Just How Smart Are Our Dogs?
Have you ever found yourself marveling at how smart your pup is? You’re not alone in your belief. Recent scientific research has uncovered dogs’ ability to do some amazing things, including understanding our facial expressions, understanding what we mean when we point to things and understanding how to socialize. We dug up some of the most tail-wagging research out there to uncover just how smart our dogs really are. The next time you see your dog do something brilliant, there’s no reason to be surprised.
Smart Dogs: Research Trends
Research into the intelligence of dogs isn’t a new thing. In terms of modern research, some dog studies from the early 2000s revealed fascinating details about intelligence, including results that indicated an ability to count and understand pointing gestures. That’s right! When you point at something, your dog usually knows what you’re trying to communicate.
In 2002, a study examining dogs’ responses to pointing gestures was published in the Journal of Comparative Psychology. After completing a series of three experiments, researchers found that dogs appeared to understand what the person using the pointing gesture was trying to communicate and responded appropriately. A study published 10 years later went a step further and compared the responses of dogs to the responses of chimpanzees — often thought of as one of the smartest animals. It found that dogs responded well to human communicative cues like pointing, while chimpanzees did not.
Dogs Can Learn — Maybe Even Better Than We Do
Humans don’t always pick up on subtle cues from teachers, but pups usually do. At the Canine Cognition Center at Yale University, Dr. Laurie Santos studies the ways dogs learn new skills. Her research indicates that while humans typically imitate their instructors in detail, including unnecessary steps, dogs seem to sense when a step is irrelevant and skip it. For example, in one exercise Santos gave her dogs a puzzle box with a lever that wouldn’t help solve the puzzle. The dogs typically skipped using the lever, even when their teachers attempted to use it.
Source: Canine Cognition Center
When asked about her work with dogs, Santos notes, “Dogs are very good at picking up on human social information.” Not only can they follow cues from actions like pointing and gesturing, dogs “seem to know something about our emotional expressions,” she says. So, if you feel like your dog is reacting to your facial expressions, you’re probably right!
Dogs Have Social Smarts
Dr. Santos isn’t the only researcher out there studying smart dogs. According to research conducted by Evan MacLean, director of the Arizona Canine Cognition Center at the University of Arizona, your dog might be able to socialize as well as your 2-year-old. Dr. MacLean’s study of 552 dogs of varying breeds examined the similarities in social cognition between dogs, human infants and chimpanzees. The results showed similar patterns in people and dogs, suggesting that our communication skills are more similar than you might have imagined.
Even more surprising, the striking similarity between 2-year-old children and dogs isn’t shared by chimpanzees. Chimps, although considered to be one of our closest relatives, don’t share the same pattern of social intelligence. This suggests that besides having social intelligence, dogs may have evolved under similar circumstances as humans.
Do Dogs Watch Television?
Have you ever noticed your dog intently watching the television screen? Your dog perceives the images on the screen much like you do. As a 2013 study published in Animal Cognition revealed, dogs can even pick out other dogs on a screen filled with human faces and other animals. Their viewing experience is a little different than ours, however. Dogs process images at a faster rate than we do, and their dichromatic vision only allows them to see two primary colors — blue and yellow.
Next time you leave the television on for your dog when you leave the house, change the channel to DogTV. This high-definition cable channel has a higher frequency of frames per second and special coloration to accommodate the way dogs see images. It might be just the trick to ensure you come home to one happy — and smart — pooch.