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1000 Dogs Tested on Standardized Dog IQ test. What Was Found?

There were no breed differences for short-term memory or logical reasoning but some differences in how much they needed to interact with humans when problem-solving

Assessing dog intelligence is one of those sensitive areas because of the difficulty in agreeing on what to measure. Experts tend to say that border collies are the smartest dog breed but the response they may get is, “My shih tzu understands me and I am a difficult person to understand!” Nonetheless, a Finnish research group decided to try their hand at administering a battery of standardized intelligence tests (smartDOG) to over 1000 dogs between 1 and 8 years old, of 13 different breeds, with a minimum of 40 dogs from each breed.

Here’s what they were testing for:

The battery involves measuring different cognitive traits, from spatial problem solving to logical reasoning, to impulse control and an ability to read human gestures and respond appropriately. Some of the tasks also involved memory and an ability to mimic a given behavior. One task involved noting the conditions under which a dog will ask its human trainer for help on an unsolvable problem.

Bob Yirka, “Using a standardized test battery to compare cognitive and behavioral traits in dog breeds (Update)” at Phys.org The paper is open access.

Here are the charted findings:

Percentage of dogs within each breed which trusted the human gesture compared to those which trusted their own memory (n = 823). Breeds have been ordered based on odds ratios, with breeds which are most likely to trust their own memory on the left and breeds which are most likely to trust the human’s gesture on the right. Significant P-values (Bonferroni-corrected) are indicated with asterisks: ***p ≤ 0.001, **p ≤ 0.01, *p ≤ 0.05. The Labrador Retriever was used as the reference breed. Credit: Scientific Reports (2022). DOI: 10.1038/s41598-022-26991-5

Findings of interest included:

● There were no breed differences for short-term memory or logical reasoning. Interestingly, these are qualities that many people might think of as characterizing a “smart” dog.

● Breed differences were found, however, in social cognition, persistence, inhibitory control, and spatial problem-solving ability. Kelpies, golden retrievers, Australian shepherds, and border collies spent the greatest amount of time interacting with humans. Border collies and Australian shepherds scored the highest on inhibitory control. Again, both spending time with humans and knowing enough not to act out are two qualities that people may associate with intelligence in a dog.

● One other thing the researchers found was that golden retrievers and Labrador retrievers differed significantly in the unsolvable task and the gesture task. Thus, the team says, general differences in behavior should be tested at the breed level, as opposed to broad categories like “retrievers.”

On that note, we can be even more specific. Individuals of many dog breeds can be taught specific tasks like fetching a beer on command, provided the relationship with the human includes lots of patience and earned approval:

Sometimes, they will sense what humans want and help out with deception in order to please…

Or just outsmart human ingenuity (and not always feel guilty about it either):

In short, many dogs may be smarter than we think; if they sit alone in an apartment all day, they would not have a chance to demonstrate it.

You may also wish to read: Dogs understand many more words than we think. They also pick up very readily on human emotions, researchers have found. The dog living in a human environment depends on his human friends for clues as to what’s happening — whether as emotional expressions or simple words.

Denyse O'Leary

Denyse O'Leary is a freelance journalist based in Victoria, Canada. Specializing in faith and science issues, she is co-author, with neuroscientist Mario Beauregard, of The Spiritual Brain: A Neuroscientist's Case for the Existence of the Soul; and with neurosurgeon Michael Egnor of the forthcoming The Human Soul: What Neuroscience Shows Us about the Brain, the Mind, and the Difference Between the Two (Worthy, 2025). She received her degree in honors English language and literature.

1000 Dogs Tested on Standardized Dog IQ test. What Was Found?