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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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  • Wolves (Score:5, Interesting)

    by pantherace ( 165052 ) on Sunday August 09, 2009 @03:54PM (#29004351)
    Be interesting to see what a Wolf would be like as they tend to have a larger brain to body mass ratio.
  • 2 years old. (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Algorithmn ( 1601909 ) on Sunday August 09, 2009 @03:56PM (#29004373) Homepage
    And a 2 year old is pretty damn smart!!
  • dog lover science. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by girlintraining ( 1395911 ) on Sunday August 09, 2009 @04:00PM (#29004405)

    'They may not be Einsteins, but are sure closer to humans than we thought.'

    I don't think so. You're comparing a fully-mature animal to one in its infancy. We've long known that animals can learn behaviors that mimick that of humans -- in some cases, their physiological parts are superior to humans (the eyes of a hawk, for example). But to say they're "closer to humans than we thought" -- that's a quotable designed to be eaten up by the popular press because a lot of people are dog lovers and will jump at the chance to say "Aw, see, old charlie here is almost human smart!"

    I'm sorry to say that, no, Charlie is still a dog. 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. But a dog does not have near-human intelligence. 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.

  • Re:Wolves (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Z00L00K ( 682162 ) on Sunday August 09, 2009 @04:01PM (#29004413) Homepage

    That's an interesting idea.

    And then - different breeds have different levels of potential too. Having been in contact with different breeds I have realized that there are those that are almost dumb as a brick while others are smart enough to figure out exactly when to sneak out and sneak back without being noticed and also realize when their master has confused right and left when they are given a command.

  • This is a crock (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Latent Heat ( 558884 ) on Sunday August 09, 2009 @04:04PM (#29004423)
    PBS Nova had a show on the comparative skills of humans and the great apes.

    One test was that the subject was offered a treat inside a cage -- a banana pellet for the ape, a Gummy Bear candy for the human child -- an a kind of toothed rake to retreive the treat.

    In each case, the rake was handed to the subject tooth-side down, and the teeth were to widely spaced to make and headway retrieving the treat. In each case the subject, a chimp and a 2-year-old human, raked away to no effect.

    Then the experimenter turned the rake over and demonstrated how the treat could easily be retrieved using the flat end of the rake. Then the rake was returned to the subject with the tooth-side-down position of the rake.

    The ape went back to raking away to no effect. With respect to the human 2-year-old, however, not only did the 2-year-old achieve 1-trial learning that the flat side of the rake was the effective way to get the Gummy Bear candy, when the 2-year-old was shown this technique, the 2-year-old laughed out loud, as if to say, "Oh, that's cheating, but if cheating is allowed, I am certainly going to do it."

    What I figure was the role of the laughter and the sense that the rake experiment was a joke is this: humor is connected with this type of reasoning and this type of learning. A lot of learning is a matter of figuring out the exception to the rule, what has to be un-learned in order to effect an outcome. So not only did the 2-year-old learn in one trial, the 2-year-old developed a mental model of how the rake was supposed to operate and then made a conceptual correction to that model, and thought the whole thing to be funny.

    I don't know the equivalent experiment with a dog as dogs lack the hand dexterity of humans and apes, but the minute I see a dog respond with 1-trial learning to a related situation, only then will I believe any claim as to a dog have the intelligence of a 2-year-old human.

  • Re:Wolves (Score:3, Interesting)

    by arcesilaus ( 1610567 ) on Sunday August 09, 2009 @04:28PM (#29004579)
    All domesticated animals have smaller brains than their wild counterparts. The Domesticated Silver Fox [], which was created by the Soviets after decades of breeding, lost many of the characteristics of their wild counterparts. It would seem that domesticated animals do not require the intelligence of their wild counterparts. No one is going to keep an animal that will challenge its owner for leadership.
  • Re:Wolves (Score:5, Interesting)

