Dog intelligence is the ability of a dog to learn, think, and solve problems. It can be exhibited in many different ways, and a dog who might not be easy to train might still be very good at figuring out how to open kitchen cabinets or to escape from the yard. In a sense, the ability of a dog to do certain acts that cannot be done by other animals commonly defines our understanding of dog intelligence.
There are really two basic divisions of dog intelligence: instinctive intelligence and adoptive intelligence. Instinctive intelligence is hard-wired into the brain, while adoptive intelligence is learned or discovered. In dogs, the division between the two is less pronounced than in humans.
Dog trainers, owners, and researchers have as much (or more) difficulty agreeing on how to evaluate canine intelligence as they do for human intelligence. One difficulty lies in the fact that dogs are pack animals. This means that they understand social structure and obligations and are capable of learning how to behave around other members of the pack, but may behave very differently as individuals.
Different Strokes for Different Folks
Dogs are as individual as you or I. Dogs that are bred to herd are more likely to follow moving objects than to pick them up, while dogs bred to retrieve readily pick up objects but are most likely to bring them to you rather than manipulate them on their own. Dogs competing in dog sports, such as flyball, agility or Schutzhund, must be trusted in an open field, off leash and surrounded by other people, dogs, hamburgers, and frisbees. In contrast, some dogs who do not learn very quickly may have other talents.
It is likely that dogs do not have the ability to premeditate an action to solve a problem. However, some dogs know when they are being short-changed on treats because they have a basic mathematical ability which enables them to tell when one pile of objects is bigger than another!
A good dog intelligence test requires the dog must have lived in the house for at least a couple months. While most intelligence tests are acceptable for training and working with dogs, they may not apply to the genetic intelligence which can be measured by ingenuity and understanding of common situations. Again, dogs are as individual as you or I.
Intelligence should not be judged just by the willingness to follow obedience commands. Stanley Coren, Professor of Psychology at the University of British Columbia, Dog Behaviorist and author of numerous books including the classic, “The Intelligence of Dogs” discusses in his new book, “The Pawprints Of History” how to assess dog intelligence. According to Coren, there are three types of dog intelligence: Adaptive Intelligence (learning and problem-solving ability); Instinctive Intelligence; and Working/Obedience Intelligence (which can be applied to a breed as a whole). Measuring of each type requires different methodologies.
Evaluating dog intelligence is open to as much interpretation as is doing it for humans, and dog intelligence rankings as they now stand may have questionable validity. Yet, if you intend to buy a dog and have not yet decided which breed you will get, you owe it to yourself to become familiar with what we do know about dogs’ intelligence.
Whether influenced by philosophical and religious leaders or by media stars (like Lassie), our acceptance and perception of dog intelligence has fluctuated throughout history. Dogs may indeed be smarter than we think, and one day we may come to understand the full depth of their amazing capabilities.
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