The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

October 12, 2012

Mike Pound: What’s in a dog’s brain? Don’t ask

By Mike Pound

— Before too long we will all know the answer to a question that has been vexing us for generations. It’s a question that people have debated since ... well, since the invention of indoor plumbing. That question is: If it’s such a big deal to you then why don’t you put the toilet seat down yourself?

Ha, I joke. That’s actually the last question married male people ask before getting served with divorce papers.

No, the question that I’m referring to is: Why do dogs drink out of the toilet?

For many years, I have suspected that dogs drink out of the toilet because:

No. 1: They are thirsty.

No. B: They can.

But according to an article I read on the “Time” magazine website, I soon may find out exactly why dogs drink out of the toilet. According to the article, some scientists with way too much time on their hands are working on ways to unlock the minds of dogs. I love dogs, but it seems to me that if someone is going to unlock a dog’s mind, they wouldn’t need a very big key.

I don’t know about your dog, but from what I can tell from watching our German shepherd Shilo, if you unlocked her mind you would find rabbits, squirrels, a yellow plastic ball and a variety of foods. The rest of her mind would be occupied by a series of totally random thoughts such as “mailman, doorbell, guy who gives me shots, and scratching.”

Maybe Shilo isn’t as smart as other dogs. According to the story, researchers have already determined that dogs can learn about 165 human words, and that some “super dogs” can have a vocabulary of 250 words. Joe Biden’s dog, researchers said, even knows the meaning of the word “malarkey.”

According to the story, a group of German researchers at the Max-Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology (My high school played them for homecoming) reported that a border collie named Rico could learn the name of an object and then remember that object four weeks later. Rico is currently a member of Congress and the chairdog of the “Learning and remembering things subcommittee.”

Border collies, by the way, top a list compiled by a group of dog obedience judges of the most intelligent breeds. Poodles were second on the list followed by German shepherds, golden retrievers, Dobermans, Shetland sheepdogs, Labrador retrievers and reality TV stars.

Earlier this year, according to the story, scientists trained dogs to lay perfectly still in an MRI machine so they could get a detailed look at their brains.

When I read that, the first thought that ran through MY brain was, “There is no way they trained dogs to lay still in an MRI machine.” The second thought that ran through my brain was that the scientists’ parents must be thinking, “I paid for four years of college and two years of graduate school and this is what I get?”

The purpose of the experiment was to, and I quote, “Seriously tick off Karl, the guy who has to clean the MRI machine.”

Ha, I joke. The story said the purpose of the experiment was to determine which brain circuits would respond when a dog’s owner made a gesture offering food. The scan showed that when offered a treat, the part of a dog’s brain associated with the anticipation of reward was activated. When the findings were announced, the scientists looked at each other and said, “Well, that was a waste of time” and went out for a drink.

From the toilet.