    by garnkelflax ( 1306647 ) on Sunday August 09, 2009 @04:39PM (#29004677)
    I watched a program on Animal Planet a few years ago where they ran tests on wolves. They determined that wolves had no desire to 'please' (utilize) humans regardless of whether they were raised from pups or not. One of the experiments involved food locked in a large cage. The wolves would scratch at the cage and try to beat it to death forever. The domesticated dogs would sniff around, check the cage for a while, then go to a human with those big puppy eyes asking for help. Before our Labradoodle I thought a half german half dobie mix was about as smart as they could get. But this one's vocabulary is astounding. She is about 90 pounds of brain. Besides sit, lay down, poop, pee, high five, shake, roll over, play dead, wait with cracker on nose then flip and catch it, and all the other stuff.... She can bring you any toy you ask for or take it to any named person over 90% of the time. She will also take her toys to her toy bin when told to do so. She knows the names of the animals outside the house and will attack whichever you tell her to (squirrel, bird, chipmunk, bunny) She understands words like closer, farther, gentle. Her favorite toy is a battery operated fur-real poodle that she gently brings around the house and will bring to us when she wants it turned on. It is still working after 2 years. She will take a treat into her mouth and not eat it until you tell her to. Or drop it if you tell her instead. She will go to parts of the house you tell her to go (kitchen, living room, upstairs, downstairs etc...) She mimics human behavior constantly. One example, if you are moving branches to a pile from the yard she participates and gets it right. One time we were tearing up the carpet transition to the linoleum on one side of the kitchen. She immediately went to the other side and started tearing up the other one (didn't need to come up though). We have a toy elephant made for babies that you pull the fabric string and it shakes as the string goes back in. She plays with it every day like a baby would. Pulling the string and making it shake. She has favorite rocks outside that she places in different areas. When we go to the lake to swim she hunts for a rock, takes it out to where it is about 5 feet deep and drops it then goes diving for it. She will do this for hours. Tons of other stuff to. She kinda freaks me out.
  • by Coeurderoy ( 717228 ) on Sunday August 09, 2009 @04:47PM (#29004729)

    Cats are obviously much smarter than Dogs, not only where they able to show very little use, so they will not loose their time working for us, but they show a capacity to domesticate us cf: []

    So apparently they have learned the most :-)

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday August 09, 2009 @04:48PM (#29004739)

    I was going to say "that's a pretty stupid argument" when I first read this comment, but I don't think doing so would be justified.

    Instead, I'm going to say "that's not an argument at all, not even a stupid one".

    Yes, of course Charlie is still a dog. Whoever said otherwise? Whimsical stuff like "closer to humans than we thought" aside (which is so vague a statement as to be meaningless, anyway; pretty much anybody can interpret it in their own way and feel that it's true), though, your argument seems to boil down to a) "no animals are intelligent other than humans" (that's the "mimick human behavior" part) and b) "they're only intelligent because us humans did it!" (the "domestication" part).

    Needless to say, the two are not even mutually compatible: they cannot both be true at the same time, since you'd arrive at a contradictory statement concerning the actual existence of intelligence in non-human animals.

    But it's not just that one is wrong, both are. The "animals aren't intelligent" part basically doesn't even pass the laugh test (neither after these tests not before), but the "we did it" part is just as wrong. Not only didn't we breed animals (dogs or others) to increase their intelligence, there is also no reason at all to assume that domestication would do this on its own. Why should it, after all? Some dogs are pretty intelligent - notably those who were bred to perform certain tasks with a relatively large degree of independent responsibility, such as sheep dogs etc., but others that only ever had to obey orders aren't. (And in fact, notice something? The *need* to think yourself rather than just follow orders leads to intelligence, not necessarily in an individual but in a breed or species. Given that, it's actually obvious why the opposite of what you're saying is true: domestication tends to make animals less intelligent, as the need to think independently will go away to a certain (smaller or larger) degree.)

