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Dogs As Intelligent As Average Two-Year-Old Children 472

Ponca City, We love you writes "The Telegraph reports that researchers using tests originally designed to demonstrate the development of language, pre-language and basic arithmetic in human children have found that dogs are capable of understanding up to 250 words and gestures, can count up to five and can perform simple mathematical calculations putting them on par with the average two-year-old child. While most dogs understand simple commands such as sit, fetch and stay, a border collie tested by Professor Coren showed a knowledge of 200 spoken words. 'Obviously we are not going to be able to sit down and have a conversation with a dog, but like a two-year-old, they show that they can understand words and gestures,' says Professor Stanley Coren, a leading expert on canine intelligence at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. Dogs can tell that one plus one should equal two and not one or three,' says Coren, adding that dogs 'can also deliberately deceive, which is something that young children only start developing later in their life.' Coren believes centuries of selective breeding and living alongside humans has helped to hone the intelligence of dogs. 'They may not be Einsteins, but are sure closer to humans than we thought.'"
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Dogs As Intelligent As Average Two-Year-Old Children

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  • by MR.Mic ( 937158 ) on Sunday August 09, 2009 @03:59PM (#29004401)

    I've suspected this for a while, which is why I get especially worked up over people who get their jollies tormenting and abusing animals.

    It's basically like abusing a child, and is just as sick.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday August 09, 2009 @04:10PM (#29004457)

    I've suspected this for a while, which is why I get especially worked up over people who buy and sell "pets" as if they were property.

    It's basically like enslaving a child, and is just as sick.

  • by plover ( 150551 ) * on Sunday August 09, 2009 @04:17PM (#29004493) Homepage Journal

    A creature that has spent several thousand years being domesticated by humans -- I'd damn well expect it to be able to emulate certain kinds of human behavior and show types of intelligence other animals do not, that's exactly what domestication is supposed to do.

    I don't know if that's a valid argument. Even after several thousand years, domesticated cats are no more useful now then they have ever been. They're hunters of domestic pests, no more. Dogs, on the other hand, have been bred for hunting, where they point, retrieve, and flush out game. They've been bred for herding, rounding up cattle and sheep on command. They've been bred for guard duty. They have learned a lot more than other animals given the same opportunity.

  • by heffrey ( 229704 ) on Sunday August 09, 2009 @04:18PM (#29004505)

    The average two year old understands 250 words? My two year old and all her same age friends know far far more than that. I also don't think that you get cleverer as you get older. You just learn more.

  • by PolygamousRanchKid ( 1290638 ) on Sunday August 09, 2009 @04:22PM (#29004539)

    I have seen some nasty, aggressive dogs. They tend to have nasty, aggressive owners. I have seen some nasty, aggressive children. They tend to have nasty, aggressive parents.

    I have also seen well-behaved children and dogs. Guess what their parents are like?

  • The value of life (Score:3, Insightful)

    by HRbnjR ( 12398 ) <> on Sunday August 09, 2009 @04:28PM (#29004581) Homepage

    This makes me wonder how aborting a human life far less developed than a toddler can still draw so much debate, while relatively little concern is shown for the thousands of lost lives of unwanted pets euthanized every year in animal shelters.

  • by hax4bux ( 209237 ) on Sunday August 09, 2009 @04:30PM (#29004589)

    Beagles are not Border Collies. I'm glad you enjoy your pets (and I'm not dumping on them).

    There is a reason Border Collies, English Shepards, etc, are the norm on farms and ranches. They are quite clever and I think you would have to keep one to appreciate the difference.

    I also have a Rhodesian Ridgeback just to keep the proselytizing missionaries away. Sweet but intimidating. I think he would quit breathing if it weren't for autonomous body functions, yet I have met owners who think theirs is borderline canine Einstein. No way.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday August 09, 2009 @04:35PM (#29004635)
    Yes, the tests are invalid because your favorite breed is at the bottom of the list. Typical human behavior. This is why we'll never rid ourselves of dogma (no pun intended), no matter how much we learn.
  • Re:Wolves (Score:0, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday August 09, 2009 @04:39PM (#29004683)
    I thought it was common knowledge that dogs like a golden retriever were as intelligent as a two-year-old child. Some parrots like African Grays are comparable to a four-year-old child. Can I also release a "headline" where I repeat something that was already well-known and represent it as groundbreaking new information? That would be excellent trolling. Even better than if I said "dogs are as intelligent as average two-year-old children, unless the children are black. Then the dogs are as intelligent as five-year-old children. The dogs have one advantage though, they are more likely to know who their daddy is."
  • Re:Wolves (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday August 09, 2009 @04:39PM (#29004685)

    Um, neanderthals had a larger brain than us, so that would make them wild and us tamed. Tamed to whom?

