Instinct and intelligence

The concept of instinct has changed a great deal. The development of behaviour necessitates the complex interaction of genetic predispositions and experience. It can be wrong to say that an animal is acting instinctively, because that implies that the behaviour has not been influenced by experience.

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It is very difficult to conclude that the genes primarily determine a form of behaviour or that it cannot be modified by experience. Once it is accepted that animals can be guided by other things than instinct, the only possible conclusion is that they are intelligent. So are they? Is a dog that pushes down a handle to open the door really intelligent? And what about a dog that goes looking for its leash so that it can go out or for its ball so it can play? There’s no question that dogs do some astonishing things, but they all depend on proper training.

Let’s compare two puppies raised in different ways, one that is exposed to a lot of sensory stimuli and raised by a mother that gives it a lot of attention, and one that is not exposed to any sensory stimuli and is not raised by its mother or by a disinterested mother. The first dog will be more “intelligent”. In fact, it will be better able to adapt to new situations because its neural interconnections were stimulated more during the most sensitive period of its development, which is between week 3 and week 16 in puppies. The dog that fetches its ball when it wants to play or its leash when it wants to go out regards itself as the dominant dog in its “pack”. It initiates contact when it wants something. This is not a matter of intelligence but of hierarchy.

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Instinct and intelligence
    Instinct and intelligence

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