Study: Dog Intelligence Isn’t as Great as We Probably Think

How smart is your dog? A study says it’s likely your Fido’s level of dog intelligence probably isn’t as big as you say it is.

Over the years, I’ve heard many people debate dog intelligence. Not surprisingly, I’ve noticed a pattern.

Those who are dog owners believe our canine friends are very smart. Those who haven’t had the experience of bonding with a four-legged friend often don’t agree.

A new study, you might be surprised to hear, sides with the latter.

The study, published in ScienceDaily, reported that dog intelligence isn’t generally as high as most people seem to think it is.

Researchers from the University of Exeter and Canterbury Christ Church University found the cognitive abilities of dogs were at least matched by several species in each of these groups.

That is to say, dogs aren’t dumb, but they’re not a great deal smarter than many other species.

“Taking all three groups (domestic animals, social hunters and carnivorans) into account, dog cognition does not look exceptional,” Dr. Britta Osthaus, of Canterbury Christ Church University, said.

Your experience may vary.

I’ve had some really smart dogs in my time. Each one’s level and area of intelligence varied. But the same goes for their personalities: no two have ever been exactly alike.

But for people who think dogs don’t think things through, I’d like to tell you a little story.

Many years ago, when I lived in Richmond, I adopted a dog from a rescue group. She was a golden retriever mix. The vet suggested she could have been mixed with some kind of spaniel, although she reminded me more of a border collie in shape and profile.

I named her Zoey. She’d had a hard life. She was obviously abused and was, when I first brought her home, afraid of her own shadow.

It took her quite a while to get over her nervousness but she finally became confident in her new home and began to understand she was safe.

She also began to understand she would be fed every day. And that brings me to the little quirk that showed me how smart she was.

From the start, Zoey had this unusual habit. Every time I’d feed her, she would clean her plate, then come to me in the living room and wave a paw at me like she was trying to get my attention. When I’d lean toward her to see what she wanted, she’d reach up and give me a kiss.

It only happened after she was fed. I realized she was thanking me for her food.

I’ve known of several cases where rescue dogs show an amazing level of what seems like gratitude to their rescuers for simple things that dogs that were never in a shelter come to take for granted.

Then came one Thanksgiving at my parents’ home. 

We’d eaten our big meal and Mom had put down plates for her dog and my two dogs in the kitchen. We were in the living room by then, beginning to feel the effects of the impending turkey coma.

When Zoey finished her meal, she came trotting back into the living room where we were. I’d told Mom about this habit of thanking me for dinner that she always displayed.

But this time, it was different. 

She took a few steps toward us. Then she stopped. She looked at me, then at Mom, and then at me again.

Then she walked straight to Mom, raised her paw like she was waving, then gave Mom that “thank you” kiss.

We actually saw her pause and stand there, looking between us, figuring it out. She knew who fed her that day, and she knew it wasn’t me.

I don’t know how many dogs would have taken the time to work it out like that versus just going for their normal habit.

But she did.

Zoey wasn’t a genius as dogs go, but she was certainly smarter than a lot of dogs I’d seen.

No matter what a bunch of researchers might think about it.

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Patrick is a Christian with more than 27 years experience in professional writing, producing and marketing. His professional background also includes social media, reporting for broadcast television and the web, directing, videography and photography. He enjoys getting to know people over coffee and spending time with his dog.