Do You Have A Smart Dog
You only go to the vet maybe once a year for those regular check-ups and booster shots, but, sure enough, whenever you get within five blocks of the vet’s office, your dog starts whining, panting, and looking anxious. Does she really remember from year to year the exact route you drive to get there?
Most people are interested in how intelligent their dog is. While there are predictable differences based upon the dog’s breed (for example, Border Collies are a lot smarter and more trainable than Bulldogs), there is a lot of variability within each breed. This means that some Border Collies might be rather slow-thinking, while some Bulldogs might be college material. There are some well-documented tests for the general mental abilities of dogs (such as the one described in my book, The Intelligence of Dogs), and all such tests include measures of a dog’s memory.Memory is a critical component of dog intelligence, since your dog can’t learn if she can’t remember. This makes tests of a dog’s memory a good approximation of just how bright she is in general.
First, your dog (to be original, let’s call her “Lassie”) must be at least a year old. It is also necessary for Lassie to have been living in the same place for at least ten weeks; otherwise the environmental memory test won’t work. You’ll need a stopwatch or a watch with a second hand, and an assistant to hold the dog is helpful.
The first test looks at short-term memory. You may observe failures in your own short term memory in situations when you ask for a phone number from an operator and correctly dial it immediately, meaning that the number is stored in your short-term memory. However, when you get a busy signal and hang up to dial the number again, you often find you’ve forgotten the number, since short-term memory fades quickly.
The test requires an average-sized room that doesn’t have a lot of furniture or other material cluttering it. You need a tidbit of food that has no strong odour (otherwise, Lassie’s scenting ability will bias the results). If Lassie will not reliably sit and stay on command, have a helper present to hold her.
To start, place Lassie on a leash, and have her sit in the center of the room. While she watches you, show her the treat, then, with a great exaggerated show (but no sound), place the tidbit in a corner, making sure that she sees you put it down. Lead her out of the room, walk around in a small circle, and then bring her back to the center of the room. Leaving the room and returning to it should take no more than about fifteen seconds. Slip the leash off the dog, and start the stopwatch.
The next test looks at long-term memory, which is relatively permanent and long lasting. Give this test immediately after the preceding test. The set-up is identical to the short term memory test. Make sure, however, that you place the tidbit in a different corner than the one you used for the short-term memory test. Take Lassie out of the room and keep her out of the room for five minutes. Then return her to the center of the room, slip off the leash, and start the stopwatch. Score as follows:
- If Lassie goes directly to the bait, score 5.
- If she goes to the corner where the first bait was and then quickly goes to the correct corner, score 4.
- If she systematically sniffs around the edge of the room and finds the tidbit, score 3.
- If she seems to search in a random fashion but still finds the tidbit within 45 seconds, score 2.
- If she appears to try to find the tidbit but still hasn’t succeeded after 45 seconds, score 1.
- If she makes no effort to find the bait, score 0.
Alternate choice memory
The final test involves alternate choice memory, or how well the dog remembers one of several possibilities. For this test, you need three identical, empty tin cans or plastic cups. Rub the inside of each with the tidbit of food that you will be using as bait, so that Lassie can’t use smell to guide her choice. Next, while she watches, show her the empty cans and arrange them in a row upside-down with about one foot (30 cm) between each. With exaggerated movements, show her the treat, then lift the middle can and place the treat under it. Slip the leash off and let her go. Whether she actually gets the treat or not by knocking over the can is irrelevant for this test, but note the attention that she pays to each can. Score as follows:
- If Lassie goes directly to the middle can, score 5.
- If she goes to one of the outside cans first, then shifts her attention and starts nosing the middle can while ignoring the others, score 4.
- If she sniffs at all three cans and then returns to pay attention to the middle can, score 3.
- If she circles the cans sniffing or poking at each indiscriminately, score 2.
- If she wanders around or ignores the cans, score 1.
Some standard tests
Below are some tests that you can do with your dog, as well as a scoring system to keep track of intelligence. Don’t necessarily try to do these tests all in one day – your dog may become overwhelmed and not understand why you’re sending them through all these strange and bizarre actions. And the most important thing – don’t be negative! Make these tests fun for your dog – treat them like games! And always – no matter how high or low they score – give them lots of love and positive attention afterwards.
Take a large towel or blanket and gently place it over your dog’s head.
If he frees himself from the towel in less than 15 seconds, give him 3 points. If it takes 15-30 seconds, 2 points. Longer than 30 seconds earns 1 point.
Place a dog treat or a favorite toy under one of three buckets placed next to each other. Let the dog know which bucket the treat is under, than turn the dog away for a few seconds. Then, let her find the treat. If she immediately goes to the correct bucket give her 3 points. If she takes two attempts, score 2 points. If your dog looks under the other two buckets first, score 1 point.
Place a treat under a table or chair low enough so your dog can only fit her paw and cannot fit her head. If your dog figures how to reach the treat within one minute, score 3 points. If she uses her paws and nose, score 2 points. If your dog gives up, score 1 point.
Construct a barrier from cardboard that is 5 feet wide and taller than your dog when she’s on two legs, so she can’t see over it. Attach two boxes to either side as support structures. In the center of the cardboard, cut a 3 inch-wide rectangular aperture – it should run from about 4 inches from the top to about 4 inches from the bottom. (This way, the dog can see through the barrier but cannot physically get through.) Toss a toy or treat to the other side of the barrier, or have someone stand on the other side. If your dog walks around the barrier within 30 seconds, give her 3 points. If she goes around the barrier between 30 seconds and one minute, give 2 points. If she gets her head stuck in the aperture trying to get through, give her 1 point for effort!
Scoring and results
16 points or higher – Brilliant!
13 to 16 points – Well above average
9 to twelve points – Average
5 to 8 points – Below average
1 to 4 points – Not the brightest kibble in the bag, but we still love ’em!
This testing can be fun, and can give you a general idea about your dog’s intelligence, but wise pet owners maintain their own criteria.