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Dog Cognition: Dogs Are Even Smarter Than You Think
By Mary Robins
Aug 12, 2019
• scent work
How much do you know about what goes on in your pup’s head? Do you believe it’s all pretty simple in there? Just thoughts about dinner, the cat next door, and more dinner? Think again.
Dogs have been known to learn hundred of words, do arithmetic, and guess what people and other dogs are thinking. We know all this and more, thanks to the growing number of scientists around the country and the world who have, since the beginning of this century, been turning their attention to the burgeoning field of dog cognition.
So what do you need to know about your dog’s know-how? And how can you nurture that brilliant brain of his?
All Dogs Are Different
The first thing to note is: there’s no such thing as “the dog.” Just like humans, each dog is different. So while scientists are working hard on collecting data about the way dogs experience the world, it’s important to remember that their findings aren’t designed to give you a blueprint to your particular pet. The studies can be interesting, useful guides, but the real joy of dog cognition is in getting curious about the way your own dog thinks.
While you get to know your dog’s mind, remember that there are many different kinds of intelligence. Some dogs might excel at gauging social situations, others might be adept at learning words, while still others might have great problem-solving abilities — or your dog might have some other cognitive skill entirely.
Dogs: Super-Savvy, Socially
Although every dog is unique, there is enough evidence to indicate that species-wide one of the really special things about dogs is how well they understand humans. “They are very attentive to and responsive to us, which is a great social cognitive skill,” Dr. Alexandra Horowitz, head of the Dog Cognition Lab at Barnard College, Columbia University, told me.
Researchers don’t entirely agree on why dogs are so socially savvy. The prevailing view is that their social intelligence is evolutionary: that over the thousands of years since wolves entered the human sphere and started to morph into the pets we know today, breeding has favored qualities that make dogs good companions to humans, such as friendliness and an affinity for us, which make them good at reading our behavior.
There’s also a theory that each dog simply acquires his or her social intelligence through the sheer amount of time spent around humans – that’s why puppy socialization is so important.