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How Smart Is A Dog?

Updated on November 4, 2007
How smart is a dog, anyway?
How smart is a dog, anyway?

The Guinness World Book of Records lists a Canadian Toy Poodle named ChandraLee as the world's smartest dog, knowing more than 500 tricks. But is knowing how to do a trick a sign of smarts? In looking at dog intelligence, we first need to look at how to tell "smart" behavior from "dumb" behavior.

Get Smart

Intelligence is generally defined as solving problems without help from anyone else. In this, dogs are great. They want to please and will try any wiggle or whine in order to know if they are pleasing you. They are open to trying anything, no mater how ridiculous. Dogs have been proven time and time again to solve all sorts of problems, whether following a trail to its source, recognizing words or learning how to be house trained.

For example, show your dog a treat and then cover the treat with a towel. The smart dog will scratch the towel off instantly to get the treat. However, it could also be argued that the really wise dog just stares the master down to get the treat for him. Either way, the dog winds up with the treat. Both dogs can be called smart, although scientifically the dog who got the treat for himself is considered smarter because no one else was involved in getting the treat.

Perhaps dogs are considered smart when they do what we humans want them to do. But we often don't ask much from our dogs. Are they capable of solving complex problems more than we at first thought? Well, they can recognize words and can count, that's for sure.

Are Some Breeds Smarter Than Others?

It is commonly thought that some breeds are smarter than others. This means they are more easily trainable than others. The American Kennel Club (AKC) announced that Afghans were the breed of least intelligence and the Border Collie the most. A university in Scotland is working to test the IQs of mongrels and purebreds.

Perhaps this should be called a "Breeds Most Easily Bored" ranking rather than an intelligence ranking. Herding breeds like Border Collies were bred to be constantly busy. Sitting around doing nothing for long stretches at a time is not natural for them. So they will find things to do - whether you like those tasks or not.

Breeds like Greyhounds, on the other paw, were bred to sprint only a couple of times a day. They enjoy napping and are more easily entertained that way than a collie or Hunting breeds like Labrador retrievers. But each dog is an individual, and there are a lot of variances in intelligence and being bored even in the same litter.

In Conclusion

Dogs know a lot more than they let on. They also know a lot more than we are willing to admit. Humans can be a bit jealous when it comes to smarts. Sometimes it seems hard to admit that we are not as unique as we thought.

For example, I taught my dog Pony the words to three of her toys - "ball", "tug" and "boney". For a week, whenever we played with the toys, I kept repeating their name. At the end of the week, I put all three toys on the floor and told Pony "Bring tug." The object is for her to see if she could recognize the toy by the name alone. Try this with your dog.

Pony looked at me, then trotted over to the three toys and tried to fit all three in her mouth to bring back to me. At that point I realized that Pony was a lot smarter than I am. Now that she is full grown, I often have to spell certain words around her (like "W-A-L-K") or she will race to the door, whining and wagging. If she learns to spell, I'm really in trouble.

The point is, dogs are as smart as people - in the things that are important to a dog. Dogs don't have any desire for world domination, making a fortune in the stock market or inventing the latest electronic toy. They do know how to be content, how to learn to get along with others and how to poo in the right place. Perhaps the question we should be asking is not "How smart are dogs?" but "How wise are dogs?"

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