    That being said, I would also suggest you spend some time with a dog some day (an intelligent breed) and see for yourself; not because I want to give dogs *too* much credit that they don't deserve but rather because I think you could benefit from actually approaching them with an open mind and seeing things for yourself. If you're feeling uncomfortable with the idea, think of it as doing your own experiments in order to test others' hypotheses and theories; in other words, a very scientific thing that any geek should be able to support.

    But I'm saying "I would suggest" on purpose, because quite honestly, I'm not convinced you'd actually manage to do it - that you would actually be able to shed your preconceptions and see things for yourself. And I'm not talking about already accepting the conclusion, either - I'm talking about a genuinely open mind, but based on your post, I'm honestly not sure you'd be able to do that.

    Which is a shame, really. You don't even know what you're missing.

  • Re:Wolves (Score:4, Interesting)

    by garnkelflax ( 1306647 ) on Sunday August 09, 2009 @05:49PM (#29005113)
    I agree. But with this one she seems to have a higher level of learning speed and a touch of reasoning. Usually 5 minutes is enough to teach her something. You do 5 minutes one day, let her sleep on it, then the next day she has it when you try it again. And it is more like she is training us. I think she is just adept in figuring out what we want so she can get what she wants. With the exception of the mimicry and weird play stuff. She seems to do that all on her own without caring about reward.
  • It's not breeding. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by w0mprat ( 1317953 ) on Sunday August 09, 2009 @06:02PM (#29005191)

    Coren believes centuries of selective breeding and living alongside humans has helped to hone the intelligence of dogs.

    Yet it is also well established that both cats and dogs have smaller brains relative to body size than their wild counterparts. This being a result of selective breeding which may select for more juvenille traits. I'm quite sure a wild big cat or wolf raised carefully in captivity would do just as well as their domesticated cousins, and there is reason to believe they may do better.

  • by jmitchel! ( 254506 ) on Sunday August 09, 2009 @06:14PM (#29005273)
    Cats really haven't been bred for thousands of years like dogs have. They probably pretty well self domesticated a few thousand years ago and hung around in a more-or-less self domesticated state around the edge of our society for most of the intervening years, too pleasant and useful to get rid of, not nearly obedient enough to put to any orderly sort of work like a dog.
    Having three cats and a two year old nephew, I'd say that cats are about as smart as an eighteen month old child. They understand simple concepts, a few words, and enough problem solving to be interesting, but not as much as a dog.
    I think the role of cats as pets is one that they're uniquely suited for though, and there is a lot of material available to breed very convivial animals.
  • I'm not so sure... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by oljanx ( 1318801 ) on Sunday August 09, 2009 @06:16PM (#29005287)
    Dogs might understand about as many words and gestures as the average two year old, but I don't believe they're as intelligent. At least not according to our definition of intelligence. My two year old (27 months) asked me last night, "Why are balls round?". Then followed up with "is the moon a ball?". You can teach a two year old to communicate, but they come up with those questions on their own. Would a dog ask questions like that if it could communicate with us? I doubt it, but maybe I'm wrong.
  • by Windrip ( 303053 ) on Sunday August 09, 2009 @06:22PM (#29005345) Journal

    I was with them until they ranked breeds by intelligence.

    What they're not telling you (and most of the +3 posts on this thread would indicate that the posters know little of professional dog breeding) is the pedigree of the subjects under test.

    I was especially disappointed when they chose to rank the Afghan Hound as one of the "dumber" breeds; which is sorting is such a human trait.

    Those who know the history of the Afghan in Europe are aware the breed descends from a very shallow gene pool. Find the history of the breed written in the 19th century by "those who would be king" (Google books maybe?) to read the description of just how intelligent those imperialists found the long-haired variety.

  • Working at an abattoir doesn't make you a psychopath.

    I'm not so sure. Considering the gruesome methods used to kill livestock in slaughterhouses I can't imagine working in one is all that good for one's long term psychological health.

