Magazine article Psychology Today

How Smart Is That Doggy in the Window?

Magazine article Psychology Today

How Smart Is That Doggy in the Window?

Article excerpt

I ONCE I RESCUED a 9-month old mutt f rom the shelter. I could tell Jethro was street-smart. He was clever at snatching food- anyone's food. He must have spent a lo r of time on the streets honing h s sneakiness. When I brou ght htmhome, he met Sasha, and-thev got!alone famously. While Jetiiro knew that Sasha was possessive of her food, he was careful not to rile her. He'd eye her carefully, watching for her to make even the slightest move away from her bowl, then he'd quickly and quietly skulk in and grab a few morsels. After which e would lick her muzzle, then stroll away as if nothing had happened. Sasha had no clue. In fact, ethro was even adept at stealing my own food.

I have never doubted that dogs were smart, but I wasn't sure how we could measure their intelligence with any rigor. And then some nifty research changed everything: Rosalind Arden, of the London School of Economics, and Mark Adams, of the University of Edinburgh, created what they call a prototype dog "IQ test." They studied 68 working border collies, looking at how long it took the dogs to find food hidden behind a barrier, whether or not the dogs could assess how much food they were given, and if they could follow the direction indicated by a human pointing at an object.

Overall, the researchers discovered that the dogs who did well on one test also did well on other tests, and that the faster the dogs accomplished the test, the more accurate they were. One might quibble that the study included only border collies. But the authors chose a single breed to avoid too many groups with too many characteristics. The choice was good because it removed variables that are favored in different breeds.

Does the work relate to humans in any way? The researchers think there is a general intelligence factor in dogs comparable to that in humans. Dogs and humans show similar cognitive abilities across different tasks-remember, the dogs better at finding hidden food also scored higher on other tests. Dogs also are one of the few animals that reproduce key features of dementia, which may help us learn more about dementia in humans.

Aside from dementia, we don't really know much about psychological disorders in animals, including wild ones. It's likely that disorders in animals are more common than people believe. …

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