We all know dogs are incredibly smart, they have proven it over and over in all sorts of situations. We’ve seen how much they can learn, how easily they can adapt, how many words from us they understand and how many jobs they can learn to do. But if we were to measure their intelligence in human terms, how smart are they really?
A study conducted in 2009 by Professor Stanley Coren, a leading expert on canine intelligence at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, claims that dogs’ intelligence can be put on the same level as the one of a two-year-old human.
According to some research, dogs can count up to five and perform simple mathematical calculations, they can understand about 165 words, signs and signals (although there is a 20 per cent capable of understanding up to 250), which is more or less what a two and a half-year old child can do.
Of course this also varies from breed to breed and from the type of dog. Professor Coren believes that centuries of selective breeding and living alongside humans has helped to develop their intelligence and he is determined to understand them. In an interview he said:
“We all want insight into how our furry companions think, and we want to understand the silly, quirky and apparently irrational behaviors [that they] demonstrate (…) Their stunning flashes of brilliance and creativity are reminders that they may not be Einsteins but are sure closer to humans than we thought”.
But all of this research didn’t convince Alexandra Horowitz, a professor and researcher of canine cognition currently examining dog-human dyadic play behavior. She decided to do a “quasi-scientific” test to prove the similarities between her dog and her two-year old son observing them for a week. This is what she found…
Regarding self-awareness, a child can identify himself/herself by looking at the mirror since they are about 18 months. Dogs don’t. But they reveal a sense of “me” when they smell other dogs’ urine more than their own.
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Regarding play, dogs seem to understand the rules of play and consequences of their behavior but two-year olds not so much. However, a child this age is starting to play “pretend games”, in which he can pretend to drink from an invisible cup. Dogs won’t do this.
Regarding language, both dogs and children can understand more or less the same amount of words, but children also use them. Dogs don’t. However, they both also communicative in their own way: children still babble at this age and dogs can give us a specific look. “I imbue [my son’s] babble and [my dog’s] look with great meaning, based more on my familiarity with them than any evidence of their signifying anything at all.
Regarding exploring the world, dogs do it through smell and children through their vision. Younger children, as dogs, also explore the world though their mouth but by the time they are two, they are not doing it so much.
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Regarding empathy, both dogs and children don’t want us to be angry. Children understand when an adult needs help and spontaneously try to provide it. Dogs can be trained to help but they don’t seem to see our problems and our intents to solve them like children do. However dogs are infinitely patient which children this age are not.
So, is there a conclusion here? What does this all mean? Alexandra Horowitz concludes:
“In the end, the dog and the child overlap in many behaviors. But there are myriad subtle differences between them, the summation of which indicates that to equate their intelligences makes no sense. The child is on his way to something else; the dog is, fairly quickly, there. You are no more doing your dog a kindness by treating him as a child than you would be in treating your child as a dog.”
What do YOU think? Are dogs as smart as a two-year-old? Does it even matter?
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