Do you think your dog is incredibly intelligent? You could be right.
Recent studies suggest our faithful friends boast at least the intelligence of a human toddler. Some dogs even seem to be smarter than that — smarter than the humans who care for them.
You’ve seen your dog figure out small challenges in his world — where you hide the treats, how to open a latch, how to get your attention, etc.
But, does that prove he has a high canine IQ? Well, yes and no.
The Collins English Dictionary defines intelligence as “the ability to think, reason, and understand as opposed to doing things automatically or by instinct.”
You see the dilemma.
Measuring intelligence has always been hard to define and even harder to measure, even in humans. The challenge of measuring intelligence in dogs is even greater. In order to measure canine intelligence, scientists must find reliable tests that prove dogs are thinking their way through a problem and not simply relying on instinct.
Border Collies, for example, instinctually herd sheep and chickens and pretty much everything that moves. We all know that Border Collies are smart, but herding is instinctual for them. We can’t expect our Bichon Frise to herd sheep like a Border Collie any more than we can ask that collie to double as a police dog.
So how can you test your dog’s intelligence?
ASSESS HIS RESPONSIVENESS TO CUES
In general, the better your dog responds to cues like sit, down and stay, the
higher his canine IQ. Of course, there are some caveats; have you trained the cue correctly? Are you giving the cue appropriately? Is your dog the stubborn type? Basset Hounds, Beagles, and other hound breeds are among the finest house dogs in the world, but they can be stubborn, especially if chasing down a squirrel or rabbit.
TEST YOUR DOG’S AWARENESS OF CHANGES IN HIS ENVIRONMENT
Try hiding your dog’s ball or toy. Does she search for objects that are missing even though the item is no longer in sight? If so, you’ve got a highly intelligent dog.
QUIZ HIS PROBLEM-SOLVING SKILLS
Try placing a bone or toy under a cardboard box or plastic cone. Watch to see if your dog thinks his way through getting the object. Does he wait for you to fix his problem or does he work to solve it?
CAN HE HOLD A CONVERSATION?
Researchers point out that dogs follow the intent of human conversation, if not the actual meaning. The next time you’re speaking to your spouse or friend, watch your dog; does he move his gaze to whoever is speaking? Does he look as though he’s trying to follow the conversation?
Some research shows that dogs interpret human emotion through your facial expression. Humans tend to gaze at the right side of a person’s face as they’re speaking. Dogs also gaze at the right side of human faces as they speak, but they don’t do this with other dogs. They are the only non-primate species to show this behaviour.
THEORY OF MIND
If your dog has ever hidden her bad behaviour from you, she might be demonstrating what psychologists call “theory of mind”. This is an important cognitive/social skill that develops in humans around the age of four. When your dog hides that sock she chewed up or slinks away from the accident she had on the rug, she’s showing theory of mind or the ability to recognize that you have a unique set of beliefs that differ from her own.
If your dog lived in a self-sufficient doggy pack, chewing the sock or having that accident would be less likely to be seen as negative behaviour. Her understanding of your separate ideas and opinions on behaviour is an important sign of intelligence.
So, as it turns out, your dog is pretty smart. While you might not have to save for college, it wouldn’t hurt to put those smarts to work in an obedience class or two.