Dog Intelligence


We all know that dogs are smart. But did you know they can count? Or that they have the mental ability of a child between 2 and 2 1/2?

Animal Intelligence

Animal behaviorists, vets, and university studies determine dog intelligence by putting different purebreds through a variety of problem solving drills. The more quickly they figure it out or pick up a skill, the higher they rank on the "smart scale." Dog intelligence is the ability of a dog to learn, think, and solve problems without human intervention. Leading canine researcher, Stanley Coren, PhD, of the University of British Columbia, has concluded that dogs can solve complex problems and are more like us than previously thought.

dog intelligenceGerman Shepherds are the best all-around working dog. They may not be the best in any one specific task (ie guarding, herding, tracking and scent trailing), but they are the most versatile dog breed ever created.

Dog Intelligence Test

A variety of dog intelligence test studies attempt to confirm the ability of dogs to learn different tasks. Animal psychologist Juliane Kaminski's paper in Science showed that Border Collie Rico could learn over 200 words. And he could remember the names of items for up to four weeks after exposure. Rico understood compound sentences, such as "fetch the sock" versus simply saying "sock." And he could give the sock to a specified person.

Another Border Collie, Betsy was featured in 2008 on the cover of National Geographic magazine for her recognition of over 340 words. Betsy had the ability to distinguish the correlation between an unknown image in a photograph versus the actual object.

Dog Intelligence Good Natured Ethologist Frans de Wall, in his 1996 book, Good Natured: The Origins of Right and Wrong in Humans and Other Animals, portrayed an experiment on guilt and reprimands. The subject, a female Siberian Husky, liked to shred newspapers and was scolded when her owner returned home to find the mess. After scolding the husky would act guilty. But, when the owner shredded papers himself, without the dog's knowledge, the dog would exhibit the same guilty behavior as when she had made the same mess.

De Waal concluded that the 'guilt' shown by dogs is not true guilt. Rather, it is the anticipation of the behavior of an angry superior in a given situation.

It is thought that dogs can also feel complex emotions like jealousy, as they get in between their owners and other sources of attention.

Klaus is a 2 year old German Shepherd that was taught to read by her owner, Rita Parr.

School psychologist Kathy Coon created the first intelligence test for dogs in 1976, which was continually revised through 2003. Developed assessments tested ability to adapt, agility, problem solving, short term memory and unique detour problems. It also measured how the dog reacts to conditions considered unacceptable. Performance of individual dogs was compared to the behavior of the 100 plus dogs on which the test was standardized. Coon's book, Dog Intelligence Test, established norms for dog breed intelligence.

Intelligence Ranking of Dog Breeds

Data collected from over 200 dog obedience judges in Canada and the US showed differences in working and obedience intelligence of different breeds. In a ranking of the smartest dog breeds, "Border collies are number one; poodles are second, followed by German shepherds. Fourth on the list is golden retrievers; fifth, dobermans; sixth, Shetland sheepdogs; and finally, Labrador retrievers," said Coren.

Three Types of Dog Intelligence

  • Adaptive Intelligence (specific to the individual animal).
  • Instinctive Intelligence (specific to the individual animal)
  • Working/Obedience Intelligence (breed dependent)

The breed of a dog can determine some of its mental capacity. Coren says, "There are three types of dog intelligence: instinctive (what the dog is bred to do), adaptive (how well the dog learns from its environment to solve problems) and working and obedience (the equivalent of 'school learning')."

The average dog can learn 165 words. "Super dogs," or those in the top 20 percent, can learn 250 words. Coren says, "The upper limit of dogs' ability to learn language is partly based on the study of Rico who showed knowledge of 200 spoken words and demonstrated 'fast-track learning,' which scientists believed to be found only in humans and language learning apes."

Dog Intelligence CorenCoren says dogs can count up to four or five. They also have basic understanding of arithmetic. In simple computations, such as 1+1=1 or 1+1=3, dogs can discern that they are incorrect.

He looked at four studies that showed how dogs solve spatial problems. Using observation, dogs learn where valued items (toys or treats) are located, better environmental routes (fastest way to a favorite lounging spot), how to operate mechanism (latches or basic machines) and meanings of words and symbolic concepts (by listening and watching).

During play, dogs are capable of deliberately trying to deceive other dogs and people in order to get rewards, said Coren. "And they are nearly as successful in deceiving humans as humans are in deceiving dogs."



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