I'm among those who believe that animals possess many forms of intelligence, and that most pets have self-awareness and awareness of their relationships with others. Some in the scientific community remain resistant to this concept. Various researchers into animal intelligence frequently run into a lack of acceptance for their findings, including contorted reasoning (or rationalization) for the animals' lack of cognition, explaining away nearly all animal activities and result as instinct, conditioning or accident - anything but learning and cognition.
While I was walking Badger this weekend, I saw a slender, dark-haired woman walking calmly toward the shore with a gray African parrot on her shoulder. The parrot was looking around curiously. When I stopped and spoke to her, Badger got a little bit excited. The parrot gave him a dirty look!
This is a picture of the famous Alex, an African gray parrot who learned many different words and who literally spoke to the researchers who were studying his abilities and learning. Dr. Irene Pepperberg at Brandeis University asked a research assistant to pick Alex out at a pet store over 30 years ago. The rest is history. Alex learned to speak and communicated in ways that cannot be explained by "parroting." He even invented words like "corknut" and "banerry" (for apple, which he could not pronounce).
Some people explain any animal behavior interacting with humans that appears to represent interaction and learning as "operant conditioning." They fail to comprehend that "operant conditioning" is a form of learning. If the animal were not learning cues from the human with which it was associating, "conditioning" would not be possible. As per Wikipedia, where one would expect to find the most knee-jerk responses from the scientific "establishment,"
OK, so in what way is our own human behavior, particularly learning, not a response to an external stimulus? How is "ba-nerry" a rote response? Dr. Pepperberg thought up the word and taught it to him to "fool" others? In what way is Alex's many years of learning comparable to "Clever Hans," the horse who hadn't learned numbers, but instead had learned how to respond to his owner's subtle clues as to how to behave to appear to be counting? The operative word is learned. As pointed up in several articles about this phenomenon, including by Dr. Pepperberg, any time experimental evidence is presented of animal learning and cognition, those who are invested utterly in "speciesism" (thanks Dr. Singer) simply move the bar or redefine what "intelligence" is.
"Dr. Herbert Terrace, who had worked with Nim Chimpsky [a research chimp], says he thinks Alex performed by rote rather than using language; he calls Alex's responses "a complex discriminative performance," adding that in every situation, "there is an external stimulus that guides his response."