Counting with Sonny

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A few weeks ago a new video popped up on YouTube and immediately caught my attention. The dog in the video appeared to be counting, and until I read the comments, I was a believer.

At first glance Sonny seemed legit, but his video was slightly flawed: the sequence of numbers chosen made for a perfect left-right-left exercise, and commenters were unimpressed. They declared shenanigans, and when I watched the video for a second time I was convinced they were on to something, and decided to move on.

Determined to prove his abilities and silence the doubters, his owner has released a new video, and has gone to the trouble of adding a second camera to dispel any accusations of body language cues. This version includes selections that are not left-right-left, making for a more convincing performance, encouraging speculation and drawing additional criticism from the peanut gallery.

I’m no trainer, and these eyes have spent too many hours in front of a computer, so help me out. What say you? Is Sonny the real deal, or are we just witnessing some very clever editing?

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13 thoughts on “Counting with Sonny”

  1. Beats us – we just hope this doesn’t give our teacher mom any crazy ideas:)

    Woos ~ Phantom, Thunder, and Ciara

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  2. Real deal or not – I give them all props for even getting him to pay attention for this long! Now to figure out a way to hide this post from my two-legger….she loves to make me do stupid dog tricks!

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  3. I think you can see that she holds the card with the correct answer a little farther to the front than the other card. He always picks the card that’s a little closer to him. Still fantastic training.

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  4. Kudos to Sonny, Nothing suprises me when it comes to how smart dogs are. They Walk Blind people in NYC, Etc. I Belive it !!

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  5. It’s legit… However, the dog is not counting, the dog is simply identifying the number as an object. I’d be surprised if you haven’t already heard about about this, but I’ll share anyways….
    There is a border collie in Germany that knows 200 words related to the object. There was a special on PBS “Dogs Decoded”
    After that special aired, a man in South Carolina taught his border collie 1000 works. Google it or look on youtube, if you haven’t already heard, it’s very fascinating. I agree with Sandra’s comment, dogs are so clever, while I am amazed at their abilities, I’m not surprised!

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  6. The dog matches a sound to an object. Matching is an important cognitive skill, but math it’s not. My Mountian Cur Nero does something similar: he matches a quantity of peanuts (his favorite treat) to the number word I speak. If I put three peanuts in front of him, but say “four” for example, he will give me a puzzled look. He knows what three is supposed to look like. As soon as the correct number is spoken he will stare at the peanuts until I let him eat them. So far he is able to match up to six peanuts with the right word. Not exactly counting, but one-to-one correspondence. Smart dogs! Good boys!

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  7. I agree with Joyce. I immediately noticed that the number she said corresponded with the card being slightly closer to the dog. This may be on purpose, or it may be unintentional. Dogs are excellent at reading body language. I would believe that he really corresponded the number with the card if it was done differently – the cards on the floor, for instance, and the trainer behind a curtain saying the number or shape.

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