Have you ever wondered what your doggo is thinking? Is it basic primitive meanderings on food, the weird smells of your teenage grandson, or the cat ’s litter box and how it might be breached? Does your dog remember what happened yesterday, or even this morning? Does he have thoughts about tomorrow?

In December of 2020 “Smithsonian” magazine published a fascinating article on canine cognition.

It turns out our canine friends have a lot more going on between their ears than scientists previously understood. Although numerous studies report dogs are capable of learning hundreds of words and commands, and that they can solve simple problems involving math and logic, only recently have researchers turned their full attention to the growing science of canine cognition.

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Why would this information be of importance to humans? The potential application of doggie cognition might impact such roles as how they’re used in the military, or how they’re trained as service animals for people with disabilities. As older populations continue to rise dogs, they may become even more important as a remedy for loneliness and a promoter of healthier living.

The article points out that there are several kinds of intelligence, just as there are for humans. While some dogs have superior problem-solving abilities others are adept at learning new words or analyzing social situations. Others excel at learning to undertake certain chores or perform playful tricks. Like people, all dogs are unique.

Each has a distinct personality and their own cognitive abilities. Additionally, research supports the notion all dogs have an ability to understand humans. Says Dr. Alexandra Horowitz, head of the Dog Cognition Lab at Barnard College,

“They’re very attentive to and responsive to us, which is a great social cognitive skill.”

What researchers can’t explain is why most dogs are socially empowered. Many believe it’s an evolutionary trait cultivated over the millennia -- developed from the time wolves began evolving into dogs, between 20,000 to 40,000 years ago. Those descendants, which became domesticated by humans, were found to make good companions by serving as hunting partners, herders and guardians. Today, dogs still share 99.9% of their DNA with wolves.

When evaluating a collection of intelligence types, are some dogs smarter than others? If so, who are the smarty pants of the breeds? Most researchers agree Border Collies sit proudly at the head of the class. According to psychologist Stanley Coren, author of The Intelligence of Dogs, Border Collies can learn new commands in under five repetitions and follow them about 95% of the time. Coren also says larger breeds are unambiguously associated with greater intelligence.

“There’s a clear trend indicating larger dogs are able to accurately remember over a longer period of time than were their smaller counterparts.”

Other sizable dogs that excel in several areas of canine intelligence include German Shepherds, Rottweilers, Australian Cattle Dogs, Labrador Retrievers, Golden Retrievers and Doberman Pinschers. Representing the smaller breeds, Poodles and Papillons were cited by Coren for possessing strong working intelligence.

Coren, as well as spokespersons for the American Kennel Club, like to remind potential owners that intelligence doesn’t necessarily equal popularity. Although Border Collies continue to grab the number one spot in terms of canine smartness, the AKC this year listed them in the 35th position for popularity. While the Labrador Retriever occupies the 7th place in dog intelligence they were cited as America’s most popular canine. Coren explains that intelligent dogs aren’t always best liked because they can be demanding or hard to handle. This can be a stressor for owners who don’t have time to extend the necessary effort needed to raise a smart puppy into a well-trained dog.

If there’s a certain type of doggo intelligence that’s important to you -- agility aptitude, ability to learn tricks, an inclination toward guarding, or some other intelligence trait, make sure to do your research before bringing home your new family member. What’s most important is a two-way relationship that will endure for your pet’s lifetime.

Contact Deborah for comments or suggestions at deborah.camp@comcast.net.

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