Dog vs. toddler...just who is smarter?
That question is up for debate, according to a leading dog behaviour researcher. He has found that most dogs have the intelligence of a 2-year-old human, capable of learning 165 words and counting to four or five.
The top 20 percent of the smartest canine breeds in North America, led by border collies and poodles, can learn as many as 250 words and signals and perform basic arithmetic, according to psychologist Stanley Coren, professor emeritus at the University of British Columbia and author of dog behavior books.
Selective breeding over the years has improved dog intelligence, Coren said. Understanding canine mental abilities has led to the development of smarter breeds that show more human-like traits, he said.
"We've made dogs smarter," said Coren, whose book, The Modern Dog: A Joyful Explanation of How We Live With Dogs Today, was published last year. "I'd like to come back in 200 years and see if I'm able to talk to my dogs."
Coren modified the MacArthur Bates Communicative Developmental Inventories test, which measures language abilities in children, to determine a dog's mental equivalence to humans. He found that dog smarts can be separated into three different categories: instinctive, adaptive, and working and obedience.
Working and obedience intelligence concerns how well a dog learns under human control. Coren describes that as "the doggy equivalent of school learning."
"Suppose I point at something - the dog recognizes that I'm indicating something in that direction and looks," Coren said, referring to a 2004 experiment carried out by Harvard anthropologist Brian Hare, which focused on the increase in dog IQ from domestication. "They do this even if they're eight to ten weeks old, whereas a wolf, reared since puppyhood in a human environment, would look at my hand," explained Coren.
With help from half of all dog obedience judges in North America and data collected since the early 1990s, Coren has ranked 110 dog breeds according to working and obedience intelligence. The smartest dogs after border collies were poodles, followed by German shepherds, golden retrievers, Doberman pinschers and Shetland sheepdogs.
Labrador retrievers, ranked seventh in intelligence, have been the most popular dog in the world for at least 25 years, according to Coren. Dogs at the bottom of the list are older breeds, such as Afghan hounds.
"Popularity and intelligence don't necessarily go together," Coren said. "The beagle's seventh from the bottom, but your chair is probably more trainable than that dog."
Dogs have a sense of self and a sense of what others around them are thinking, adding to their unique intelligence, Coren said. All dogs dream about canine activities similarly to the way humans dream about day to day life, according to Coren. Smaller dogs dream more often than larger canines.
"We have two different viewpoints of dogs," Coren said. "One is that they are little people in fur coats. The other is that they're nothing more than programmable little robots. The answer is some place in-between."
Sydney Morning Herald, 10th August 2009