How Smart are Dogs Really?

He is man’s best friend and many dog ​​owners think their dog understands them better than almost anyone else. But is it really like that?

Dogs help people in many different ways, for example as guide dogs or herding dogs. Experts believe that the intelligence of four-legged friends has been massively underestimated in the past. So how intelligent are dogs really and can their IQ be measured or even trained?

How is intelligence expressed in dogs?

Dogs are able to understand up to 250 words and interpret human gestures and facial expressions. Many dog ​​owners are unaware that dogs’ ability to read their owners’ facial expressions sets them apart from all other animals. Dogs naturally understand human gestures that even great apes are unable to interpret. Dog owners will also know the situations in which they come home and their dog welcomes them with a “guilty conscience” because he has messed up something. The dog knows exactly what it is allowed to do and what is not, and when its master arrives it also remembers exactly that it has done something forbidden. Cats, for example, show no remorse when they steal food from the table or scratch the sofa. Although it has not yet been proven whether dogs really develop a sense of guilt, this example shows that they know their master’s rules well and remember when they have not followed them, or that when their master arrives they are greeted with a calculated penalty.

Dogs think and understand in social contexts. On the other hand, they don’t understand abstract things very well, but dogs often see through people better than they realize or even like. Since there can be strong differences in intelligence from breed to breed and from dog to dog, it cannot be said in general how a particularly intelligent dog can be recognized at first glance. However, dogs that are both very playful and very attentive are particularly capable of learning.

Which are the smartest dog breeds?

Stanley Coren, an American psychologist, and dog researcher has systematically surveyed trainers at over 1,000 North American dog clubs for over a decade to support his thesis that certain dog breeds are more intelligent than others. He then ranked the most well-known dog breeds in terms of their obedience and working intelligence. Exactly what this means is explained in the following paragraph. His study came to the conclusion that the Border Collie is the most intelligent breed of dog, closely followed by the Poodle, the German Shepherd, the Golden Retriever, and the Doberman. According to Coren, the least intelligent breeds are Afghan Hounds, Basenjis, and Bulldogs.

What are the four types of intelligence?

In his research, Stanley Coren distinguishes between four different types of intelligence. On the one hand, he mentions in this context the instinctive intelligence, i.e. the inherited abilities of the dog, the adaptive intelligence, i.e. the learned abilities as well as the working and obedience intelligence. However, the results of Coren’s ranking list relate exclusively to the work and obedience intelligence, i.e. how quickly and how long dogs understand and implement human instructions since he was only able to classify the dogs into these by means of his survey.

According to Coren, the intelligence of dogs is generally underestimated. As mentioned at the beginning, dogs can learn up to 250 words, recognize human gestures and facial expressions and even cheat. according to dr Norbert Hermann, a well-known mathematician, dogs can also count. Dogs know exactly where to jump into a lake in order to bring the stick that was thrown back to their master as quickly as possible. The mathematician states in an article: “There is an optimal point and I can calculate it. There is also a formula and the dogs stick to it.”

Stanley Coren actually developed an IQ test for dogs. This can be spread over several days, with tasks seven and eight having to be carried out one after the other. In order to obtain regular values, however, the test may only be carried out once or twice.

Does dog intelligence have anything to do with domestication?

Research shows that dogs are far more intelligent than their closest relatives, wolves when it comes to social interactions with humans. In the primate center of the Leipzig Zoo, studies have been carried out with primates on the ability to interpret human gestures. The great apes were unable to classify the human gestures, from which the researchers concluded that interpreting communicative cues is a purely human gift. After all, what animal should understand human gestures if not man’s closest relatives?

But one of the scientists casually remarked that his dog might be able to interpret his gestures. The research team then conducted various studies with dogs. Among other things, the dogs were asked to choose between two upside-down cups, with only one of them containing a treat. The master pointed to one of the cups beforehand and the dogs relied on the master’s finger-pointing in most cases. The experiment was also conducted with two empty cups to rule out the possibility that the dogs would choose one cup over the other based on their sense of smell. Until then, it had been assumed by the scientific community that dogs, unlike wolves, tended to regress through dependence on humans. But in the course of the studies in Leipzig, the dogs were convincing in terms of their social and cognitive abilities. The researchers now asked themselves whether these skills are innate or whether they are learned by the dog from puppyhood on through living with people. They carried out the cup experiment again with puppies. The result was clear. Puppies of all ages behaved just like the adult dogs and followed the hint of the human in their decision-making. The researchers took this as a sign that the ability to interpret human communicative gestures does not have to be learned from dogs, but rather is innate. From this, they in turn concluded that the thousands of years of domestication of the dog played a decisive role in the emergence of this innate ability. Studies with wolves raised by human hands also support this thesis. Although they are also used to people, they cannot interpret his gestures.

In which areas does the intelligence of dogs play a special role for humans?

Dogs can support people in many different ways and take on very different tasks. For example, there are sled dogs that bring people from A to B in arctic regions, military dogs that travel with soldiers to crisis areas hunting dogs that have been supporting hunters in their work for centuries, or herding dogs that keep the herd together. Intelligence plays a particularly important role in guiding dogs. Your training lasts almost a year. On the one hand, a guide dog must show an interest in learning, but on the other hand, it must also be resistant to stress. Crowds or loud noises must not upset him, after all, he is responsible for the safety of his blind master and must also be able to defend him in case of doubt. German Shepherds, Labradors, and Golden Retrievers are the most common guide dog breeds. Guide dogs must be able to guide their owners. This includes recognizing obstacles, avoiding them, or stopping to signal their owner that an obstacle is in their way or that there is danger. In addition, a guide dog must be able to go to certain destinations or places such as elevators or zebra crossings on command. So he has to remember all the different commands and be able to call them up when needed.

In addition to its intelligence, the dog’s good sense of smell is also very helpful for humans, for example when an avalanche dog sniffs out people who have been buried or when a drug or bomb dog helps to get dangerous substances out of circulation.

Can the dog’s intelligence be encouraged?

There are two different ways a dog can be employed. On the one hand, the dog can be trained towards a specific learning goal, for example, to fetch the newspaper. On the other hand, there is no need to give the dog a specific learning goal, but instead, it is given a task in which it can demonstrate its ability to solve problems. The second option offers the dog much more opportunities to develop its own ideas and to show its inventive and creative side. Tasks that promote the dog’s intelligence should always be set in such a way that the dog does not reach its goal by applying learned patterns, but takes the initiative itself and has to develop a solution. Here are two examples of what such exercises might look like:

Unwrap a reward

Treats are placed in the indentations of an empty egg box and some other empty egg boxes are stacked above and below. An impatient dog will bite through the boxes to get the reward. A skilled dog, on the other hand, will try to separate the boxes with the help of its mouth and paws.

Train the memory

A dummy can be carried along for the next walk with the dog. This is thrown, but without the dog being allowed to fetch it. The walk continues. If the dog and owner pass the spot where the dummy is lying after about ten minutes on the way back, the owner can observe the dog’s reaction. Under no circumstances should he stop or draw the dog’s attention to the fact that the toy is still there. An alert dog will remember the thrown toy and look for it. Gradually, the number of toys or the duration of time can be increased.

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