Getting Inside the Mind of Animals


Birdby: Carol Bryant

Do you think animals are intelligent creatures who should be treated like loving beings?

The majority of people reading this will shout a resounding, "yes!" BlogPaws could not agree more.

Did you ever consider, then, what animas are really thinking and what people actually don't know about them? These are the types of thoughts that cross my mind. Who amongst us hasn't tried to figure out what our dogs are really thinking or what our cats or ferrets or bunnies really have on their minds?!

When I heard about neuropsychiatrist, Dr. Jon Lieff, and his work with animals, I was intrigued. Dr.
Lieff has previously been featured on top broadcast outlets like ABC's 20/20,
HuffPost Live and Canada's national news program CTV News, and has been quoted
in top magazines like Newsweek and People. He accepted an interview with BlogPaws, and here's what he has to say about animals, what they are thinking, and why we humans need to pay closer attention:

BlogPaws:  Thanks for joining us, Dr. Lieff. Tell us a bit about yourself.

Dr. Lieff: I
am a neuro psychiatrist treating complex hospitalized patients with medical,
neurological and psychiatric disorders. My interest in the nature of mind lead
me to intensely study neuroscience which lead to study of mind in animals,
plants, and even microbes. I actively keep up with studies into animal
intelligence and behavior. Marc Bekoff, a leading animal expert, asked me to co
write an article which appeared in his blog Animal Emotions in Psychology
Today, The Birds and the Bees and
Their Brains: Size Doesn't Matter
This article provides research into
animal brains that show that advanced intelligence of
different types can occur in much smaller brains than humans.

have written posts on the advanced intelligence of birds, lizards, bees, as
well as many other animals on my website

Jon Lieff_HeadshotBlogPaws: What
made you want to share the benefits of pets and how people need to think about
them with all of us?

Dr. Lieff:Animals
have a unique type of intelligence, which humans can learn from.They understand
living in the present, empathy, joy and compassion better than we do. Animals
have to be treated with respect to fully benefit from their unique gifts. Pets,
particularly dogs and cats, have been shown to be of great benefit to patients
of all types. Service dogs provide a unique service to many handicapped people.
I have personally benefitted greatly through my relationships with a series of
dogs, several of whom have been my closest friends. 

BlogPaws: I’d
love to hear more about what people do not know about how animals think. Do
they think as we do? Smarter than humans on some level?

Dr. Lieff: I
don't think we know how animals think. Their brains are different and for quite
a while it was assumed that they were inferior. In my articles I have pointed
out how bird, lizard, and bee brains are different from ours but in some ways
superior. They have different sensory input, different brain structures, and
different talents. I think attempting to put ourselves in their minds broadens
our perspective, but I don't think we really understand how they think. 

BlogPaws: What are some of the most “intelligent” animals and what is the intelligence label
based on?

Dr. Lieff:  I
don't think it's possible to say because each have different talents and gifts,
and even the smallest animals like bees have exceptional intelligence. Bees use
abstract thinking and symbolic language as well as a kalaidascopic visual
memory for the scenery and landmarks of up to five miles. (birds can remember
landmarks for thousands of miles). Bees are able to solve the advanced
mathematical problem of how to spend the most efficient amount of time in
different quality flowers. They are able to self medicate, knowing where the
medicines are, how to mix them and when to use them.

crows are noted to have self-awareness, counting, extreme memory for years and
very advanced tool use. Cockatoos were recently able to do very advanced five
step tool use as well as remember absent objects. Fish have recently been found
to use tools. Octopuses are highly intelligent. 

elephants, dolphins, whales, primates, dogs, and birds are proven to be very
intelligent. But, also bears, cows, lizards and many other animals are very

BlogPaws: That is fascinating!  What can we as humans learn from these intelligent animals?

Dr. Lieff: We
can realize that we don't have all the answers, and that the earth needs many
more species than just humans. We must protect the other species for our
destructive ways. From animals we can learn patience, contentment, joy,
motivation, compassion, empathy, and the ability to live in the present with
less stress. 

BlogPaws: If
we treat our pets as the intelligent beings they are, how would that benefit
humans in general?

Dr. Lieff: By
appreciating the intelligence of animals that are dependent upon us, humans
would become more compassionate. If we understood that animals have significant
inner lives perhaps animals in many other settings would be treated with less
cruelty. Perhaps zoos would take a different view of their dependent, caged
animals. Perhaps, people would use less cruelty when they try to make money
using animals in marine entertainment parks, in dog fighting, in dog and horse

research shows that results from scientific studies done in laboratories are
all questionable. It is equivalent to studying normal human behavior in a
prison and extrapolating it to other situatios and other species. This is true
of all levels of animals including flies that showed different research results
in natural settings and in captivity. Appreciating animals would lead to study
in natural settings, and we would learn much more about real nature. It is
not possible to understand animals without studying them in natural settings.
For some animals like dogs and cats, their natural settings are with humans.

people were in tune with the intelligence of their dogs and cats, then perhaps
they would appreciate the intelligence of the animals that are slaughtered for
food, including the pain felt by lobsters, crabs and other animals. Perhaps,
there would be a decrease in the amount of meat eating with care taken about
how animals are slaughtered for food. Less meat production would benefit the

BlogPaws: Where can folks go to learn more about your work, more information, and for
further reading?

Dr. Lieff: On
my website or "Searching for the Mind" there is a
section called Animals with many articles about animal intelligence. Looking at
the table of contents might be an easy way to see all the articles, or press the
animal button and scroll down to all the animal blogs. There are articles on animal
empathy, mourning, pain, culture and their unique brains. There are articles on
insects' amazing feats of engineering and the intelligence of individual ants,
termites, and bees. There are other articles on wise animals. My Facebook page
"Searching for the Mind" and my twitter account @jonlieffmd provide
multiple articles per day of recent research that are relevant to the topics on
my website (which also include humans, plants, and microbes).

  • Amanda

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