How smart is my dog? Now there’s a question. I’ve had dogs I swear understand my every word and thought, and others who couldn’t find their way out of a room through an open door. They’re all just as loveable, but the concept of what my dog is thinking, and how is it solving problems sure is intriguing!

Did you catch the NOVA series “How Smart Are Animals?” The two-part series explored dogs, dolphins, elephants, birds, and many other animals to try to answer the question. One of their observations was that animals who live in groups tend to be smarter than other animals. While ants and bees live in colonies, each animal exists solely for the purpose of supporting the group as a whole, and cannot exist alone. So that didn’t really count. The groups with the most intelligent animals worked both with their own group, with other groups, and individually, with different purposes for each type of interaction.

Well, how does this relate to my dogs? Domestic dogs live in groups, or families, that include people. So, according to the show, even though chimps and bonobos might have bigger brains than dogs, and are genetically much closer to us, a dog’s social intelligence may be more like our own. Dogs want to please people, and will learn and do things to make us happy, whereas a chimp isn’t as motivated in that way.

Now take Kelly and Ike. I think they’re both fairly intelligent dogs. Here are some proof of their intelligence:
They know many words and respond to requests.
They go find a specific toy if I ask for it (“Get your snowball toy Ike!”)
They go to or jump up on objects I point to.
They remember things.
They understand schedules, to a degree.
They can solve problems–Kelly’s a little better at this than Ike. But Ike doesn’t care!

I’ve seen dogs a lot smarter than mine. And I’ve seen some a lot less bright. I’ve shared my home with some a lot less bright! (Brooks, the sweetest dog in the world, for one!) I think it’s a combination of nature and nurture–what they’re born with for brains, the experiences they get in the world. Training. Exposure to new sights and smells and objects. And their desire to learn.
Probably a lot like you and me.

What are some signs of your dog or cat’s (or bird, bunny, turtle) intelligence?

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