Better at math and socializing
While dogs ranked with the 2-year-olds in language, they would trump a 3- or 4-year-old in basic arithmetic, Coren found. In terms of social smarts, our drooling furballs fare even better.
“The social life of dogs is much more complex, much more like human teenagers at that stage, interested in who is moving up in the pack and who is sleeping with who and that sort of thing,” Coren told LiveScience.
Coren, who has written more than a half-dozen books on dogs and dog behavior, will present an overview of various studies on dog smarts at the American Psychological Association’s annual meeting in Toronto.
“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,” Coren said. “Their stunning flashes of brilliance and creativity are reminders that they may not be Einsteins but are sure closer to humans than we thought.”
Other studies Coren notes have found that dogs show spatial problem-solving skills. For instance, they can locate valued items, such as treats, find better routes in the environment, such as the fastest way to a favorite chair, and figure out how to operate latches and simple machines.
Like human toddlers, dogs also show some basic emotions, such as happiness, anger and disgust. But more complex emotions, such as guilt, are not in a dog’s toolbox. (What humans once thought was guilt was found to be doggy fear, Coren noted.)
And while dogs know whether they’re being treated fairly, they don’t grasp the concept of equity. Coren recalls a study in which dogs get a treat for “giving a paw.”
When one dog gets a treat and the other doesn’t, the unrewarded dog stops performing the trick and avoids making eye contact with the trainer. But if one dog, say, gets rewarded with a juicy steak while the other snags a measly piece of bread, on average the dogs don’t care about the inequality of the treats.
At the bottom of the intelligence barrel, Coren would include many of the hounds, such as the bassett hound and the Afghan hound, along with the bulldog, beagle and basenji (a hunting dog).
“It’s important to note that these breeds which don’t do as well tend to be considerably older breeds,” he said. “They were developed when the task of a hound was to find something by smell or sight.” These dogs might fare better on tests of so-called instinctive intelligence, which measure how well dogs do what they are bred to do.
“The dogs that are the brightest dogs in terms of school learning ability tend to be the dogs that are much more recently developed,” Coren said. He added that there’s a “high probability that we’ve been breeding dogs so they’re more responsive to human beings and human signals.” So the most recently bred dogs would be more human-friendly and rank higher on school smarts.
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Many of these smarty-pants are also the most popular pets. “We like dogs that understand us,” Coren said.
We also love the beagle, which made it to the top 10 list of most popular dog breeds in 2008 by the American Kennel Club. That’s because they are so sweet and socialable, Coren said. “Sometimes people love the dumb blonde
everything you want it to know, your super pet will also learn everything it can get away with, Coren warns.
Although you wouldn’t want one to balance your checkbook, dogs can count.
They can also understand more than 150 words and intentionally deceive other dogs and people to get treats, according to psychologist and leading canine researcher Stanley Coren, PhD, of the University of British Columbia. He spoke Saturday on the topic “How Dogs Think” at the American Psychological Association’s 117th Annual Convention.
Coren, author of more than a half-dozen popular books on dogs and dog behavior, has reviewed numerous studies to conclude that dogs have the ability to solve complex problems and are more like humans and other higher primates than previously thought.
Are dogs smarter than toddlers?
The smartest dog breeds are on par mentally with a 2 1/2-year-old, professor says. Using adapted tests designed for human children, psychologists have learned that average dogs can count, reason and recognize words and gestures on par with a human 2 -year.