Canine Intelligence

As a huge dog lover and someone who has grown up never going more than a few weeks without a dog in my house, I was especially intrigued by our brief conversation on Tuesday about animal consciousness. Robyn made the point that many animals have LTP, which LeDoux showed us leads to memory. So, the questions becomes, if we all have the same memory source (LTP), then how are humans different from animals? In class we seemed to agree upon the idea of a gradient of consciousness complexity – humans obviously having the most complex form of consciousness. And as I recall, we placed dogs a lot closer to humans on the spectrum compared to rats or flies.

I attempted to research canine consciousness, but the closest I came to finding anything substantial was focused on canine intelligence. We’ve discussed intelligence some in class, but for the purpose of this post, I’m going to assume that we can agree that intelligence is a form of consciousness.

The author identifies three types of canine intelligence. The first is “instinctive intelligence”, which is what the dog breed’s unique capabilities are. For example, some dogs are known to play fetch while others are bred for hunting and still others for herding. The authors note that it’s difficult to measure this type of intelligence across the species because it is so breed-specific. Thus, they look to “adaptive intelligence,” which is the ability of a dog to learn from its mistakes. While some breeds may be more capable of doing this than others, differences can exist within one breed. The final type of intelligence identified is “working and obedience intelligence,” which is what the dogs learn from humans when domesticated. “Working and obedience intelligence” is the easiest form to measure.

In an attempt to find out which breed is most “working and obedience intelligent,” the author asked several canine obedience judges to rank the different breeds. While this doesn’t provide quantifiable measurements of intelligence, the judges did all agree that the Border Collie is the most “working and obedience intelligent” dog. In fact the author provides a list of the 10 most and 10 least intelligent dogs. Take a peek!

I found it really interesting that the judges thought the Border Collie was the most intelligent. Border Collies are bred specifically for herding, which is a complex activity involving lots of movement, understanding of other animals’ movements, and communication with and understanding of humans. In this sense, it seems that Border Collies should belong at higher levels of consciousness on our complexity gradient. For Border Collies to be able to complete such tasks requires a lot of thinking and obviously intelligence, including memory of how to interact with the other animals, how to respond to the humans coaching the herding, and where to herd the other animals. Border Collies become an example of how in terms of consciousness and intelligence complexity, maybe humans aren’t so different from animals after all.

The author mentions that just because some dogs are more intelligent than others in work and obedience, each breed has some unique specialty and purpose. Thus, if we were focusing on a different type of intelligence, then maybe Border Collies would not fall quite as close to humans on the consciousness complexity. Likewise, maybe humans would not even be one end of the gradient, something else would be?

3 thoughts on “Canine Intelligence

  1. Very interesting ending question Taylor. I think we all assume humans are at the end, but you do never know. Also thought the claim made by the other that, “each breed has some unique specialty and purpose,” was interesting (probably more so because I don’t know anything about dogs).


  2. I clicked on the link, beagles are in the bottom 10? I wouldn’t have guessed that. Nor would I have guessed poodles to be in the top 10. Maybe I shouldn’t assume that the types of dogs I like more are more intelligent…


  3. Isn’t the border collie’s herding intelligence a type of “instinctive intelligence” since it is a variation that comes with the breed. I’ve heard stories of Collies that are not trained to herd constantly try to herd people, cars, etc. Since it doesn’t need to be taught but is inherent behavior, I don’t think it is really a testament to working/obedience memory.


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