  • Summary is Wrong (Score:5, Insightful)

    by DynaSoar ( 714234 ) on Sunday August 09, 2009 @04:46PM (#29004725) Journal

    The statement "as intelligent as a 2 year old child" implies the ability to perform on par with a 2 year old with average mental abilities, or another child of different age with greater or lesser abilities, on an appropriate test of "intelligence" such the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children (Revised).

    Since those expected responses which are not verbal are written, obviously they'll score 0.

    Since cognitive science seems to get further from a definition of intelligence the harder it tries to pin it down, even using the word is a problem. I quit believing in the concept when I saw a retarded child perform successfully (though slower, and with more effort)in a class of gifted children mostly because of the attention offered in the situation.

    "Can perform successfully tests of some functions and display some cognitive abilities which when given to humans can be accomplished by more than half of 2 year old children" might be acceptable.

    Besides, I've seen some dogs that were too stupid to live. And I've run and howled with some that I've trusted alone with my baby children. Who cares how smart a person they'd make? What matters is how smart a dog they are, and the smartest rarely need things like arithmetic.

    For that matter, how smart is a 2 year old human on a dog scale of "intelligence"? After all, that's 21 in dog years. It's not 7 to 1, it's 10.5 to 1 for the first two, then 4 to 1 after.

  • Re:Wolves (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday August 09, 2009 @04:59PM (#29004803)
    Hence the pitfall of fuzzy terms like "intelligence".
  • by Yosho ( 135835 ) on Sunday August 09, 2009 @05:00PM (#29004807)

    How do adoption agencies make you feel? Does it sicken you when they try to find a home for a child that nobody else wants?

    Of course, on the other hand, how would you feel about an organization that picks specific people to breed in order to create children with the desired traits so that those children could be sold to the highest bidders?

  • Re:This is a crock (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ahabswhale ( 1189519 ) on Sunday August 09, 2009 @05:01PM (#29004813)
    How many children and apes did they test with? One of each is not statistically significant as intelligence varies wildly in both species. Hell, I know adults who wouldn't pass the test you describe above.
  • by thetoadwarrior ( 1268702 ) on Sunday August 09, 2009 @05:04PM (#29004833) Homepage
    The difference between cats & dogs is that a dog wants to please you and the cat can't really be fucked what you think. It's just like people who think cats can't view things on a TV / monitor. I've seen cats chase mouse cursors but in general they don't care one bit because they know it's nothing good.

    I've had a cat learn how to open a door via the knob without being taught. But it doesn't have hands so after it awhile it realised it doesn't have a hope in hell and doesn't try again. She knew how to open the small refrigerator too but again didn't have the strength and gave up.

    I think dogs are the same. They don't care about the same things as us and for the most part they have what they need so where is the incentive to learn? People are like that too. The good life makes most living beings lazy and stupid.

    Of course cats or dogs will never be as smart as an adult human but I think people are giving 2 year olds too much credit. They're not that smart either. The only difference is they want to be like all the other humans and therefore have more incentive to improve and they have the added benefit of being surrounded by other humans that have a load of knowledge already and want the child to improve.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday August 09, 2009 @05:13PM (#29004887)

    quote dogs 'can also deliberately deceive, which is something that young children only start developing later in their life.'

    Definition of deceive (Merriam-Webster) "to give a false impression"

    I call ABSOLUTE bullshit on this one. I can GUARANTEE you that my children (and those of friends of mine that I have observed) have all shown this behaviour much earlier than two. I can recall that my oldest showed this behaviour at around 6 months. Let me give you an example,
    - you set up a rug/mat for your child to play on. You put toys on the rug/mat
    - your child tries to crawl off the mat - you put them back on. They now know the rule (but may not understand the driver)
    - they will happily stay on the mat until you turn around - and then they will try to crawl off the mat
    - when you turn around again, they stop and look up at you as if to say "I wasn't doing that"

    I can name you many, many equivalences to this - throwing peas on the floor, wiping hands on pants, etc. I've even gone as far to have filmed them to re-inforce the behaviour differences between when I look and when I don't :)

    Whist off-topic, I have a few other observations about behaviour of my eldest boy,
    1. At around three months, he would "scan" his toys with his hands. Toys that had tags were "rejected". "rejected" means that he would purse his lips and snarl and throw the toy away. To this day, he is very particular about many things
    2. At around 15 months old, I could say to him "can you please get your breakfast". He would fetch his bowl, milk, cereal and spoon without any further support

    For the record, my youngest boy has shown no such aptitude. However, he taught himself to read upper case and lower case letters (using a kids computer) and learnt the alphabet song and to count to 20 well before he turned two.


