If you are convinced your dog is a genius, you may be disappointed in the conclusions of a study just published in the journal Learning and Behavior.The study finds that dogs are cognitively quite ordinary when compared to other carnivores, domestic animals, and social hunters. “There is no current case for canine exceptionalism,” the authors conclude.
That we think otherwise is not surprising. Claims of canine exceptionalism abound, from people’s anecdotes about their dogs’ ability to read their minds (“Sparky looked into my eyes and then at the refrigerator—he knew I wanted a beer!”), to books with titles such as My Dog is a Genius: How to Improve your Dog’s Intelligence, to a canine intelligence test that will let you “find the genius in your dog.”
Case studies add to the perception that dogs possess uncanny intelligence. A striking example is a Border collie named Chaser. Trained from puppyhood by her owner, the late Wofford College psychologist John Pilley, Chaser has learned the names of more than a thousand toys. She even seems able to reason, as she demonstrated for the astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson on the television program NOVA. Tyson begins by placing a random selection of Chaser’s toys behind a couch and asking her to retrieve several of them, which she does with dispatch. He then adds to the array a toy she has never seen—a Charles Darwin doll. Finally, he asks Chaser to “find Darwin!” Chaser walks behind the couch, and after a few seconds of hesitation, brings the doll to an astonished Tyson.
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