The Truth About Canine Intelligence



If you ask an owner about how intelligent they think their dog is, you’ll most likely get one of two answers: extremely smart or incredibly brainless. As it turns out, a dog’s cognitive ability falls somewhere between those extremes. When compared against other species with similar behaviors and characteristics, dogs are just average.


To conduct the study, British psychologists Stephen Lea and Britta Osthaus classified dogs as carnivores, hunters and domesticated animals, and then compared them against wolves (a close ancestor), wild dogs and hyenas (carnivores and social hunters), cats (carnivores and domesticated animals), dolphins and chimpanzees (social hunters) and horses and pigeons (domesticated animals). The researchers concluded that the other species could match or surpass dogs’ cognitive abilities in each given category.  


If dogs are ordinary, where did this idea of their intelligence being head and shoulders above the rest come from? Osthaus explains that dogs are much easier to study than their wild counterparts and chalks the rest up to confirmation bias. 


The study also raises concerns about the treatment of all animals. Osthaus insisted that dogs shouldn’t be put on a pedestal and must be viewed for who they are, while stressing the importance of acknowledging and satisfying the social and cognitive needs of semi-domesticated animals.


Even though dogs were outperformed in each individual category, no animal studied fell in all three. This gives dogs the advantage of being trained as service dogs and police dogs, while also allowing them to read human emotions, have some concept of passing time and, of course, provide infinite amounts of unconditional love, affection and happiness.


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