  • Re:This is a crock (Score:5, Insightful)

    by MindlessAutomata ( 1282944 ) on Sunday August 09, 2009 @05:44PM (#29005085)

    Maybe it was a smart kid, maybe it was a dumb chimp.

    You really think they only did these tests with 1 kid and 1 chimp?

    Maybe being a teacher requires a special bond, and the chimp just didn't care.

    The candy is rewarding to both chimp and child so they presumably both had motivation to do this.

    Maybe that kind of learning is done best with subjects before they hit puberty.

    ....What? That "kind of learning" (modeling) is something that humans do all throughout life. This is nonsense. You're reaching.

    There are many things that can be extrapolated from an experiment like that, so I wouldn't really treat it as some sort of scientific proof that animals are dumb, and there is something special/magical about the human brain.

    This is hardly a claim that the human brain is magical. You've been really reaching with this one. I know critical thinking is good and all but scientists aren't always dumber than slashdot armchair scientists.

  • by Derek Pomery ( 2028 ) on Sunday August 09, 2009 @05:56PM (#29005149)

    Every time some study is trotted out showing dogs easily defeat cats at intelligence tests, whether it is problem solving, vocabulary or hell, obedience, some cat lover trots out.
    "It isn't that my cat is stupid, it is just that it is too smart to do what it is told"

    That same logic can be applied to a pet goldfish (which is actually reasonably trainable, maybe a bit less than a cat) or a pet rock.

    And of course oddly enough, despite the fact that cats like treats just fine and will try and convince us to part with them they are far too "intelligent/aloof/insert-excuse-here" to do so when taking part in a test.

    Look. There's nothing wrong with loving stupid animals. Trying to justify their stupidity by anthropomorphism is a little silly though.

  • by Hatta ( 162192 ) * on Sunday August 09, 2009 @05:57PM (#29005161) Journal

    It doesn't even have remotely human intelligence -- it has simply learned behaviors that we can understand and manipulate to a far greater degree than other animals.

    What's the difference? Ability to learn == intelligence.

  • Re:right to vote (Score:4, Insightful)

    by jmitchel! ( 254506 ) on Sunday August 09, 2009 @06:04PM (#29005209)
    I must concede that cats are clearly Republicans. They are intensely conservative and set in their ways. They think that everybody should conform to their view of social norms. They're intensely territorial and a bit smug about it. They like hunting, big families, and the right to bear arms. And they don't like to share unless it's their idea. And trust me - I really do love cats - I'm just telling it like it is.
  • by girlintraining ( 1395911 ) on Sunday August 09, 2009 @06:05PM (#29005213)

    It's basically like abusing a child, and is just as sick.

    "Just as sick" is subjective. Also, it's not like abusing a child, because an animal is not anything like a child, not legally, physiologically, or in any other significant way. This is an emotion-driven argument. In many countries, people eat dogs and cats and some places consider them a delicacy. I have yet to hear of a country that fries up children and serves them. Pets are glorified livestock.

    That said... torturing of animals positively correlates with psychopathy.

  • by Dorsai65 ( 804760 ) <> on Sunday August 09, 2009 @06:15PM (#29005281) Homepage Journal
    Considering the Pranknet story [], I'm going to have to say that dogs are smarter than a lot of TWENTY-two-year-olds.
  • Re:Wolves (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Swizec ( 978239 ) on Sunday August 09, 2009 @06:18PM (#29005305) Homepage

    No one is going to keep an animal that will challenge its owner for leadership.

    Then why, pray tell, do we keep cats around?

  • by jmitchel! ( 254506 ) on Sunday August 09, 2009 @06:18PM (#29005315)
    I'm imagining your two year old nephew has been two for a while. They grow up pretty fast at that age. But my two year old nephew just turned two, and he's probably a hair past most dogs smarts wise, and will soon be on a totally different plane. But for now, I can totally grant the idea that at 24 months +/- a couple months a child has parity with a fairly clever dog.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday August 09, 2009 @06:25PM (#29005363)

    There's a difference between killing an animal to eat it, and enjoying torturing it.

    Working at an abattoir doesn't make you a psychopath. Working at an abattoir so you can take animals to "the back room" and torture them before work does.

  • Re:Wolves (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday August 09, 2009 @06:32PM (#29005429)

    A lot of people think certain breeds are dumb because they misunderstand the instincts of the breed and/or confuse trainability and responsiveness with intelligence. Breeds commonly called dumb, like many of the hounds, were bred to work independently of humans. Whereas a retriever or herding dog needed to expect and act on cues from humans, a sight or scent hound would need to track based on his own instincts. A bloodhound who was constantly asking for direction would be a very poor scenthound and would not be used as breeding stock--just like an Australian Shepherd who ran without checking in would be a failure as a herding dog.

