We might all assume that our dogs are very intelligent creatures, but have we been wrong to assume? In a recent study published in the journal Learning & Behaviour, an analysis of 300 scientific papers into dog intelligence was undertaken by Professor Stephen Lea of the University of Exeter and Dr Britta Osthaus of Canterbury Christ Church University.
How does dog intelligence measure up?
The paper focussed on how a dog’s intelligence measures up to other animals with particular emphasis on wolves, cats, spotted hyenas, chimpanzees, dolphins, horses and pigeons. In conclusion, the study found that the cognitive abilities of dogs are unexceptional when compared with other species even when, as in previous studies, the abilities of dogs were subject to over interpretation in their favour.
“We are doing dogs no favour by expecting too much of them. Dogs are dogs, and we need to take their needs and true abilities into account when considering how we treat them.”
Dr Britta Osthaus
The study reminded me of the following joke.
Two people in a pub see a man playing chess against his dog.
“Wow! That’s amazing.” They say. “What a clever dog”
“No, no, no.” protests the man. “He isn’t that clever. I am leading by three games to one.”
We see things differently
The study was thorough and informative. However I believe that future research into this complex subject may result in a different viewpoint. We have a different opinion on the intelligence of dogs. We see this on a daily basis with our own dog who behaves more like a mischievous toddler.
Every day, Poppy will do something that amazes us. In her own way, she talks to us and we understand her meaning quite clearly. In the house, she knows what belongs to her and what doesn’t. She knows when it’s time for a snack and when it is time for bed.
Dogs are emotional animals
If one of us is under the weather, she will be supportive and concerned. In the same way, if she is unwell we let her know we are there and that she will be looked after. Poppy understands this. Most dog owners would agree that dogs have a very high sense of emotional intelligence.
Poppy shows happiness when she is in a good mood and will equally put on the miserable face when things are not going her way. You all know what the miserable face looks like! When we are out walking, Poppy lets me know when she has had enough and wants to return home. Dogs may not be able to talk to us using words but they still make their wishes known in other ways. The report suggests that dogs do not stand out when compared to certain other species in specific areas.
Dogs are special to us
For example, dogs are thought by many to have the ability to navigate their way home over long distances. However, the researchers believe that the evidence for this is largely anecdotal and that other animals may perform better. The simple fact is that I believe my dog is very intelligent and that makes her special. I am sure other dog owners feel the same and look forward to hearing from you whether or not you agree.
If you have seen the press coverage of the report or read the report yourself, I would love to hear your opinions.