How Smart is your Dog?

Don't let my innocent fact fool you!

Don't let my innocent face fool you!

When Stanley Coren’s book The Intelligence of Dogs was first published it drew worldwide attention to a fact that most dog parents were already aware of: dogs are intelligent. On one occasion I carried a copy of the book with me into my doctor’s office. He commented on what I was reading with this question, “Are you kidding me?” Then he shared a story about his daughter and a young bulldog. When his daughter was little she’d  received a new teddy bear. Enraptured with this new acquisition she sat hugging the teddy, admiring it with a gleeful expression. This drew the attention of a new member of the family, a bulldog youngster. Seems that he was quite enamored with the teddy too. He sat staring at the teddy longingly. She chose to ignore the puppy’s pleading gaze. Hugging the teddy close to her chest she shook her head repeating, “My teddy bear” over and over again. The pup resorted to whining. Unimpressed by the pup’s efforts to sway her the little girl continued fawning over the teddy bear.

The bulldog sauntered out of the room only to reappear a short while later holding a brand new collar and leash in his mouth. He dropped this lovely gem into the little girl’s lap, looked up at her imploringly and waited. The little girl was unimpressed. Then the pup picked up the leash and collar and once again dropped it into her lap. This time he wanted to be certain she got the message so he looked from the leash and collar up to the teddy bear (which she’d held up out of his reach). He looked back and forth between the two objects several times.  Then the unthinkable happened. The little girl emphatically stated, “That’s not YOUR leash! It’s Jasper’s leash!” The pup lowered his face, defeated he walked slowly away looking over his shoulder at the lovely object of his affection — not the little girl — but the teddy bear she clasped tightly to her chest.

It’s obvious what the pup was hoping to achieve. There was planning and strategy involved here. If you substituted a child for the dog in this story you’d immediately recognize the amount of thinking involved. After all, it would be evident that a child could figure out a strategy that would involve an exchange of goods, one prize for another. Let’s swap! Certainly. But dogs possess this capability too. They plan, they connive, they figure things out, they can even pull a con job on another dog (or a person). Oh yes! Not so dumb. Yet it’s really not that difficult to explain why dogs possess the ability to think in these ways. After all their survival hinges on this type of thought process. So the next time you interact with your dog don’t be fooled by that innocent look, or the cuteness, or his loving gaze. He’s probably just taking notes on how he can convince you to do what he wants you to do. Then give him a hug!

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