‘Who’s a clever boy?’ Not your dog, according to new research

1 Oct 2018

Image: gostua/Shutterstock

According to a new study on dog intelligence, any thoughts that your dog is exceptionally smart just aren’t true.

YouTube, Reddit and a myriad of different social media platforms are filled with videos of dogs doing seemingly incredible things, purporting to show that breeds are capable of exceptional intelligence.

However, new research published by a team from the University of Exeter appears to show that when it comes to the idea of incredibly intelligent dogs, we’re ‘barking up the wrong tree’.

Biased science

Publishing its findings in the journal Learning & Behavior, the research team reviewed evidence that compared the brainpower of dogs with other domesticated animals, social hunters and dog-like animals such as wolves.

Examining more than 300 papers specifically looking at intelligence, the team found several cases of ‘over-interpretation’ in favour of dogs’ ability.

“During our work, it seemed to us that many studies in dog cognition research set out to ‘prove’ how clever dogs are,” said Prof Stephen Lea of the research team.

“They are often compared to chimpanzees and whenever dogs ‘win’, this gets added to their reputation as something exceptional. Yet in each and every case, we found other valid comparison species that do at least as well as dogs do in those tasks.”

‘We are doing dogs no favour’

This latest review of the research material focused on sensory cognition, physical cognition, spatial cognition, social cognition and self-awareness.

Adding to Rea’s thoughts, Dr Britta Osthaus of the team said: “Taking all three groups (domestic animals, social hunters and carnivorans) into account, dog cognition does not look exceptional.

“We are doing dogs no favour by expecting too much of them. Dogs are dogs, and we need to take their needs and true abilities into account when considering how we treat them.”

Despite this apparent lack of intelligence, their potential to provide emotional support and even boost productivity in the office has been well documented.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic