Everyone who lives with a dog knows they’re cunning, creative, and capable of far more than “Sit” and “Stay.” And, although not every canine would qualify as “Most Likely to Succeed” at their local obedience school, the Neighborhood Veterinary Centers of Groves team knows each dog has their day—and a mind of their own. 

Here are five fun and fascinating dog intelligence and cognition facts and insights that will have you thinking about your four-legged friend in a brand new way.

#1: Dogs have the equivalent cognition of a 2- to 2.5-year-old child

This is a theory rather than a fact, because cross-species intelligence cannot be measured and compared accurately. But, because we can truly comprehend only our own intelligence, comparison can help the average dog owner understand their dog’s learning ability and limitations. 

Although comparing a dog’s intelligence with a toddler could encourage anthropomorphism (i.e., attaching human emotions and motivations to natural canine behavior), the comparison could also benefit dogs by encouraging more compassionate, patient owners. For example, instead of expecting your dog or puppy to “know better” and behave while unsupervised, you can empathize with their juvenile state of mind and realize that the parenting (i.e., training)—not the dog—may need improvement.

#2: Not all dog intelligence is created equal

Search the internet for “Dog IQ test” and you’ll find a number of practical assessments that promise to measure your canine’s cognitive prowess. But, these tests do not always accurately represent your pup’s brain power, because at-home IQ tests usually look only at your dog’s reasoning and problem-solving abilities. Dogs—like people—have multiple intelligences, and may be more proficient in one area than another. The three recognized canine intelligence areas include:

  • Instinctive intelligence — This includes intentionally selected breed traits, such as prey drive, companionship, scenting ability, or a keen environmental awareness.
  • Adaptive — This intelligence helped ancestral dogs become today’s spoiled companions and includes problem-solving, social prowess, and observational skills.
  • Working and obedience This intelligence is acquired through training. One of the finest examples of working intelligence is Chaser, the border collie who learned to recognize more than 1,000 words.

#3: Dogs may be able to tell when people are lying

You may think you can fool your dog into believing you’re taking them to the park instead of the veterinarian, but according to University of Vienna researchers, dogs can discern deception in unfamiliar people. 

In the study, dogs were shown two bowls, one of which contained a hidden treat. Dogs were allowed to watch one stranger move the treat from bowl to bowl while a second stranger was an observer. The first stranger then gave advice (i.e., a gesture or similar encouragement) that guided the dog to the bowl with the treat. If the dog followed the advice, they were rewarded with the treat. During some repetitions, the second unfamiliar person was absent. When the second stranger returned and offered advice, the dog ignored their efforts—likely because they knew that the person wasn’t present when the treat was placed and therefore did not actually know which bowl contained the treat.

#4: But, dogs will also lie to get what they want

In a small Swiss study, researchers introduced dogs to two women—one cooperative (i.e., who shared food items with the dog), and one competitive (i.e., one who would take away the food).  When the dogs were asked to lead the women to an available food source, the dogs were less inclined to cooperate with the competitive woman—likely because they knew that would be of no benefit. In effect, their non-response demonstrated a willingness to lie about the presence of food. 

#5: Female dogs make judgements about humans

We’ve all thought it, and now it’s confirmed—according to a Japanese study, female dogs who observe mistakes draw conclusions about human competency. After witnessing two actors—one competent and one incompetent—attempt to open a jar, female dogs looked at longer and attempted to interact with the competent actor, while male dogs showed no preference. 

This curious finding offers potential insight into how female dogs evaluate human abilities and then alter their behavior to satisfy their instinctive needs (e.g., food, shelter).

Although canine intelligence is highly subjective, one thing is absolutely certain—sharing our lives with dogs is an endlessly fascinating adventure. Ensure your dog is in top mental and physical health by scheduling an appointment with your trusted southeast Texas pet care team and partner, Neighborhood Veterinary Centers of Groves.