Dear Didi: I have a three-year old Doberman Pinscher named Bella. She is the smartest dog I have ever owned. I’ve never owned a Doberman before so I frequently wonder if it is the breed that is so much smarter or if Bella is just a unique individual specimen. Our kids are super into teaching Bella to search for treats and play hide ’n seek. Are there studies or tests that can be taken to learn about the intelligence of our Bella? – Parent of a Smart Kid in Stockton
Dear Parent: There have been thousands of studies done looking into the intelligence of dogs and most of them have occurred in just the last ten years. Man has severely underestimated the capabilities of our “best friends.” Science has learned more about dogs in just the last ten years than it has in the last 100 years!
I am impressed that you notice your dog’s abilities and want to learn more. You can even participate in the largest current public study on the intelligence of dogs if you really want to get comparisons. There is a college level course you can take online for free. (There is a fee involved for those that want to earn credit and a certificate for completing the course). Go to www.coursera.org and perform a search on the word “dog.”
Three classes will pop up. Take the class with Dr. Brian Hare at Duke University called, Dog Emotion and Cognition. Although not required, I also purchased the course textbook, The Genius of Dogs by Brian Hare and Vanessa Woods. The class goes over the history of dogs and how we define intelligence these days.
Additionally, you can sign up to participate in Dognition which is hailed as a “citizen science company.” Basically, they will give you almost a dozen experiments that any normal person can perform with their four-legged companion. Document your results and enter them into the system. The program then will tell you what your dog’s cognitive profile is and how they compare to other dogs.
Your results will be entered into the database along with thousands of other dogs and help six highly respected Behaviorists study intelligence in dogs. Their theory is that canines have five cognitive dimensions. One individual dog may perform highly in one dimension but low in another. The dimensions are titled Empathy, Communication, Cunning, Memory and Reasoning.
Knowing where your dog’s strengths and weaknesses are can help you train more efficiently, build a stronger bond, and understand her better. Go to www.dognition.com for more information on the program. The games are fun and the results can be surprising.
Of course, you can just buy the book and learn a lot without actually taking the course or participating in Dognition. Either way, getting more involved with Bella and how she learns will improve your quality of life and her love of life! I am always amazed at the skills that children develop when learning to work with dogs through organized experiments that lead them to self-discovery, as much as, exploring their dog’s capabilities.
Dierdra McElroy is a graduate of Texas A&M University and is an Animal Behaviorist specializing in canines. If you have questions or concerns about the pets in your house, you can get them answered through a future column of Didi’s Dogs. For a free consultation with Dierdra or to ask your dog behavior question, email www.CaliforniaCanineUnleashed.com.