Measure Your Dog's Smarts

By Elizabeth Wasserman

Measure Your Dog\'s Smarts

Most dogs behave in ways that may seem downright dumb. Drinking water from the toilet bowl. Eating grass. Sniffing the waste of other canines. But there are reasons for these behaviors: Dogs prefer cold water over stagnant water that's been sitting in a dish, grass is natural roughage and may induce vomiting if they have a stomachache, and urine and poop are the newspapers of the dog world, communicating who did what where and when.

Dogs may actually be far more intelligent than we think. Stanley Coren, a psychology professor at the University of British Columbia and a best-selling author of books on dogs, including The Intelligence of Dogs (Free Press), thinks so. He says that dogs display intelligence in a variety of ways -- reading social cues, learning new tasks, understanding language, solving problems and more. He even argues that you can measure your dog's smarts.

Dog Smarts Debate
The theory that canine intelligence can be tested is still controversial. "We can't measure their intelligence," says Bonnie Beaver, DVM, a former president of the American Veterinary Medicine Association and a professor of veterinary medicine at Texas A&M University. "They will do things that are programmed into their genetic makeup because they're canines or because they are a certain breed of canine. There is no doubt in my mind that there is a difference between how one German shepherd reacts compared to another, but is one smarter than another? I don't know that there's any proof."

Other experts agree with Coren that there can be a canine equivalent of the IQ test. "You might be very good verbally and weaker at math and someone else might be good at music but not at logic. Dogs are no different in so far as they share some of our domains," says Jean Donaldson, author of Oh, Behave!: Dogs from Pavlov to Premack to Pinker (2008) and director of the San Francisco Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animal's Academy for Dog Trainers. "One dog may be good at problem solving and another may be a quick study at learning new tasks."

Establishing Your Dog's IQ
How do you find out your pup's strengths and weaknesses? How can you assess what they need to work on? And where does your pet stand on the overall intelligence spectrum?

Here are some simple tests, suggested by various experts, that you can give your furry friend to find out if its brain is sharper than its bark:

  1. Problem Solving Donaldson suggests that you hide something your dog loves -- a toy or ball or biscuit -- underneath a sofa, and see if it can figure out how to retrieve the object. She says dogs may go through several strategies, including digging with paws or using snouts.

Score Five points for getting the item with its paws in less than 30 seconds; four points if it uses paws and takes more than 30 seconds; three if it uses paws but fails; two if it uses its head but doesn’t try paws, and one point for dogs that try to use their head but then give up. It gets no points if it does nothing.

  1. Learning Rate How many times do you have to repeat a task with your dog before your pal masters it? Donaldson recommends a test involving detour taking. You need a fence that your dog can see through with a gate open at one end. With you on the other side of the fence, call your dog and see whether it can figure out how to get around to the other side.

Score Five points if it goes around the fence in a minute or less; four points if it succeeds right away after you take a few steps in that direction and gesture; three if it succeeds in 30 seconds after the prompts; two if it succeeds between 30-60 seconds after prompts, and one if it succeeds but requires even more prompting and time than that.

  1. Social Cues Coren developed the "smile" test for an Australian TV program to see how smart your dog is at picking up social cues from humans. Start with your pet sitting a few yards away from you. Stare at your pet's face. Once you make eye contact, count to three and then smile very broadly.

Score Five points for coming to you with its tail wagging; four points for coming part way; three points for standing or rising; two points for moving, and one if your doggie dunce pays no attention at all.

  1. Inference Challenge A canine version of the shell game. With your dog on a leash or in the stay position, use treats and two different bowls set a few feet apart, Donaldson says. Smear the treat on both bowls. Then very dramatically put the treat underneath one bowl. Release your pet and see what happens. Repeat this 10 times changing which bowl you put the treat under. Repeat another 10 times without letting your dog see where you're stashing the treat, but DO let the pup see you enthusiastically lift the other bowl up each time.

