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“Intelligent dogs are not nicer pets” says scientist investigating canine intelligence

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Intelligent dogs are not nicer pets

Intelligent dogs are not nicer pets. Quote from Katriina Tiira from the University of Helsinki. The image is free to use under a Creative Commons: ATTRIBUTION-NODERIVS CC BY-ND license.

Katriina Tiira of the University of Helsinki is leading the largest study on canine cognitive ability. The study has not been completed. It is work in progress and therefore there is no report as yet. But Katriina and her team have already assessed about 5,000 dogs. They are assessing them for traits such as logical reasoning and problem solving.

She has already discovered a pattern and it is this.

“Intelligent dogs are not nicer pets.”

Like me, you have probably guessed what that means. My immediate thought was that intelligence in dogs means that they become more independent-minded. They have their own points of view and therefore they might be a little more difficult to handle.

And this indeed is what they found. The report in The Times says that “those that scored highly for cognitive sharpness were frequently a nuisance at home.”

Katriina said:

“Many people come to the test and they say, ‘I have huge problems in my daily life with this dog’ – and often the dog is at the high end of the cognitive results.”

And these intelligent dogs are often working breeds such as collies and malinois, the two dogs illustrated on this page.

They have a reputation for thriving on mental and physical stimulation. I am also immediately reminded of domestic cats. The smarter cats are going to be the wild cat hybrids such as the Bengal and Savannah, especially the first and second filials. They are harder to handle and slightly more difficult to live with than the more placid domestic cat such as Ragdolls and moggies. They are more exotic but a bit more demanding of their owner.

And Katriina added:

“The [top cognitive performers] are often very active, independent and impulsive dogs. They are a lot to handle.”

In Finland, people can pay the equivalent of £175 ($213) to have their dog assessed to see how they rank in cognitive ability among all others that have submitted to the test. She wants to bring this service to the UK.

The dogs attend a 90-minute session. There are 10 tests which gauge traits such as problem solving, logical reasoning, impulsiveness and independence and short-term memory.

In an earlier study by the same woman, they concluded that the border collie and Belgian Malinois tended to score highly in some of the cleverness tests. Cleverness would seem to foster independence and independence would seem to result in the dog not seeking help from their owner.

They want to resolve the problem themselves. This personality trait can be revealed in a test known as the “unsolvable task”.

In this test dogs are shown that they can retrieve food from a box. They are then shown a box that cannot be opened. Dog breeds such as the golden retrievers an English cocker spaniels tend to look to their owner, appealing for help.

The Belgian Malinois was the least likely to do this.

Katriina explained it as follows:

“The owner thinks their dog is stupid, but actually they just want to solve every problem by themselves. It’s actually not a bad trait at all, but you need to understand your dog and what motivates them.”

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