No Thumbs? No Problem!

Koala had a problem. When she tried to chew on her antler, it would move. Sometimes it would slip out of her paws — oh, if only she had thumbs — and skitter across the floor. She loved the noise it made (especially when Deni was on the phone), but it was not efficient. She wanted to chew.

Koala has another chew toy, a nylabone ring. It’s not as nice to chew on as the antler, but it’s OK. Its primary advantage is that it’s not as slippery as that antler. But, with some creative thinking, Koala solved her problem.

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As the photos show, Koala figured out how to solve her problem using the ring as a base to hold the antler steady. She tried it with a different nylabone as well, Deni reports, but the ring-and-antler combo works the best. Koala’s quite the little toolmaker!

Tool use in nonhumans is not new; Jane Goodall discovered chimps using tools in 1960. Since then, researchers have acknowledged that other nonhumans use tools as well, including crows, dolphins, and elephants.

An accepted definition of “tool use” is “using objects external to the self to accomplish a goal.” I might argue that, using this definition, every pet dog and cat in the world uses humans as a tool, but that’s not really what we’re going after here. There’s a great YouTube video that recently made the rounds of a pair of cats ringing bells to get their (trained) humans to give them treats. That is arguably tool use.

I could come up with dozens, maybe even hundreds, of examples of doggy problem-solving, but most of those don’t include actually using a tool. I’ve heard stories and seen videos featuring dogs who push things into position and stand on them to gain access to out-of-reach food. Jana used a tennis ball to massage her back (I do the same thing, and I think that counts as tool use). And a friend’s dog tugged on a pool cover to haul in a ball that had landed in the pool.

I don’t actually know of any formal study of dogs’ creation and use of tools, but I am sure that there are many other stories out there. Does your dog use tools? Send me your stories!

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