  • by spiffmastercow ( 1001386 ) on Sunday August 09, 2009 @07:12PM (#29005671)
    Well, cats can learn to use the toilet.. I've yet to see a dog do that. Personally I still prefer dogs though.. Cats are assholes.
  • Anecdote - deceiving (Score:2, Interesting)

    by shenkin ( 177867 ) on Sunday August 09, 2009 @07:26PM (#29005777)

    I don't have a whole lot to add to the meat of the discussion, but thought some might be amused by the following way my dog (a Boston Terrier) tries to "deceive." He sometimes wants to go for a longer walk than I do, so when we're getting close to home he pulls in the opposite direction. Of course, I say No, sharply, and direct him home. But he's also learned that if he needs to poop, I'll let him. So, nearing home, he heads for a tree and goes into a crouch, watching me all the time. When he thinks I'm sufficiently deceived, he stands up (without pooping of course -- he didn't really have to go) and starts pulling off in the opposite direction. He seems to think I'll have forgotten I'm actually headed home. I find this quite hilarious.

    Someone else mentioned that when you point, a dog will look where you are pointing whereas a wolf will look at the finger. Some months ago I read an article about research on autism and its association with "mirror neurons" -- neurons (postulated, I think) that are responsible for appropriate mimicry: what it is that makes a baby imitate your facial expression when he can't see his own face in the mirror. Autistic children lack this ability, apparently, as do chimpanzees. It was also mentioned in the article that chimpanzees, unlike dogs, but apparently like wolves, will look at the finger (and not where you are pointing) when you point.

  • What evidence do you have that cows march happily off to the slaughterhouse? Or that tail wagging in a cow means they are happy? When I was a kid, we raised some "beefers". We had one slaughtered and the other cried and behaved oddly -- the first cow was butchered near the barn, not at some far away place.

    Personally, I just don't eat mammals anymore. I'm not sure where the "too smart eat" line is, but I've quit eating in my own class at least. Birds concern me to some degree, but crustaceans don't. Anyway, if it has a neocortex, I won't eat it.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday August 09, 2009 @08:07PM (#29006123)

    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.

    Cats weigh the value of the treat versus their current level of hunger, their willingness to retain an sense of independence, and their willingness (or lack there of) to please the person running the test. They may not want to run through a maze that's in an enclosed space that has an unfamiliar smell to it, because that territory may seem dangerous or at least, unproven to them.

    They also pay attention to the sounds of mice running through the walls, any signs of movement (which their rod dominated eyes are designed to fixate on), and lots of scent based distractions. They're used to making the decisions, and fending for themselves, without trusting that someone else will necessarily come through with the reward they've promised.

    Cats are a lot more aloof, skittish, and generally afraid of things than dogs, because they're also a lot smaller and in more danger than dogs, especially because they tend to fight alone rather than in a pack. Cats need to be more reserved and cautious; that doesn't make them stupider than dogs, just different.

    Dogs do what they're told, for the most part. They have been trained for centuries to obey humans, and to trust their peers (pack mates). Cats have been kept around for centuries, mostly to chase mice, but they have usually lived on their own (in colonies in the barn or around the house), and made their own way in the world.

    Cats can be trained to do all sorts of things, provided those things align with the cats own interests. For example, it's possible to teach a cat to use and flush a toilet; hardly a trivial task, or the work of a stupid animal. Cats can be smart when they decide it benefits them to be smart; but they evaluate risk and reward differently from dogs, and differently from humans, too.

    Put it this way: would you crawl through a maze for a stale snickers bar? You might, but probably only if you liked mazes a whole lot.

  • by zorro-z ( 1423959 ) on Sunday August 09, 2009 @10:54PM (#29007205)

    When comparing dogs to cats in terms of intelligence, their relationship to humans, or really anything, it's important to consider the difference between pack animals and social animals. Both humans and dogs are pack animals- we instinctively group together, tend to organize around alpha males and/or females, and instinctively value praise from said alphas. So, dogs *desperately* want their humans- who they see as alphas- to love them. More to the point, the fact that humans + dogs are each pack animals no doubt contributes to the fact that the history of humans + dogs together goes back, quite literally, to the stone age, as we have discovered cave paintings of humans w/dogs.

