Measuring Canine Cleverness – The New ‘Dog IQ Test’

This is an article sent in by Sally Jenson

Ever laughed at a dog doing something ‘dumb’, only to be hotly informed by the owner that they’re very clever, actually? Ever wondered why one of your dogs can steal food from behind closed doors while the other can’t seem to work out that its tail is actually a part of its body? Well, researchers at the London School of Economics and Edinburgh University are working on a way which could help to settle these issues for good. They’re devising what they describe as a ‘canine IQ test’, which they believe will tell us a lot about how intelligence works in all animals (as well as rating your dog’s grey matter!).

Canine Intelligence

Dog owners and lovers have known for decades that dogs have definite variations in brainpower, and that canine intelligence can be rated in a similar manner to human intelligence. It’s just taken a little while for science to catch on. For example, anyone who has worked with both border collies and with great danes will tell you in a trice that the former are just stuffed with smarts while the latter couldn’t think their way out of a paper bag. There have also been amateur tests to determine the relative intelligence of your dog around for a while now. This, however, is the first properly controlled and scientifically devised canine ‘IQ test’. Researchers tested 68 border collies, using methods which on the surface seem really quite similar to the methods which have been used to test canine intelligence in an amateur capacity for some time. Tasks were set, such as working out puzzles in order to get food, understanding pointing and so on. However, it’s what will be done with the data which sets this study apart.

Intelligence And Health

Just like humans, dogs get dementia. Just like with humans, there’s not much which can be done about it other than to make sure that all the relevant contingencies are covered for and to ensure that they are as happy and comfortable as possible. It’s thought, however, that a clearer understanding of how intelligence and dementia interact may be able to provide breakthroughs when it comes to treatment. It makes sense to use dogs for such studies, as their lifespans are shorter than those of humans, which makes the process of gathering such data that much quicker. Now that the researchers have established that canine intelligence works in a similar way to human intelligence, we can observe doggy dementia and perhaps extrapolate some truths about brains and dementia in general from them. Furthermore, it’s generally known that smarter people tend to live longer than those who have lower IQs. However, environmental factors such as diet and alcohol consumption sometimes skew these results. Dogs which are well looked-after, with consistently healthy diets no matter their IQ scores, could provide some deeper insights into precisely how the relationship between intelligence and lifespan works. Ultimately, this information and the potential healthcare interventions we can develop from it may help both humans and dogs.


Testing with animals is always a controversial subject, and it’s sadly true that all too often the animals which are used in scientific experiments are treated abominably. In this case, however, researchers have been very keen to stress that the dogs used have been well treated. Indeed, they have stated that the dogs are “willing to participate” and “seem to enjoy taking part”. Given that the majority of the IQ tests seem to involve food or toys, this is perhaps no surprise!

How Clever Is Your Dog?

You can probably get a rough idea of your dog’s intelligence by looking up their breed’s reputation for braininess. This does not, however, provide a hard and fast rule. It’s also worth noting that some dogs which seem ‘clever’ are simply extremely well-trained, and vice versa. If you want to know how clever your dog is, you’ll probably need to combine general observation of your dog with a few simple tests. If you think your dog might be exceptionally bright, or exceptionally stupid, have a go at this online test (you, that is, not your dog. No dog is THAT clever!). It’s not particularly scientific, though, so don’t take its results too much to heart!



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