DENVER (CBS) – If you think your dog is exceptionally intelligent, you’ll be disappointed by the findings of a new study.
Scientists recently reviewed evidence that compared the brain power of dogs with other animals and found the cognitive abilities of dogs were at least matched by several species in each of these groups.
Researchers from the University of Exeter and Canterbury Christ Church University examined more than 300 papers on the intelligence of dogs and other other domestic animals. The group examined social hunters and carnivorans (an order including animals such as dogs, wolves, bears, lions and hyenas) and found several cases of “over interpretation” in favor of dogs’ abilities.
“During our work it seemed to us that many studies in dog cognition research set out to ‘prove’ how clever dogs are,” said Professor Stephen Lea of the University of Exeter.
“They are often compared to chimpanzees and whenever dogs ‘win,’ this gets added to their reputation as something exceptional,” Lea said. “Yet in each and every case we found other valid comparison species that do at least as well as dogs do in those tasks.”
The findings were published in a paper entitled “In what sense are dogs special? Canine cognition in comparative context” in the journal Learning & Behavior.
The review focused on sensory cognition, physical cognition, spatial cognition, social cognition and self-awareness.
“Taking all three groups (domestic animals, social hunters and carnivorans) into account, dog cognition does not look exceptional,” said Dr. Britta Osthaus, of Canterbury Christ Church University.
“We are doing dogs no favor by expecting too much of them,” Osthaus said. “Dogs are dogs, and we need to take their needs and true abilities into account when considering how we treat them.”
Dog owners in Denver told CBS4 the researchers are barking up the wrong tree.
“To really perceive the dog’s intelligence, you have to spend time with it and see how it reacts to situations,” said Dave Morgan, owner of Oscar, an Australian German shepherd.
Trainers, surprisingly enough, say they think the study has it right.
“Most of the time, (dogs) have to kind of have that carrot at the end of the road,” said Colleen Tekamp, a trainer at Paw School in Denver. Dogs there learn how to navigate grueling obstacles on command.
The study suggests the bond with our dogs might just cloud our vision. Maybe when it comes to how smart man’s best friend really is, we’re just projecting.
“You’re not just training the dog, you’re training the person as well?” CBS4’s Stan Bush asked Tekamp.
“That’s what we try to focus on, because for more long lasting results and better results, you have to know how your behavior is going to affect your dog’s behavior,” she said.