Study finds dogs not as clever as first thought

01 October 2018

New research shows dogs are not exceptionally intelligent when compared to other animals.

Scientists reviewed evidence that compared the brain power of dogs with other domestic animals, social hunters and carnivorans (an order including animals such as dogs, wolves, bears, lions and hyenas).

The researchers, Dr Britta Osthaus, Senior Lecturer in the School of Psychology, Politics and Sociology at Canterbury Christ Church University and Professor of Psychology, Stephen Lea from the University of Exeter, found the cognitive abilities of dogs were at least matched by several species in each of these groups.

The study examined more than 300 papers on the intelligence of dogs and other animals, and found several cases of “over interpretation” in favour 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. 

“They are often compared to chimpanzees and whenever dogs ‘win’, this gets added to their reputation as something exceptional.

“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 review focussed on sensory cognition, physical cognition, spatial cognition, social cognition and self-awareness.

Dr Britta Osthaus said: "Taking all three groups into account, dog cognition does not look exceptional.” 

“We are doing dogs no favour by expecting too much of them. Dogs are dogs, and we need to take their needs and true abilities into account when considering how we treat them.”

The paper, published in the journal Learning & Behavior, is entitled: “In what sense are dogs special? Canine cognition in comparative context.” It is available here.

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Last edited: 02/10/2018 13:02:00