    Cats, on the other hand, are social creatures. They will, in certain circumstances, show rudimentary pack organization (you can see this w/barn cats or feral street cats). But, since they're not pack animals, they really have no instinctive drive to either spend time w/humans or to please them. More to the point, where humans + dogs together goes back to pre-history, it is fairly clear that the first civilization to domesticate cats were the Egyptians, within recorded history. They were the first western civilization to hoard grain, and when you hoard grain, you attract vermin. The Egyptians began domesticating cats to eat the vermin. The way I put it is that our relationship w/cats is really more of a business relationship than anything else. And I say this as a former cat + dog owner.

    How does this relate to so-called intelligence in dogs? It's fairly simple: since dogs are *desperate* to have their humans express praise for them, they'll learn fairly simple behaviors fairly quickly, since even a pat on the head is a reward. But we shouldn't make the leap from assuming that learned behavior clearly indicates intelligence; even the most primitive animals will act according to the principles of operative conditioning.

  • Re:Wolves (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Reziac ( 43301 ) * on Monday August 10, 2009 @12:03AM (#29007649) Homepage Journal

    [pro dog trainer here, with 40 years at it]

    Training and conditioning are diametric opposites. The goal of conditioning is to PREVENT independent thought and to get ONLY the desired response, whereas the goal of training is to ENHANCE thinking ability, channeled so that the desired actions are achieved in the best way possible.

    As a general rule, the dumber the dog, the easier it is to condition it. Which make some people mistake ease of conditioning for intelligence, when it's more like filling the void.

    A fairly bright dog can achieve about the same vocabulary and ability to put concepts together as a smart 5-6YO human child, including stuff like "helping" that you describe above, or putting their own toys away when done playing with them, or going to look for an absent person. I've even had one dog who tried diligently to train other dogs. And when a smart dog with a good memory lives in a household where it gets talked to a lot (and especially if it is taught how to learn via good training), its vocabulary grows just like a child's will -- and then we get wonder-dogs like yours. A smart dog, but not as unusual as you might think. :)

  • Re:Wolves (Score:4, Interesting)

    by davidphogan74 ( 623610 ) on Monday August 10, 2009 @05:59AM (#29008951) Homepage
    That definitely makes sense. I had an Australian Shepherd (via a roommate) that did dumb things all the time, but had great problem solving skills. Opening doors and windows, knocking over beer cans (never glass bottles) onto the ground (but not carpet that would soak it up), running away and coming home a few days later. She knew a lot of commands too, but I'll never call her smart. She just was a loyal problem solver. And she enjoyed beer.
  • by blackest_k ( 761565 ) on Monday August 10, 2009 @07:19AM (#29009171) Homepage Journal

    People are not comfortable with eating intelligent animals and cows are intelligent enough, the fact that they trust the people who raise them to lead them off for slaughter isn't a sign of stupidity. Your average small child would be as trusting.

    Funny thing is we tend to reward animals that escape the slaughter house with a reprieve. Is this just due to a natural support of the underdog or perhaps that the animal will know whats coming and will freak out and alert the other animals to whats going on.

    Chickens tend not to show the same survival instinct but being raised in a cage unable to move or see daylight is it any wonder they tend to just sit there when accidentally released early from a cage. death might seem a welcome release from such a poor quality of life.

    An interesting thing is the difference between an animal and meat, it seems for most people once an animal has had its head removed it transitions from being an animal and some emotional involvement, to becoming meat something to eat.

    I'm not a vegetarian by any means and I enjoy meat and fish, you can't beat eating fish that you have caught and prepared yourself (assuming you master deboning).

