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Saturday, May 27, 2006

What do we know about Dog Intelligence ?

Have you ever wondered how intelligent your dog is ? I know I have, every time my dog finds a clever solution for a problem I present him with or when he seems to understand what I say even though he shouldn't. So how can we best define Dog Intelligence ?

An encyclopedia might say Dog Intelligence is the ability of a dog to learn, to think, and to solve problems. Dog trainers, owners, and researchers have as much (or more) difficulty agreeing on a method for testing canine intelligence as they do for human intelligence.

Inherited abilities

Dogs are pack animals, which means that by nature they understand social structure and obligations and are capable of quickly learning how to behave around other members of the pack, whether dog or human. Adult canines train their young by correcting them when they behave in an unacceptable manner (biting too hard, eating out of turn, and so on) and reward them for acceptable behavior (by playing with them, feeding them, cleaning them, and so on).

They are also den animals, so that by nature they can easily learn behavior related to keeping the den clean (such as housebreaking), relaxing in an enclosed area (such as a crate during travel or for training), and so on.

Some breeds have been selectively bred for hundreds or thousands of years for the quality of learning quickly; in other breeds, that quality has been downplayed in favor of other characteristics, such as the ability to track or hunt game or to fight other animals. However, the capacity to learn basic obedience - and even complicated behaviour - is inherent in all dogs. Owners must simply be more patient with some breeds than with others.

Nonetheless, inherited behavior is not necessarily an indicator of intelligence. For example, a sheep herding breed such as a Border Collie would be expected to learn how to herd sheep very quickly, or might even perform the job with little or no training, but would be a challenge to teach how to point and retrieve game. Conversely, a Pointer often points to game instinctively and naturally retrieves game without damaging it, but most likely could not be taught to herd sheep.

Evaluation of intelligence

The meaning of "intelligence" in general, not simply in reference to dogs, is hard to quantify. Some tests measure problem-solving abilities; others test the ability to learn or what one has learned in comparison to others of the same age. Defining it for dogs is just as difficult. It is likely that dogs do not have the ability to premeditate an action to solve a problem, but some dogs might have more drive to keep trying various things until they accidentally reach a solution, and some might have a better ability to make the association between the "accident" and the result.

For example, the ability to learn quickly could be a sign of intelligence; it could conversely be interpreted as a sign of blind subservience and desire to please. In contrast, some dogs who do not learn very quickly may have other talents. For example, some breeds that are not particularly interested in pleasing their owners, such as Siberian Huskies, are often fascinated with the myriad possibilities for escaping from yards or catching and killing small animals, often figuring out on their own numerous inventive and ingenious ways of doing both.

As another example, guide dogs, which are required to be obedient at all times, could be labeled unintelligent because they do not spend a lot of time figuring out new things to do. However, they must learn a tremendous number of commands, understand how to act in a large variety of situations, and recognize threats or dangers to their human companion, some of which they might never before have encountered.

Many long-time owners of livestock guardian breed believe that working breeds such as the Great Pyrenees or the Kuvasz are not easily trained because their stubborn and independent nature prevents them from seeing the point of such commands as “sit” or “down”. Hounds may also suffer from this type of ranking; several rank in the bottom tier of "The Intelligence of Dogs" list (such as Beagles, Bloodhounds, and Basset Hounds). These dogs are bred to have more of a "pack" mentality with other dogs and less reliance on a master's direct commands. While they may not have the same kind of intelligence as a Border Collie, they were not bred to learn and obey commands quickly, but to think for themselves while trailing game.


Testing and research

Some tests for intelligence involve the dog's ability to recognize and respond to a large vocabulary; other tests involve their desire or ability to respond to different situations. If you put a towel over a dog's head, is the intelligent dog the one who pulls it off or is the intelligent dog the one who sits and waits, figuring that humans do strange things from time to time and if they put the towel on the dog's head there must be a reason for it? Just as with humans, there is a wide variety of interpretations as to what makes a dog "intelligent".

Various studies have attempted to confirm the intelligence of dogs in a rigorous manner. A recent example is animal psychologist Juliane Kaminski's paper in Science that demonstrated that Rico, a Border Collie, could learn over 200 words. Rico could remember items' names for four weeks after last exposure (Kaminski eliminated the Clever Hans effect using strict protocols).

Rico was also able to interpret phrases such as "fetch the sock" in terms of its component words (rather than considering the utterance to be a single word): he could give the sock to a specified person.

Thanks to Wikipedia - the free encyclopedia


In conclusion, just as Human Intelligence is hard to measure or define, so is Dog Intelligence. What are your thoughts on the matter ? Feel free to post your comments right here on Pet Pictures.

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