People love nothing more than saying how intelligent their dogs are - “Oh, he’s SO clever - he can open drawers!”, “You wouldn’t believe what he did last night - he walked in a straight line!”, “She’s unlike any other dog you’ve ever seen! She can bark!”
But next time you have to hear it, why not hit it back at ‘em with the results of a new study, thereby enabling you to inform them that their mutt is an absolute dunce, actually, albeit a lovable one that you can’t stop staring at because it’s just so sweet and loooook at da cheeks and… sorry.
Essentially, even though dogs are known for their surprising cognitive abilities, they’re actually no smarter than a bunch of other animals. A paper published in the journal Learning & Behavior(which thankfully, dogs can’t read, because they’d be fairly offended by the almighty cussing they receive in it) compared the brain function of dogs to under-represented animals in the same field (not literally - that would be very difficult to manage) and discovered the surprising results.
Britta Osthaus, a senior lecturer in psychology at Christ Church University in the UK, said, quite smugly:
“Dogs are special, but they’re not exceptional.
“They’re smart, but they’re not stand-out smart.”
It would be remiss of us not to point out that this is also a line millions of teachers say to parents every single week about their functional but average children.
The paper says that dogs fit into three main classifications: carnivorans, an order of animal mostly made up of meat-eaters; social hunters, meaning they work together to find and retrieve food; and they’ve been domesticated by humans.
They then compared our bessie mates to other animals that straddled those categories, like wolves (a close ancestor), wild dogs and hyenas (carnivorans and social hunters), cats (carnivorans and domesticated animals), dolphins and chimpanzees (social hunters) and horses and pigeons (domesticated animals) (weirdly, never met anyone with a pet pigeon).
They then looked at over 300 existing studies on the other animals’ cognitive abilities and discovered - shock horror - that they could all match or even exceed your “clever” dog’s skills.
Osthaus does have at least some faint praise for mutts, however, saying:
“They’re the only species at the middle of these three categories, so they are rather special.”
So it’s not a complete washout for our furry friends.
But why is it that we see dogs as our intelligent brothers and sisters, sons and daughters, lovers and fighters (maybe just fighters, come to think of it - people will talk), and best friends?
Well, according to the paper, it seems to be for the following reasons: dogs are easy to study, so there’s more info and evidence out there; and also simply because we love them a great deal. Nobody really likes pigs, because they bathe in their own waste (allegedly) and sound like they’ve got a cold, but they’re quite clever too - it’s just we prefer to think of dogs as the fun, intelligent ones.
“We like our dogs to be very clever, and we like them to be appreciated.
“[But] we need to take into account that dogs are dogs. We need to be fair toward dogs, to know what their limits are, so we don’t expect too much.”
And on the flip-side, we also need to give credit to other animals, like gross pigs:
“If we know a lot about the cognition of pigs or goats, then we need to look into their welfare and how we keep them.
“If they have needs for social interaction and for mental stimulation, then we need to provide that.”
To boil it down: stop bowling up to the farm with your dog to wedgie the pigs, basically - they’re all idiots, including your dog.