Dogs have many forms of ‘intelligence’

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What type of “intelligence” does a dog need to get duped into trusting us only to be eaten, or to live compatibly near to or with us, to lead us to animals that have gone to ground, to bark as a warning, to guard either home territory or what it considers as family, even to fight against restraint, to pull a load? How do you compare these types of “intelligence” to what’s needed to drove, to point, set or retrieve, to obediently follow command, to undertake agility exercises, to serve by acting as the eyes or ears for people with disabilities? 

I’ve put “intelligence” in quotations because it’s a word I hear at least once a day.?“Doesn’t she look intelligent?”?“He’s the most intelligent dog I’ve every had.?“I think he’s going to grow up to be quite intelligent.”?“She’s very intelligent. She knows to bark to go outside.”?I doubt that there’s a breed standard anywhere in the world that doesn’t use the word “intelligent” in its description of that breed but what does it mean? I also hear its antonyms, “dumb”, “dim” and “slow”.?“She’s just a dumb bunny but I love her.”?“He’s wonderful but a bit dim.”?“Goofy’s a bit slow off the mark.”?“He’s a few eggs short of a dozen.”?Do you know what you mean when you say your dog is “intelligent”??In a dog context, there are four different types of intelligence .

Dogs use their instincts intelligently?

Instinctive intelligence is hard wired into the brain’s various learning centres and the wiring in some dogs is certainly more fault-free than in others. As I’ve mentioned, dogs inherit from their ancestors a variety of learning centres in their brains. Natural pressures on the dog have modified these, enhancing some learning centres in some groups of dogs while diminishing the quality of some learning centres in others. Dogs inherit these augmented or diminished abilities. Then, through selective breeding, we’ve heightened or lessoned other inherited dog characteristics – barking – running – digging – retrieving. Terriers are persistent and inveterate diggers. Toy dogs bark territorially. Hounds communicate through howling. Retrievers do what the label says they do. Instinctive intelligence is what’s there in the genes, to be strengthened or weakened but never eliminated

Dogs communicate intelligently?

Dogs must communicate well with each other, to work harmoniously together and to avoid fighting. But more than any other mammal, the dog has an extraordinarily sophisticated ability to communicate with us, to understand what we mean by a nod of the head or a look from the eyes. This type of intelligence, variously called, “communication intelligence”, “obedience intelligence” or “working intelligence”, helps a dog work with us. A dog needs efficient communication skills to understand what we want it to do. It needs a willingness, a desire, to take directions from a person and not be diverted by distractions. Dogs with longer attention spans and persistence are more capable of concentrating on what they are being asked to do.

Dogs have the ability to learn through experience?

Dogs can use their skills and abilities to help them adapt to their environment or they can alter their environment to make it better to live in. I leave the back door off the latch so that Bean can go in and out but before she could do so she had to learn how to use her nose to push open the door and how to use her paw and especially her claws, to pull it open to return inside after the wind almost closes it completely. She watched by daughter’s visiting Labrador do these things and immediately copied her. Generally speaking, dogs with good learning intelligence need only a few exposures to a situation to form stable responses.

Dogs can solve problems?

Problem solving is a slightly different form of intelligence. This is an ability to mentally construct a solution to a problem. The faster a dog solves the problem, with the fewest false starts, the better its problem solving capacity. For example, if you place a food reward on the far side of a barrier and attach it to a string running under the barrier to an anchor on the side where the dog is, how long does it take the dog to understand that if he pulls on the string he gets the reward? This is an actual experiment that has been carried out on a variety of animals and certainly compared to primates, dogs are not good at mental problem solving. However some are much better than others.

When dogs are ranked by “intelligence” (I’ll give their rankings in the next chapter.) what they’re really being ranked by is a combination of learning intelligence and problem solving abilities. Sheep herding breeds such as the Border collie have been selectively bred for their problem solving capabilities and their willingness to be trained. They’re also phenomenally good communicators. That’s why they always come tops in “intelligence” tests.

Dogs can be trained to herd and drove livestock?

Herding and droving dogs almost invariably evolved from guarding breeds, mostly in the last thousand years. While guardian dogs worked on their own, herders and drovers were dramatically different. They worked in unison with their shepherds and cattlemen, helping to move livestock to new pastures or to the market place. These dogs combined the livestock guardian’s reduced instinct to chase, with an increased willingness to listen to and obey the shepherd or farmer. In that sense they had a different, you could say more sophisticated form of intelligence. You may question this when I add that the Welsh Corgi, a breed not renowned for its ability to listen to and follow commands, is a herding and droving dog but the Corgi, together with its close relative the Swedish Vallhund (Vallhund means “farm dog”) are dwarf exceptions to the reality that most of today’s shepherd dogs and sheepdogs are medium or large in size and responsive to human command. Typical of regional herding dogs are the Bouvier des Flandres (more aptly described by its original Flemish and French names Koehund – Cow dog – and Toucheur de boeuf – Cattle drover) and the various Swiss mountain dogs including the most popular breed, the Bernese Mountain Dog. The German Rottweiler is a classic drover while the Australian Cattle Dog is perhaps the most successful of the modern drovers or heelers. The New Zealand Huntaway performs a similar task in that country.?On canine “intelligence” tests, livestock movers often rank high. On dog “personality” tests many of the “shepherds” and “sheepdogs” rank high on excitability while classic cattle drovers such as the Rottweiler rank low on excitability but high on trainability and aggression. I’ll discuss all of these dogs in more detail in the next chapter.

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