How Smart Are Dogs?

I often find myself wondering just how smart dogs are.  I know my own dogs understand many different words.  We have no trouble communicating. They know what words mean and I understand them when they want something, most of the time, whether they give me a look or make a sound.  But I’m always curious about how much dogs understand.

I came across a fascinating article on the ScienceDaily.com web site about a dog that knows over 1000 words.  He could have learned more words but the researchers simply ran out of time to train him. http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/01/110106144252.htm

According to the article, Chaser not only knows more than 1000 words for different toys, but he also knows the difference between the names for toys and the commands involved in using them.

In another experiment with Chaser, the researchers proved that he understands different categories and how they related to the words he knew.  For instance, he understood that “toy” meant all of his toys, and he knew which toys were balls and which toys were frisbees. He could categorize his toys into those subsections.

It’s probably not surprising that Chaser is a Border Collie.  There have been several other Border Collies in the last few years who have displayed these amazing verbal abilities.  <http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A31130-2004Jun10.html&gt;

The researchers said they would like to find out if other breeds have the same abilities.  It seems likely that other dogs can learn in similar ways.  Most breeds of dogs seem to be very attuned to people.  It’s not unusual for a dog to hang on a person’s every word, with their eyes and ears focused on what the person is saying.  It’s often so easy to teach a dog a word or phrase.  I think that researchers will probably find that many breeds understand lots of words.  Whether they all test as well as the Border Collies have been testing is another matter.  Not all breeds of dog are as focused as Border Collies or as intent on pleasing.

There are several other good articles on the ScienceDaily.com web site concerning dogs.  According to one article on the site <http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/11/101127105348.htm&gt;, dogs have larger brains than cats because they are more sociable. (Don’t tell the cats!)  Actually, the article discusses an Oxford study that claims more sociable animals, in general, have developed larger brains than less sociable animals.  Among the more sociable animals with larger brains are monkeys, horses, dolphins, camels, and dogs.  “The research team analysed available data on the brain size and body size of more than 500 species of living and fossilised mammals. It found that the brains of monkeys grew the most over time, followed by horses, dolphins, camels and dogs. The study shows that groups of mammals with relatively bigger brains tend to live in stable social groups. The brains of more solitary mammals, such as cats, deer and rhino, grew much more slowly during the same period.”  What about cows, I wonder?  Why should horses and camels have developed larger brains, but cows aren’t mentioned?  Or pigs, for that matter.  They’re sociable.  They live in stable social groups.  Interesting, nonetheless.

Also interesting on the site is an article about the way that dogs help autistic children adapt.  <http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/10/101019121814.htm>  “Our findings showed that the dogs had a clear impact on the children’s stress hormone levels,” says Sonia Lupien, senior researcher and a professor at the Université de Montréal Department of Psychiatry and Director of the Centre for Studies on Human Stress at Louis-H. Lafontaine Hospital, “I have not seen such a dramatic effect before.”

There is also a very interesting article on the site about dogs with separation anxiety.  “Dogs Showing Separation-Related behaviour Exhibit a ‘Pessimistic Mood’”  <http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/10/101011125828.htm>  The article reports on a new study that finds that separation anxiety in dogs most often occurs in dogs with “pessimistic-like” behaviours.  “We know that people’s emotional states affect their judgments; happy people are more likely to judge an ambiguous situation positively,” said Mike Mendl of the University of Bristol. “Now it seems that this may also apply to dogs; dogs that behaved anxiously when left alone also tended to judge ambiguous events negatively. Their anxious behaviour may reflect an underlying negative emotional state.”

ScienceDaily.com is an excellent site for reading the latest news about dogs and other animals as findings are released from scientific studies.  If you’re interested in dogs and what science is discovering about them, you should visit this site from time to time.


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