Are dogs really as smart as we think they are?
By Joe Harker
Of all the stories I've ever written for Perspecs News none has filled me with dread quite like this one. While generally being very pleasant people caring for very pleasant animals, hell hath no fury like a dog person scorned. Therefore it is with some trepidation that I write to tell these people that their beloved pets may not be as smart as they think.
As much as you might love your dog, a new study suggests that the species isn't anything special when it comes to intelligence. Dogs have often been considered very smart animals with the ability to learn, remember and understand.
The study covered sensory cognition, physical cognition, spatial cognition, social cognition, and self-awareness. Dogs were compared to other animals such as cats (oh dear), wolves, dolphins, pigs and pigeons and their results in the study suggested they didn't have any special edge over other species.
Man's best friend did poorly at physical cognition, which is interacting and understanding objects around them. However, the did slightly above average when it came to social cognition, particularly where humans are concerned.
Naturally, dog owners haven't taken well to the news. Many posted pictures of their wonderfully smart dogs on social media to show everyone what good boys and girls they were.
Something that will really irk dog owners is that their beloved animals weren't found to be more intelligent than cats, their classic and eternal archrival in both the animal kingdom and the adoring eyes of humans.
It's often said that someone is either a dog person or a cat person, with some of the former assuming that the recent study was conducted by the latter group and is therefore perfidious feline propaganda.
That's not to say that dogs can't be smart, only that they're not as smart as people think they are. Our canine companions can understand up to 250 words, interpret emotions from people and know how to play on those emotions to manipulate humans. They can also be trained to perform a variety of tricks, whereas trying to teach a cat will probably just result in it looking at you as if you're a bit weird.
The study might prompt more research into the intelligence of other animals. There have been lots of scientific tests on dogs to measure how smart they really are but not as many on other members of the animal kingdom. Dogs have always been a convenient animal for intelligence tests, not least because they can be taught to follow instructions.
There is some other good news for dogs. While the study found that in each area tested there was an animal that could match or even exceed dogs they tended to do well across the board. At the very least dogs are an effective jack of all trades when it comes to animal intelligence, and they're cute too.