How Smart are Dogs

How smart are Dogs?

Dogs have long been man’s best friend, living as our domesticated companions for as long as 30,000 years. They do remarkable things. They follow complex instructions to herd sheep, they guide blind people through crowded city streets, they detect cancer and other diseases, and they seem to pay close attention when we talk to them.

Of course, we all know that our own pups are well above average intelligence, but just how smart are they really? People like their kids to be smart, and they like their dogs to be smart, but at the Yale cognition centre, Laurie Santos, a professor of psychology who directs the centre says. “Some people will call and sound apologetic, saying, ‘I’d like to bring my dog in, but he might be too dumb.’”

According to Dr. Brian Hare, professor of cognitive neuroscience at Duke University, author of the book “The Genius of Dogs,” says “What really has happened in the last 10 years is that we’ve learned more about how dogs think than in the previous 100 years,” There have been a lot of big discoveries … Dogs are very distinctly different from us genetically, but psychologically, they are more like us than some of our more closely related, more genetically related primate relatives.”

Dogs have spread to all corners of the world, including inside our homes and in some cases onto our beds. While a majority of mammals on the planet have seen a steep decline in their populations as a result of human activity, there have never been more dogs on the planet than today.”

So maybe the smartest thing dogs have done is learn to use our help.

Dogs feel empathy

When you look at your dog and yawn, chances are your dog might yawn, too, because dogs can “catch” your yawn. This is called “emotional contagion,” and it’s a basic form of empathy.

A study from the University of Helsinki found that dogs can sense when their owners are angry and have even evolved to respond accordingly. Another study found that dogs respond in a similar way, physiologically and behaviourally, to humans when they hear a human baby crying— another example of emotional contagion.

Studies also show that dogs “eavesdrop” on human interaction to assess who is mean to their owner and who is not and some will be prepared to protect their owner from harm.

Dogs do experience jealousy and will figure out how to get human attention back to them, even by force if necessary.

Dogs make eye contact

Dogs are the only non-primate animal to  look people in the eyes without misinterpreting what it means. Wolves, meanwhile, interpret eye contact as a  sign of hostility, according to Science Magazine.

Eye contact has an important effect on both human and dog brains.

“Just by making eye contact with dogs,” said Hare, “we have an increase in oxytocin.” Oxytocin, sometimes referred to as the “love hormone,” plays an important role in attachment-forming, bonding, and trust. Usually, this kind of response  occurs only between parents and their children, or maybe romantic partners, Hare said. This “is the first time that it has been shown that dog and human, can interact and affect the oxytocin loop.”

Dogs see humans as part of their family.

Recent studies of dogs’ brains suggest that not only do they love us, but they also see us as their family, Mic reports. A study found that when dogs smelled their owners, the “reward centre” of their brains (called the caudate nucleus) lit up. The study also found that the dogs prioritized the smell of humans over all other smells.

And they interact with us as if they were children.

Behavioural research has shown that dogs are the only domesticated animals that interact with their humans in the same way that babies interact with their parents. Unlike cats or horses, dogs that are scared or worried will run to their humans for help and comfort, in much the same way a toddler runs to his parents. Cats and horses simply run and hide.

Dogs understand gestures, like pointing.

If someone points to an object, both children and dogs will be able to interpret the hand movement and find the object. Dogs are able to interpret the meaning behind the gestures, and this is something that even chimps failed to do according to studies.

Dogs also appear to be able to read subtler gestures such as social cues like  using the direction of human gaze to find hidden food and objects — a task that apes also struggle with, The Scientist reports.

 Dog brains react to humans

MRI machines used to scan dog brains (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) showed that parts of their brain lights up through external stimuli. The functional -Nestlé Purina- MRI tested blood flow during human presence and found increased blood flow in dogs’ eyes, ears and paws indicating excitement in human company. When dogs were petted their heart rate went down, they became calm with less stress and anxiety.

MRI images also show that dog brains have voice areas in the brain, and that they process voices in the same way that human brains do, with a similar part of the brain lighting up at the sound of human voices.

They also found that dog brains responded when they heard emotional sounds, such as crying or laughter. These findings might help explain why vocal communication is so successful between humans and dogs.

Some dogs can learn new words the way children do.

Dogs, like dolphins, apes, and parrots, can learn a series of vocal commands — or words. One dog, a border collie named Rico, knew more than 200 words, mostly the names of toys.

