Dog intelligence varies and some dogs learn many words

Whisky. A clever clogs

The intelligence of the domestic dog varies considerably. We know this because some clever dogs can quickly learn human words in large numbers while others can’t. A study published yesterday in the journal Scientific Reports found that Whisky, a border collie from Norway was able to learn the names of 100 objects. A well known canine Brain of Bitain, Vicky Nina (now deceased) also demonstrated a remarkable capacity to learn and assimilate. She had a remarkable memory and was a social media sensation. Their ability to understand and memorise human vocabulary appears to mirror the abilities of small children learing through social interactions.

Whisky. A clever clogs

Whisky. A clever clogs. Photo: Claudia Fugazza

Both dogs underwent a series of tests. They were presented with a new toy. They played with it and the scientitists used the name of the toy four times. Aftwerwards the dogs were able to retrieve the toy when asked to fetch it despite the toy being placed with other unfamiliar items.

“Such rapid learning seems to be similar to the way human children acquire their vocabulary around two or three years of age said Adam Miklósi, head of the department of ethology at Eötvös Loránd University in Budapest and a co-author of the study. Adam’s colleague, Claudia Fugazza said that Whiskey had learnt about 100 names but she stressed that this ability was limited to a relatively small number of dogs because of their intelligence.

She is sure of this because she tested 20 other canines and none of them were able to do what Whiskey did. Whisky has the ability to learn human words quickly without formal training. This is a special gift and is rare in dogs, she believes.

Whisky is four years of age and Vicky was nine years of age when she underwent the tests. There were carried out in 2018. It is notable that they were able to remember names for quite a short time. In order to fully memorise the names it would take several sessions of “education”.

I have to think about cats. This experiment was carried out with domestic dogs because they are more easy to work with. This variability in intelligence must exist in domestic cats as well. We are not going to know much about that variability because scientists nearly always decide to work with dogs. People should be aware of this variability and make allowances for cats and dogs who are at the lower intelligence and of the spectrum.

I can remember my late mother, God bless her, adopting a couple of over-bred, markedly stupid, British Shorthair cats. It didn’t require guesswork to decide that they were thick. It was readily apparent by their slow, disinterested and dull movements and behaviours. That was due to selective breeding which had gone wrong. What I mean is that selective breeding caused inbreeding depression and other issues. I believe that inbreeding can lower a cat’s intelligence.