    It's important for people to research and understand the instincts in their particular dog, including mixed breeds, before bringing a pet into their home.

    Signed, Anonymous and Lazy--rather than cowardly.

  • Re:This is a crock (Score:2, Insightful)

    by acheron12 ( 1268924 ) on Sunday August 09, 2009 @06:56PM (#29005569)
    One factor they may have left out - baby humans are wired to learn from adult humans. Perhaps baby apes are wired to learn from adult apes? If they did train an ape to use the rake correctly in this situation, and got it to demonstrate for a baby ape, I wonder what the result would be?
  • Re:Wolves (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Swizec ( 978239 ) on Sunday August 09, 2009 @08:22PM (#29006225) Homepage
    The cat starts on day one and never really stops. Most humans just fail to notice this subtle battle for superiority because cats are small and cuddly.

    That's why my girlfriend's cat looks at you like you're an idiot when you ask it to get off the table, and when you ask mine (politely) she jumps off. Even just pointing to the floor gets her to jump off without complaints.

    Haven't tried having a wolf for a pet yet, on the TODO list.
  • Re:Wolves (Score:3, Insightful)

    by dryeo ( 100693 ) on Sunday August 09, 2009 @09:14PM (#29006585)

    Cats don't challenge us for leadership. They just assume leadership.

  • by okmijnuhb ( 575581 ) on Sunday August 09, 2009 @10:43PM (#29007127)
    It's ok, because in their minds the sanctity of life ends after birth. Then it becomes a free for all, eveything else takes precedent, military, war, death penalty, profits, tax dollars, corporations etc.
  • Re:Wolves (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Reziac ( 43301 ) * on Sunday August 09, 2009 @11:48PM (#29007563) Homepage Journal

    Pro dog trainer here with 40 years experience.

    In my observation, wolves and wolf-hybrids are fairly dumb -- about on a par with the dimmer breeds of dogs, such as the majority of purely pet breeds. Which is indeed about the level of a 2 year old human child. This stands to reason since there hasn't been any intensive selection for intelligence or reasoning power. (Coyotes seem to be somewhat smarter, but as a DNA profile study revealed, a lot of coyotes have domestic dog DNA, dating from about 2000 years ago.)

    The bright breeds, those that have been bred for brains and thinking ability and that have to do a specific job that goes against wolf instincts (primarily gundogs and some herding breeds, but most especially Chesapeakes and fieldbred Labradors) are about on a par with a bright 5-6YO human child, and will think every bit as far, up to the point of playing simple practical jokes on unwitting humans.

    Trust me, it's a damn good thing for us that Chessies (and some Labs) don't have opposable thumbs.... that, and inability to form words, are probably the real limiting factors, much as they are for Downs syndrome children. And some dogs learn to work around those limits. I have one Lab who can open any door that doesn't lock with a key!

  • Re:Wolves (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday August 10, 2009 @05:30AM (#29008853)

    An average 5-year-old, I could believe. A bright 5-year-old human can read, write, do arithmetic, play music, and a lot more besides.

  • by bill_mcgonigle ( 4333 ) * on Monday August 10, 2009 @12:22PM (#29012033) Homepage Journal

    I think people are giving 2 year olds too much credit. They're not that smart either.

    Having one of each type at the moment, it's easy to compare. Language aside, the human boy is far more clever than the dog pup, but the pup is much more skillful. If I put their favorite treat on a high shelf, the dog would try every possible approach to get it, and do some great leaping, but probably fail. If the boy tried this, his jumping would be consistent and pitiful, but then he would look at the problem, gather resources (stackable things from around the house) and build himself some sort of tower to climb up to his destination.

    Humans use tools, news at 11.

  • Re:Wolves (Score:3, Insightful)

    by fractoid ( 1076465 ) on Monday August 10, 2009 @01:36PM (#29013309) Homepage

    She's quite literally half brilliant, half moron. She's fairly intelligent, understands lots of commands and is generally a well behaved dog... until you show her a tennis ball, frisbee, or a stick.

    Dude... see the most intelligent guy you know talking about quantum physics as it pertains to the transdimensional interpretation of possible parallel universes. Then see a hot chick in a very short skirt walk past him... it will look damn similar to your dog's reaction at this point.

    We all bow to our base biological imperatives.

With all the fancy scientists in the world, why can't they just once build a nuclear balm?