Can dogs count?

The answer may surprise you!

Dogs use a part of their brain for processing numbers. But more than that, dogs use a similar brain region to process numbers as we humans do.

I found that fascinating.

This was one the results of reading a very interesting article published by The Smithsonian magazine earlier on in December.

Let me share it with you.


Dogs’ Brains Naturally Process Numbers, Just Like Ours

Scientists stuck 11 dogs in fMRI scanners to see if their brains had a knack for quantity

How many sheep? (Arbutus Photography / flickr)

Katherine J. Wu,
Dec. 19, 2019,

Sit. Stay. Fetch. Count?

Sort of. A team of scientists has found that dogs naturally process numbers in a similar brain region as humans, reports Virginia Morell for Science. While that doesn’t mean mutts can do math, it seems they have an innate sense of quantity, and may take notice when you put fewer treats in their bowl, according to a study published this week in Biology Letters.

Importantly, while other research has delved into similar stunts that scientists coaxed out of canines by rewarding them with treats, the new study suggests a knack for numbers is present in even untrained dogs—and could have deep evolutionary roots. This supports the idea that the ways in which animals process quantity in their brains may be “ancient and widespread among species,” Michael Beran, a psychologist at Georgia State University who wasn’t involved in the research, tells Morell.

To test pooches’ numerical prowess, a team led by Gregory Berns, a neuroscientist at Emory University, scanned the brains of 11 dogs of different breeds as they gazed at screens serially flashing different numbers of variably-sized dots. As the images flipped rapidly past, the researchers looked for activity in a region of the canine brain called the parietotemporal cortex, analogous to humans’ parietal cortex, which is known to help people rapidly process numbers. In humans, this region lights up on a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scanner when numbers start to vary—a sign that cells are working hard to puzzle through the difference.

Something similar seems to apply to canines, the team found. When dogs hopped into the scanner, most of their parietotemporal cortices showed more activity when the numbers of dots flashed onto the screen changed (for instance, three small dots followed by ten big dots) than when they stayed the same (four small dots followed by four large dots).

The behavior wasn’t universal: 3 out of the researchers’ 11 test subjects failed to discern the difference. But it’s not surprising that the rest did, Krista Macpherson, a canine cognition researcher at Western University in Canada who wasn’t involved in the study, tells Morell.

Of course, approximating quantities of dots isn’t the same as solving complex mathematical equations, as our brains are equipped to do. But both behaviors stem from an inherent sense for numbers—something that appears to span the 80-million-year evolutionary gap between dogs and humans, the findings suggest.

Understanding how that basic ability might evolve into “higher” mathematical skills is a clear next step, study author Lauren Aulet, a psychologist at Emory University, says in a statement. Until then, we humans can count on the fact that we have plenty in common with our canine companions.


An inherent sense for numbers. Wow!

This is yet another aspect of the relationship we have with our pooches that is deeper and closer than I imagined, and I’m sure I don’t only speak for myself.

13 thoughts on “Can dogs count?

  1. My dog can do fractions. She is a small pooch, so I need to break the larger milk bones in half. I give her one half. When she finishes that she comes back to me for the second hand. She clearly knows that there are two halves to one whole item.


    1. Of course, I had never thought of that, Tony! Our own dogs show they understand counting especially noticeable in the morning when we give them a set number of biscuit dog bones. Thanks for that, it made me think!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Yes, dogs can absolutely count, Paul.
    Odin knows exactly, how many treats I take in my pocket or hand and when there are no more left. I have been practicing a game of numbers since he was small. I throw between 3-7 pieces, one by one, while he sit beside me and wait until I end. Then I ask him to find them and count loud for each one, he finds. He loves that game and it helps me to make him happy and tired, when we are out playing. He use his nose hard here, as I throw them in different directions.
    Happy New Year to you and yours.


    1. Irene, I realised when I published the article that I hadn’t given it anything like the thought that I should. Odin demonstrates without difficulty how easy it is to train for a quite sophisticated game. Well done! And thank you for your New Year greetings. The very same in return to you and yours!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I can relate to this very well. We had a Cocker-spaniel, and we would always give him four scoops of food. He would keep waiting until we put four scoops. So the game was, that we put three scoops of food and wait, but he would never budge, and look at us in a funny way, that what is wrong with you, I eat four scoops of food every day, so don’t waste time and give four scoops. It was hilarious. We always wondered, how does he know. It all makes sense now. Thanks.


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