What made Rico so special, though, wasn’t the dog’s ability to know so many words, said Hare — it was how he had learned them. Rico was using a process called “fast-mapping,” or inference, which is the same way children learn language skills.

Growing up, children learn words very quickly because if they hear a new word, they can infer its meaning by putting it together with a new object. Rico did the same thing: When scientists asked him to fetch a toy he didn’t know the name of, he looked at all the toys in the room, and all of them — except one — were familiar to him. Therefore, the new word must correspond to the new toy, so that is the one he picked. “There is no other species on the planet that has come close to doing that,” said Hare.

Other dogs, including another border collie named Chaser who learned 1,000 words, have also been able to use this same fast-mapping method.

And some dogs have the ability to generalize

Today, more dogs have jobs helping humans than ever before, and one of those jobs — being a guide dog — rely on a dog being able to do one important thing: generalize. In other words, guide dogs have to be able to take what they learn in one specific situation and apply it to all similar situations. This is why they are picked and the focus of their training.

For example, guide dogs know how to apply their training about when and how to cross a street to every street they will ever cross — even if it is a crosswalk they have never been to.

While not all dogs are the same (and not all have all these abilities), it is still clear that we are getting smarter about how smart our canine friends really are.

Who’s a naughty boy?

An experiment by University of Vienna researchers was designed to find out when dogs are most likely to disobey. Pooches were told to lie down and a bowl of their favourite food was placed about five feet in front of them. Not surprisingly, they were most likely to go for the food when owners left the room or turned their backs. But when the owners were facing them, they could tell whether they were watching TV or reading a bookor paying attention to them!

Dogs that were told not to take food were twice as likely to disobey if the food was in a dark room! Dr. Juliane Kaminksi of the University of Portsmouth said: “That’s incredible, because it implies that dogs understand that humans can’t see them.”


New research shows that all barks are not equal. Dogs use different barks and growls to communicate different messages, researchers say. And what’s more, other dogs can understand differences among barks and identify other dogs by their “voices.”

DAID (Do as I do)

Scientists in Hungary conducted experiments to see how well dogs can imitate what they see. Researchers stood in front of the pooches and turned in a circle, jumped up, or placed objects in a container. The dogs succeeded in copying these movements at about the same level as 16-month-old children given the same skill tests.


Dogs seem to trust us for problem-solving help. When they are flummoxed (for example, the rubber ball becomes stuck under a bed, the kitchen door shuts), they turn to their humans, yipping, pawing, and gazing dolefully. A wolf reared by a human, by contrast, will just keep trying to solve the problem on its own.

Dogs mirror your emotions

It’s already scientifically proven that dogs can see and hear human emotions, but until recently no one knew that their incredible sense of smell can inform them of how their humans are feeling. Dogs can also smell fear.

A team of university researchers in Italy and Portugal discovered this.

They used eight human volunteers to watch 25-minute videos designed to provoke fear or happiness. They collected their sweat on pads as they watched each video and pooled the “fear sweat” and “happiness sweat” samples. The 40 dogs used were Labs and Golden Retrievers.

Each dog was placed in a small room with its owner and a stranger (who did not provide sweat). Dogs exposed to “happy sweat” had more interactions with the strangers in the room – indicating they felt relaxed enough to check out the strangers. In contrast, dogs exposed to “fear sweat” stayed with their owners, looking for reassurance because they felt stressed and also had higher heart rates.

A man was driving a van and had his dog in the back where there were no windows. Looking into his rear view mirror he noticed the blue light of a police car driving silently behind him. He got a fright thinking that he might have been speeding. At that moment the dog started barking. The dog’s reaction could only have been from smelling the driver’s fear reaction because he could not see or hear anything.


Canine research is underway on campuses all over the world. It has coincided with a shift in how dog owners view their animals. They are often referred to as pet parents who want their puppies to go to puppy school and get the best start possible. However, smart dogs are often a nuisance! They get restless, bored and create trouble just like teenagers.

There is no evidence to show that one breed is cognitively superior to another. However, a study of 110 dogs by the University of British Columbia, listed the top three: Border collie, then Poodle followed by German shepherd.

“Giorgio is one third poodle, so he’s really smart a third of the time,” said Ms Giordano. m