May I be the first to say:
Anyone seen Flossie?
A Cambridge Uni prof has provocatively suggested that sheep aren't actually as thick as a Fair Isle woollen sweater, and can match humans in the tricky task of identifying food amid a confusion of buckets. Neuroboffin Jenny Morton herded a flock of Welsh mountain sheep and presented them with variously-coloured buckets, only …
Yes, some of us have laptops. And I think that it depends on the breed of sheep in question. Some sheep are as thick as two short planks. Others show surprising cunning. The closer they are to wild type, frequently the more clever they are. Shetlands, Soay and so on are positively bright, whereas in my experience some of the more overbred varieties like some merino are very dull.
Of course, one factor in their apparent intelligence might be the strength of their flocking instinct, which varies markedly between breeds too. You can't easily use dogs trained on tight flock sheep, on a breed which will scatter when pressed.
"they seem to be able to recognise people and even respond when you call their name."
Perhaps that's why shepherds have named their sheep and have been followed by their flocks since the dawn of time (well, at least 2,500 years ago, give or take). Of course, it could be due to "knowing" them "personally" too, as Sabine seems to imply... :P
Well, that sounds reasonably plausible. After all, the smarter they are, the less likely they are to hang around with humans who want to eat/shear/skin/molest them.
It would also offer a temptingly comprehensive explanation for reality TV, FarceTwatTube, the obesity epidemic, "'elf'n'safety gorn maaaad"* and all the rest of the wall-to-wall stupidity explosion.
The Powers That Be are working for Lord Crumb, and the human race is being domesticated in preparation for a major galaxy-wide expansion of Crumb’s Crunchy Delights.
* (c) 1993, Daily Heil Newspaper
Badgers - because you wouldn't catch them queuing up to be eaten
While ignoring the fact that we are the ones that spent thousands of years selectively breeding them for exactly that behaviour.
As a girl, my mum had a pet sheep that was raised with the farm dogs. It thought it was a dog and behaved just like a working-dog. Came when called, and tried to round up the flock. The other sheep were not so convinced of its doggedness.
It is my opinion that the more research we carry out the more we will begin to realise that any animal capable of higher thought can be educated to be "intelligent". Reprogramming the brain to respond a certain way is purely a matter of using the correct training method.
Personally I suspect where we are leading in a few more decades/centuries is for humans to be communicating with some animals directly.
@RobE who says that's not possible already, not to say has been for centuires? Not in the Doolittle sense. Language is a different thing from communication.
For any human to work effectively with an animal (working dogs, horses etc) the two have got to be able to communicate pretty effectively. Sure, it's possible to - say - beat a horse into submission; but the truly good riders can tell you exactly what their horses are thinking, and work with them in partnership rather than dominance. Man has been doing this kind of thing since the first days of domestication.
And it's not just one way; dogs are remarkably - perhaps uniquely - adept at reading emotion in human faces. Remember how much of our communication is non-verbal. Google 'left-gaze bias in dogs' for more.
I don't know what form of hand rolled cigarettes these guys are smoking but the test is more to do with their fascination for Welsh Sheep (honestly guv, they wanted me to...) than to demonstrate the mental capacity of our ovine friends. If these sheep are so clever why do they stand around in the hope they will be spared while they watch their mates being dismembered by a butcher!?
These good folk need to get out more and stop playing with buckets and sheep.
Collies do have a natural ability to learn stuff. However they're basically the Rain Men of the dog world - neurotic, obsessive, fixated on routine and usually fixated on individuals too. A collie's idea of play is to be told (by a human, ideally their owner) to do something. Perfect for a working dog, but not ideal for a pet.
From one point of view, this could be an example of David Brin's "uplift". In practise it's a bit more like the mental equivalent of a bulldog's snout - it's a bred characteristic that's within the genetic range of the species, but you only get there by trading off other aspects of the species with a result that isn't entirely positive for the dog.
Yes, there are pawprints on my doormat.
I could pretty much teach any animal to do this... people have already done it with the likes of goldfish. Stupid "2 second memory" bollocks, people that spout it probably have less.
(any fish owner will know that fish know when its feeding time anyway)
Anyway, day to day sheep are pretty dim still :p
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