Score Five points if the dog goes to the correct bowl and gets the treat each time; four points if it masters the first 10 and improves over the course of the second 10; three if the first set is perfect but not the second set; two if the dog improves during the first and second rounds, and one if the dog is initially not very good but improves over the first round and completes the second round by going to the bowl you lifted.

  1. Language Comprehension Coren developed this test to determine how well your dog understands what you are saying. Start with your dog sitting in front of you. Using the tone of voice you use to call your dog's name, call "refrigerator." Try this again, calling "movies."

Score Five points if the dog doesn't respond to those words but comes after you call its name; four points if the dog comes the second time you call its name; three if the dog starts to come; two if the dog comes to "movies" but not "refrigerator,” and one if the dog simply doesn't come to any of the calls.

Your Dog's Score

Gifted and Talented (25-31) Consider your dog brilliant and then…watch out! Smarter dogs are often harder to live with because as soon as you teach them new skills, they try to get around following your orders. You may also inadvertently teach them bad behaviors.

Clever Canine (18-25) On the higher end of the intellectual spectrum, these are good listeners who will likely perform tricks well at parties or in obedience class.

Sharp, But Slow (10-18) You will find them trainable -- even if it takes numerous repetitions to master a skill.

Doggie Dropout (Less than 10) Let's hope that you selected your pet for its beauty as opposed to its brains, but since anyone can have an off day, give your furry pal a good pat on the head, and maybe try the tests again at a later date.

Elizabeth Wasserman, a Washington, D.C., area-based freelancer, has been writing about pets, among other topics, for more than 15 years. Her love of dogs, in particular, was handed down through the generations from her great-grandfather, Eric Knight, who wrote the book Lassie Come Home in the 1930s.


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Posted on January 14, 2011

Ann says: He's a 2 yr old German Shepherd/Husky mix.

Posted on January 14, 2011

Ann says: If I called "refrigerator" in the tone of voice I use to call my dog, he'd go to the refrigerator, hoping for a snack.

Posted on November 3, 2008

Anna Santana says: i have a very small dog and when i am asleep she is asleep when i eat she eats i love her to death she follows me EVERYWHERE she is a mutt we are not sure what breed she is but we dont care she is very smart!!

Posted on November 8, 2008

jacqueline says: We have three dauschunds--all rescue. They are so much fun. Two are really smart and one is really sweet. The sweet one loves me the most--totally devoted. So maybe she's not so dumb? My smart female 7-yr-old knows,"boat, no, off, down, stay, sit, over, Pretty dance, bang, walk, truck, go bye-bye, yes, OK! cookie, daddy, YES!, kisses, etc. Dogs are so much fun.

Posted on November 1, 2008

Col Wells says: Sam is our baby, although 10 years old. He keeps us happy, safe, and intertained. A golden lab, Sam has his own schedule, which he follows relgiously. He will come in, look us in the eye, and stare until we go to see who is at the door. He behaves very well with visitors and when I tell him, Sam "go see Dad" in order to get him out of the room, he will run to my husband and stay with him. He divides his sleep time between us. Early night for Dad, early morning for Mom. A very gentle dog is is a delight to have around and we love him dearly.

Posted on October 26, 2008

wendy behan says: My Kody is a 6 year old chow/shepherd mix and he continues to surprise me with just how smart he is. Of course, he pracitces selective hearing at times, but, he still always seems to know when we are going for a ride in the truck even before I tell him he gets to come along. Dogs are very smart and funny and never judge you. They dont care what you look like in the morning or that you snore at night. Glad to have my pup with me keeping me on my toes.

