Are Dogs Like Human 2-year-olds?

Are Dogs Like Human 2-year-olds?

Children go through the “terrible 2s,” a developmental stage characterized by whining, misbehavior and perpetual inquisitiveness. Dogs do something similar, only they never grow out of it. Canines aren’t quite as terrible, however, because they can’t throw a decent temper tantrum.

Numerous recent studies compare dogs to human 2-year-olds, both in terms of intelligence and behavior. Consider the following:

Dogs Do Math
Did you know that your dog is able to count up to four or five? Dogs also notice errors in simple computations, such as 1 + 1 = 1 or 1 + 1 = 3, based on research published in the journal Animal Cognition. Such studies on dogs use images or actual objects, not words.

Canine researcher Dr. Stanley Coren, a psychology professor at the University of British Columbia, agrees that dogs are much smarter than we tend to think. “We all want insight into how our furry companions think, and we want to understand the silly, quirky and apparently irrational behaviors that Lassie or Rover demonstrate,” he says. “Their stunning flashes of brilliance and creativity are reminders that they may not be Einsteins but are sure closer to humans than we thought.”

Dogs Understand Words
The average dog can learn around 165 words. But canines in the top 20 percent of dog intelligence -- or “super dogs,” as Coren calls them -- can learn 250 words. Is your pet a super dog? Coren lists the seven smartest known breeds:

  1. Border collies
  2. Poodles
  3. German shepherds
  4. Golden retrievers
  5. Dobermans
  6. Shetland sheepdogs
  7. Labrador retrievers

Dogs Comprehend Our Complex Visual Signals
Another recent study in Animal Cognition tested dogs, as well as 2- and 3-year-old kids, on their ability to understand various pointing gestures. This was a workout for the scientific team, as they pointed with their elbows, legs, knees, arms and fingers. The dogs tied with the 2-year-olds.

Lead author Gabriella Lakatos, a research assistant at Eotvos Lorand University in Budapest, Hungary, says her team demonstrated “that dogs can understand pointing gestures if a body part protrudes from the body silhouette.” If you want your dog to understand your finger pointing, outstretch your entire arm and point as if you’re playing to the back row of a large theater.

Dogs Copy Us, for Good and Bad
Your pointing can be productive. Coren said multiple studies show that dogs can solve problems by copying your, or a dog’s, behavior. For example, dogs can:

  • learn the location of valued items, such as treats.
  • figure out the fastest routes, such as the quickest way to get to a favorite chair.
  • operate mechanisms, like door latches and simple machines.
  • learn the meaning of words and symbolic concepts, sometimes just by eavesdropping.

Dogs can also deliberately deceive other dogs and people, usually to get a food reward. “And they are nearly as successful in deceiving humans as humans are in deceiving dogs,” warns Coren.

Why Two and Not Three or Older?
If dogs are so capable and intelligent, why are they likened to a human 2-year-old and not a 3-year-old or even an adult? The answer appears to be, coincidentally, twofold.

First, Lakatos explains that for her study, older children may have a more complex ability to realize the intention behind the pointing gesture. This gets into being able to imagine the mindset of others, which sometimes allows for predicting behaviors and developing a deeper understanding of that individual’s actions and more.

Second, it is likely that interactions during language facilitate understanding. Lack of linguistic ability, therefore, is an IQ-limiting factor in dogs. We humans have a unique propensity for language that, coinciding with brain development, really begins to blossom when we’re around 3 years old; dogs go through no such stage.

Humans and Dogs: A Poor Comparison
Even though it can be interesting to see how dogs rate on human-centric tests, Lakatos believes it’s a conceptual mistake to judge dogs based on criteria developed for people. “Any behavioral similarity or similar performance between dogs and children should be investigated separately,” she says. “To give you an example for a reverse case, nobody has tried to herd a flock of sheep with 2-year-olds.”

Tags: dog behavior

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Posted on November 9, 2011

eileen Perry says: My King Charles can tell time- well sort of. She looks at my alarm clock and  can recognize the digits on my alarm clock and wakes me up the same time every day before the alarm goes off.

Posted on May 8, 2010

Erica says: Well dogs can understand a number of words, but they lack a toddler's ability to effortlessly absorb the meanings of new words and instantly apply them to new contexts creatively. But to be fair, one way even puppies leave human 2 year olds in the dust is that they can be potty trained at a very early developmental stage! One thing that never ceases to amaze me about our species is how as toddlers/young children we can be talking, walking, performing complex motor tasks, and even starting to learn to count and read and still have no problem with soiling ourselves. Must be a primate thing, as I've heard monkeys and chimps are notoriously hard to "house train" as well.

Posted on February 1, 2011

Colleen Sudderth says: I think a dog is more like a 3 year old because they know right from wrong behavior but cannot resist the impulse to act .

Posted on July 16, 2011

Stu says: My 11 yr old Heeler is like a 42 yr old scientist

Posted on August 23, 2011

amstaffbru says: 100% right on the money! My dogs are smarter than people I know who went to college!They're the only ones I can trust.They never repeat what they hear!Don't ask for money,don't ask for the car,only ask for TLC!

Posted on August 27, 2011

Kevin McLean says: I inherited my cockapoo Tara from my sister. I believe she has exhibited abstract thought. She responds to voice and hand signals. She also has the ability to open some containers without destrustion. She and I have become co-dependent. What surprises me about people are those who can't grasp the concept of people  feeling as strongly for their pet as they can for another person.

Posted on September 1, 2011

Clair says: I made this argument many years ago. Dogs can't fix their own food, but - like 2 year olds - can feed themselves from the bowl. They can can communicate thru sounds and gestures, - like 2 years olds - but, don't know words. I had a deaf dalmation, that seems to mock human behavior - even more than my hearing dogs. She could tell time and bark at the clock when it was time for dinner, or time for me to wake up. She recognized pictures on cans - that that was her food/dog food. She learned to open doors, that had levers instead of door knobs. These were not things that I taught her - these were things that she copied human doing and picked up on her own. My arguments has always been - that dogs are 'Man's best friend/because they act like our human babies. Dogs have been a part of civilization,in every culture on Earth.

Posted on December 15, 2009

Hailey Daniels says: My dog, Shadow tries to be like a human so he looks out the window, sits on chairs, and can open unlocked back doors. But my real fear is knob doors. He enjoys going into rooms when they are unlocked just to play. My doors lock is busted, so when I try to lock my door he runs into the door and it opens. My parents rooms on the other hand has two doors to close and they forget to lock the top so my dog can always get in there just by pushing the door. All of the other doors are fine but this is a real two year old but he is almost four. Happy Holidays!

Posted on November 23, 2009

Marla Bozarth says: I have a 3yr old Newfoundland.He is also a Therapy Dog. I have to BACK him into the rooms forthe patients to pet his rump because of all the Floggers he has (luggers). We at dinner time have learned to look the other way when he begins to shake his head! I would not exchange him for all the money in the world.. HAPPY HOLIDAYS!

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