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Just How Smart Do You Think Your Dog Is?

Is this the world's smartest dog?

It is the eternal debate in our household: my wife claims her cats are smarter than my dogs, while I, of course, maintain my dogs are to her cats as Stephen Hawking is to Snooki. I received some potent ammunition in this ongoing war last year when scientists at Oxford University claimed that social animals have, over time developed larger brains than their non-social counterparts.

From a story in the (UK) Telegraph

The intelligence of “a man’s best friend” has evolved at a greater rate than the less social cat over millions of years, scientists at Oxford University have claimed. It was often thought that the feline pet was smarter than its canine counterpart because it needed less attention but researchers have discovered that cat’s brains are smaller because they are less social.

“…Dr Susanne Shultz, who led the research, said: “Dogs have always been regarded as the more social animals while cats like to get on with their own thing alone. But it appears that interaction is good for the brain and extends to other species, like ourselves.

Dr Shultz added: “All dogs are quite good at solving problems, which gives credence to the traditional image of the cunning fox which is a member of the same family”

Take that, cat people. So we know dogs are, from an evolutionary and adaptability perspective, smart. But as research and insight into animal behavior and intelligence delves deeper, it’s becoming apparent we’ve just scratched the surface of discovering what our dogs are capable of. 

Take the case of “Chaser” a six-year-old border collie who knows an amazing 1,022 proper nouns. Taken on its own, that’s a jaw-dropping display of smarts, but Chaser, who was recently featured on the PBS show Nova Science Now, takes animal intelligence a step further.

Chaser’s owners have trained him to recognize those 1,022 proper nouns by teaching him to retrieve stuffed animals with individual names. But when a stuffed animal whose name Chaser didn’t know was placed in a group of animals he did, and Chaser was told to retrieve it, he ran to the pile, looked over the animals and chose the right one.

He simply checked off his list of known animals and then decided that whatever was left over must be the right choice. That’s a mind-blowing display of intelligence and human-like deductive reasoning. If you’ve got fifteen minutes, the video on the PBS website is well worth the watch 

And of course that got me to thinking how these new discoveries into dogs’ natural ability to learn might carry over into the training world. Will the way we train our bird dogs now be substantially different from the way our children and grandchildren train their dogs (provided of course we still have the habitat to do so, but that’s another topic…)?

What do you think? Will new scientific discoveries lead the gundog training world to fundamental change, or is a gradual incorporation of this newfound knowledge more likely?

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One Response to “Just How Smart Do You Think Your Dog Is?”

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  1. Lars says:

    Hey Chad I caught that show on PBS about Chaser. Darwin I think was the name of the newest named stuffed toy that Chaser had to find. Good show! If its on again I’ll let my dogs watch it. :-)

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