Posted on August 20, 2008

Wendy says: Our dog,Punkin is so smart she has figured out how to train us. When she wants to play ball and we are not showing any interest she will go over to our bakers shelf and roll the ball under it and whine. She knows that we know she can not reach it under there and will retrieve it for her. She will do the same thing if we are in the pool. She will go over to the filter and drop the ball by it so it will go in where again she can not get it without our help and whine so that we will get if for her. We know that she does this on purpose and that she thinks it is a trick that she has tahght us. She is very pleased with herself. She really is so much fun I just don't know how we ever managed without her. Wendy

Posted on August 19, 2008

Dave Lockwood says: I have two dogs (chihuahuas) one is one year old and the other is two years. I must say we love them both very much but they are dumber than dirt,we think we have them potty trained and they turn around and mess all over the floor. They wont come when called, they won't even fetch when we play ball with them in fact we can't teach them anything. Anyone have any ideas. Dave

Posted on August 19, 2008

Jayne Boyd says: I think Gus (RIP) may have been one of the smartest dogs ever. He recognized and responded to over 400 words or phrases, dozens of commands, and could think out the solution to a problem. Example: One real plus for Gus is that he never barked. I had another poodle at the same time who would tease Gus by strutting around him with a rawhide treat in her mouth. He always wanted it but was too polite to try to get it. One afternoon she was taunting him and he suddenly jumped up from where he was sitting and ran to the back patio door, barking loud and alarmingly. Fanny, my other dog ,immediately dropped her rawhide and ran to the back door to see what was up. Gus ran back and scooped up the rawhide. He had figured out how to trick her out of the rawhide! Many other tales of his IQ but this will do for now. Jayne

Posted on August 19, 2008

melina says: my dog is a very happy carzy boxer named lexus she all ways knows how to get me happy on my bads day i love my 9month old boxer puppy i dont know what i would do with out HER!

Posted on August 19, 2008

Cootie says: I have a really smart dog. he knows the words, bird, mouse, bug, treat, cookie,pee pee,go riding in mommas car, kitty cat, sit, lay down, roll over, where is momma, look out your window,somebody is at the door, ready for bed. go get a drink of water. and if he has to go out to pee and you don't get up to let him out, he will pull on your pants leg or what ever you have on to get your attention to let him out. Plus he likes to play hide and seek. If you ask him where is momma he will run around the house until he finds me then he is so excited

Posted on August 19, 2008

Monique says: MY dog named mia, is 1 and she is so cute thanks 4 the brain test 4 her i guess she really is SMART! (i taught her 2 give high fives at the age of 4 months)

Posted on August 19, 2008

Lisa says: My Chihuahua is at times frighteningly smart. I have a hearing problem but she'll tell me when the phone rings, the doorbell rings, even when my alarm clock is ringing upstairs and she's not trained to be a hearing dog. She'll even tell me when my cat goes where he's not supposed to. It takes a smart dog to be a 'tattle tale" especially when she has nothing to gain as she gets no snack for it. You can look at her and see the gears moving in her head.She's got 5 nicknames and she responds to every single one even if I don't use one for a while. No one believes me, but my girl even saved my life three times because she's always looking out for me.That shows both love and respect. My little girl is 7 years old and she's one smart puppy girl and I'd be lost without her which she reminds me of every day. But then, I've always had special pets.

Posted on August 19, 2008

anonymous says: Yea they get jelly sometimes no worries its normal.. my dogs do it to !! But enjoy it while it last!!

Posted on August 18, 2008

karen Murphy says: I have a 3year old Austrain Shepard and he is too smart for his own good and he definitely understands just about everythingisay to him. Very active too. Makes me laugh alot. Ihave no man in my life but I don't need one with Keefer. lots of fun and he does what i want. Love those dogs!!!

Posted on August 12, 2008

Abby says: My dogs are sharp, but slow. I still love them, though!

Posted on August 13, 2008

Taylor says: I have 3 dogs and 2 of them are mine... one is 1 and the other is 7 they love to play fetch but they fight over me and the other one is 13 and he just sits around and plays in mud puddles.... i love all of them but it is hard :| but im glad that they are mine and i can not imagime life without them <33

Posted on January 13, 2012

patrick says: i have a yellow lab that just turned 3, and he is my best friend, i can talk to him as if he were one of my children and he uderstands and listens BETTER...lol

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