    Some people think its cruel to do your own slaughtering and butchery, it could be if you didn't ensure a rapid and as pain free as possible death for the animal. It's not a good thing that people are divorced from the reality of how meat is produced because it means low standards of care get applied to animals while they are alive in the name of cheap meat production and maximum profit.

    Honestly if you choose to eat meat you should choose to be informed about its production.

    It's funny but a lot of racism seems to flow in the same way, denigrating intelligence, emphasizing small differences in order to treat people as less than human. Perhaps if there was a better understanding of killing and cruelty there would be less of it in the world.

  • by Kupfernigk ( 1190345 ) on Monday August 10, 2009 @07:38AM (#29009225)
    Neurologists have shown that cats have fewer neurons than dogs and some of their brain functions are reduced. The cat lifestyle requires a lot of sitting around doing nothing, and this implies that most of the time a big brain is a waste of energy. The cat brain is focussed on hunting alone. The dog brain is focussed on hunting in packs, which requires good development of parts of the brain that support co-operation. We've made use of that in selecting them to let us be the head of the pack.

    The cat doesn't care what you think because, in effect, like a human psychopath the relevant bit of brain is too small. This, btw, is why neurologists prefer cats for experiments. The results aren't affected by how the cat feels about its handler today, or the sudden dislike it's taken to the researcher.

  • Re:Wolves (Score:4, Interesting)

    by bill_mcgonigle ( 4333 ) * on Monday August 10, 2009 @12:13PM (#29011895) Homepage Journal

    It doesn't help that we civilized folk been taught to never do the natural thing and just deck a dog that shows a dangerous level of dominance (exactly what another dog would do, for that matter).

    We've had a few friends' dogs whose owners didn't control them well. When the dog tries to pull that nonsense on me, I find the best approach is to quickly flip it to the ground and get my hand on its throat. The dog instantly becomes a nice dog, at least to me, and usually to whomever came in the door with me (the kids, most importantly). It's like they have a nice-switch inside. No need to hurt the dog, just to explain, in dog terms, what the appropriate relationship here is. It helps to have a lifetime's experience with flipping good dogs, to get the leverage right. :)

    With some disnified owners, it's best to do this when they're not looking. "Boy, Miffie really likes you, he's usually so crazy with strangers."

  • by HappySqurriel ( 1010623 ) on Monday August 10, 2009 @01:13PM (#29012893)

    Having grown up around dogs, and now having two cats, I think a lot of people underestimate a cats intelligence because the cat is only interested in pleasing itself. I personally have cats who have figured out how simple mechanical devices like doors and drawers operate, and they have also figured out that I dislike them opening certain doors and drawers and they will get squirted by a spray bottle if they try (so they wait until I am asleep or away to misbehave).

    Now, I'm not saying they're super smart creatures but they certainly have decent problem solving skills and an understanding of consequences at a fairly high level.

    Beyond this I have seen my cats talk to each other using the same "phrase" to mean similar things in similar situations; and I'm curious whether the slight difference in meaning might actually be represented in a slight difference in the sound that is beyond my ability to hear. To explain what I mean, my cats may a "Birup" noise that seems to mean "Chase me" or "I'm Chasing You" when they play together.

  • Re:Wolves (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Reziac ( 43301 ) * on Monday August 10, 2009 @01:26PM (#29013115) Homepage Journal

    Haha, been there, done that :)

    But if you run into one that lacks the "nice switch" (or more accurately the "Okay, you ARE the boss, now we're all in agreement" switch) -- and they do exist -- you have to be willing to take it as far as necessary. The message with the down-on-your-back trick is "I am willing to KILL you if you don't behave" and the dog has to believe it. Most believe instantly, no violence required, and they are much the happier for it, since dogs need to KNOW their place in life to feel secure. With those few that are wired like Cool Hand Luke... well, you have to be willing to demonstrate that you will take it as far as necessary, or all they've learned is that if they resist long enough, they can get away with it.

Logic is the chastity belt of the mind!