senior author of the study, said in a statement.

By scanning the pups’ brain activity while they viewed different numbers of dots on a screen, the research team demonstrated that the dogs responded to the amounts of dots in their parietotemporal cortex.


This ability is likely linked to the animal’s need to estimate the number of predators nearby or the amount of food it can forage — or the amount of squirrels it can chase.

Eleven dogs of varying breeds were used in the study, and none of them received prior coaching in “numerosity,” the study clarified.

These findings can help scientists further understand mammal evolution, as well as ways to better treat brain abnormalities and improve artificial intelligence functions.

“Understanding neural mechanisms, both in humans and across species, gives us insights into both how our brains evolved over time and how they function now,” said co-author Stella Lourenco.

Never miss a story — sign up for PEOPLE’s free daily newsletter to stay up-to-date on the best of what PEOPLE has to offer, from juicy celebrity news to compelling human interest stories

The research shows dogs follow a simpler pattern of neurologically processing numbers than humans, who are able to complete more complex mathematics by utilizing the prefrontal cortex.

“Part of the reason that we are able to do calculus and algebra is because we have this fundamental ability for numerosity that we share with other animals,” Lauren Aulet, lead author of the study, said.

Aulet added: “I’m interested in learning how we evolved that higher math ability and how these skills develop over time in individuals, starting with basic numerosity in infancy.”

Related Articles