We humans may be able to tell if someone or something is smart by how well they can solve problems or learn new concepts, but scientists who study animal behavior say there's no way to objectively measure intelligence. Humans tend to use words like "clever" and "smart," while animals might respond with terms like "good student" and "bright."
But just because an animal doesn't use language doesn't mean it isn't as bright as us. The same goes for dogs. Some dogs act like geniuses when it comes to learning tricks, while other dogs seem like they couldn't care less about their surroundings. It all depends on the individual dog. And although researchers are working hard toward developing tests that can accurately rate a pet's intelligence level, so far none of them have proven to be very accurate.
In fact, one of the main criticisms leveled against these tests is that they don't take personality into account. If a test measures intelligence solely based on physical characteristics such as head size and body weight, then it could end up giving a false image of a dog's true abilities.
Dogs that were once considered to be dumb could turn out to be genius-level learners under different circumstances. On top of that, even though a dog's iq score may help predict its future success as a family pet, it doesn't guarantee that the dog will make good friends or fit in with your lifestyle. A high iq doesn't necessarily translate to a happy life.
That's why many experts believe that a more reliable method for determining a dog's intelligence would be to observe how easily the dog adapts to changes in its environment. But before we get into the nitty-gritty of what makes one dog brighter than another, let's first talk about how intelligence works.
Scientists who research animal cognition (the branch of biology that studies behavior) agree that intelligence can be broken down into two general categories: cognitive ability and social intelligence. Cognitive ability refers to the mental functions required to perform simple tasks, including memory, pattern recognition, spatial reasoning and problem solving.
Social intelligence, also known as emotional quotient or eq, involves interacting with other individuals and understanding the emotions behind those interactions. Researchers often compare these two forms of intelligence to determine whether one type of thinking is superior over the other.
In one study, published in 2003, university of vienna psychology professor wolf von keyl showed that wolves living in packs rank higher in cognitive ability than their packmates, while nonpack members rank higher in social intelligence.
These findings suggest that our early ancestors' decision making was heavily influenced by instinctual rules, rather than conscious thought processes. They also support the idea that human intelligence evolved from communally cooperative behaviors found among animals.
Although dogs aren't pack animals, they do live in groups, and they exhibit both types of intelligence. Studies show that dogs possess varying degrees of cognitive and social intelligence. One 2002 study conducted by dr. Patricia goldman-rakic of columbia university examined the cognitive capabilities of four female border collies and compared those results to three male border collies.
The researchers gave each dog a series of eight basic commands. Afterward, the dogs were given a surprise visual discrimination task. To pass the test, the dogs had to remember where a target object was hidden within a set of similar objects. All six dogs passed the task, but the females did better than the males. Another experiment involved 14 pet dogs and two professional service dogs, and the researchers used a computer program to analyze the dogs' responses during training exercises designed to improve their ability to interpret verbal commands or understand spoken instructions.
Not everyone agrees that dogs actually have intelligence, however. In 2005, british magazine new scientist reported that the american psychological association concluded in 1998 that pets lack self awareness and therefore cannot be said to experience feelings, thoughts or intentions. This position received criticism from several prominent psychologists, including richard dawkins, author of "the selfish gene." Dawkins says that since dogs share 99 percent of our dna, they must possess some form of consciousness. So how big is a dog's brain, anyway? Read on to find out.
Determining Brain Size
When it comes to comparing brain sizes, humans typically draw upon information obtained through mri scans. Although scientists haven't yet developed a way to conduct mris on every species on earth, they do know that the brains of mammals range anywhere from 2 grams to 1,000 pounds (0.45 kilograms to 450 kilograms). Scientists have determined that humans fall somewhere between 730 to 890 grams (1.8 to 3.3 kilograms), depending on gender.
Other methods for measuring canine intelligence include weighing dogs to see how much food they consume per day, observing their reaction times during problem-solving tasks and using a variety of standardized tests created specifically for dogs.
However, unlike humans, whose heads grow throughout childhood, adult dogs don't undergo significant structural changes. So when it comes to comparing dogs of various ages, scientists rely mostly on data collected from puppies and young adults.
One of the best ways to assess a dog's intelligence is to watch how quickly it learns new skills. Researchers at tufts university performed a study in 2006 that measured a puppy's ability to recognize patterns, problem-solve and think ahead. Before the study began, the pups were trained to walk across a mat suspended 20 inches (50 centimeters) off the ground.
Once the pups mastered walking across the mat without falling, the researchers introduced obstacles into the path of the pups. The researchers then timed how long it took the pups to cross the obstacle course after watching them successfully complete the earlier part of the exercise. The older dogs took longer to finish the maze than the younger ones, suggesting that older dogs are better problem solvers.
Another study conducted at tufts university in 2006 tested seven dogs' ability to anticipate events based on previous experiences. To accomplish this feat, researchers put dogs in a room with a toy hanging from the ceiling. Each time the dogs saw the toy move, a researcher entered and rang a bell to signal that the event had occurred.
Then the researcher left the room immediately. The dogs learned to associate the ringing of the bell with the presence of the researcher and started waiting for the sound instead of looking around the room. With practice, the dogs eventually figured out that they could ring the bell themselves when they wanted the researcher to enter the room.
Although a dog's iq score may give you insight into how smart it is, it doesn't guarantee that it'll adjust well to your daily routine or make good friends. As previously mentioned, another important factor to consider is that personality plays a large role in a dog's overall happiness. Personality traits aside, we now know that dogs are capable of complex problem-solving and communication skills.