NEW YORK (CBS 2) — Many people believe dolphins and chimpanzees are the smartest animals other than humans when it comes to intelligence, but new research shows the family dog might also be among the geniuses in the room.
And as CBS 2’s Kristine Johnson reported Wednesday, pedigree doesn’t matter. There are brainy dogs in every breed.
“It’s very clear that she’s got an agenda,” said Jen Wehrung. “I just don’t always know what it is, and it’s pretty fascinating to watch.”
“I’m always curious the way a dog’s brain differs from ours; how they attach meaning to certain things,” said Andrew Champlin of Astoria.
Caren Geberer also wants to know what her dog, Gracie, thinks, and what goes on in her head.
“What I really wanted was information, so she and I could play more intelligently,” Geberer said, “how she thought and what motivated her.”
So Geberer tried a series of online tests called “Dognition” that promise to measure how dogs think and learn.
“About 10 years ago, science woke up to the idea that dogs are truly remarkable, and there’s been a lot of interest and attention in understanding them better ever since,” said Dr. Brian Hare.
Hare is the brains behind “Dognition,” and the director of the Duke University Canine Cognition Center.
He suggested dogs are smarter because they can interpret human gestures and visual cues – something other animals cannot do.
“It’s an ability dogs are really born with — they’re predisposed to understand people in this pretty remarkable way,” Hare said. “This is something that evolved during domestication — essentially, dogs becoming friendlier. They became smarter.”
But animal behaviorists said it is difficult to measure what makes a dog smart. You might think well-behaved and highly trained animals such as police and service dogs would be the brightest, but that is not necessarily the case.
“When we think about intelligence, often the best marker is the idea of the ability to adapt to new situations,” said Dr. Steven Zawistowski, an animal behaviorist with the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. “A stray dog living on the street needs to be intelligent how to avoid cars, how to find food, how to recognize people who are perhaps threatening.”
Geberer put her dog to the test. She hid a treat under one cup, then pointed to another cup without a treat. Will Gracie follow her instructions even though they are wrong, or will she rely on instinct and her nose and choose the cup with the treat?
She ended up getting it right half the time.
“She would not go consistently where I pointed,” Geberer said.
“You can have a dog that is incredibly communicative, is really reliant on gestures, or you can have a dog that isn’t,” Hare said. “There are no right or wrong answers. It’s not about your dog being smart or dumb. It’s just trying to understand them as an individual.”
Next, Geberer tried to get Gracie to mimic her yawn. Researchers said it shows empathy — dogs are one of the few species that can express it.
“We know that dogs look at our faces differently than other animals do,” Zawistowski said. “There’s been a co-evolution in many ways — dogs have been with us for so long that they’ve adapted to us, and we’ve adapted to them.”
Gracie did not follow Geberer’s examples before the cameras, but Geberer said the tests gave her insight into her dog’s mind.
“She’s definitely a more independent dog,” Geberer said. “She is self-directed, and she will try to figure things out by herself. It showed me that I was correct noticing that she is that kind of a dog.”
As for cats, there has been very little research published about them. From a scientific perspective, they are still a mystery.
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