There are many theories about the intelligence of the dog. The majority of dog owners know that their dogs are very bright: these owners can tell any number of stories that demonstrate the animal’s high intelligence. In addition to the clever ways in which dogs outwit their owners, canine intelligence shines when dogs are asked to perform the tasks for which they were bred. For instance, the Border Collie is exceptionally quick to learn how to herd a flock of sheep, and only risk appearing stupid when you ask him to scent out a bird.{+++} The bird dog
who finds the bird naturally, without training, is labeled extremely intelligent. Yet this same genius will look dumb, and probably get trampled, if allowed to mingle with a flock of sheep.

theo-002Motivation is a big part of intelligence. One dog owner scheduled an appointment to have her dog evaluated after a discussion with her friend. The dog owner and her friend were convinced that the dog had a learning disability because the friend’s Labrador Retriever could open doors with his nose and paw, whereas the other dog would just sit in front of the door and wait for someone to open it. The idea never occurred to this person that the dog didn’t want to go through the door all that badly or that he was smart enough to wait for her to open it instead of expending energy.

Another client who owned and trained Border Collies labeled one of her dogs retarded because the dog did not appear to grasp the concept of retrieving as quickly as her other Border Collies. Once the training method was adapted for the dog’s particular temperament, which was different from that of the typical Border Collie, she learned and enjoyed retrieving. This same dog would display aggression toward other dogs by growling and curling her lips to show her teeth. The trainers thought the owner was quite effective and consistent in correcting the lip curl until one of the trainers observed that when this “retarded” dog approached another canine, she quietly curled only one side of her mouth, the side the owner could not see.

Frequently, people believe that  females are smarter than males. However, there is no evidence to date to support the theory of a significant difference in intelligence between the sexes. Those who claim there is a difference may be tainted by their prejudice toward or preference for one sex or the other. Intelligence is more apt to vary individually rather than by the sex of the animal.

Measuring Your Dog’s Intelligence

Some dog owners and dog trainers expect their dog’s level of thinking and smartness to be the same of humans, when being trained.  This mistaken assumption about dog psychology can be devastating to the expectations of both the dog owner and the dog itself.

Trainers shouldn’t assess canine intelligence against human standards. Each individual canine may possess his own unique talent. If the occasion does not arise for the animal to display this talent, it doesn’t mean he’s dumb. For centuries, behavior experts have been trying to devise a test that measures all aspects of human intelligence and have failed miserably. With this success rate in mind, how can canine experts profess to measure the dog’s intelligence when we do not even speak the same language?

Labeling a dog dumb can be as unproductive and damaging as labeling humans. If an animal is labeled dumb, the owner usually gives up trying to teach the dog. The label then becomes self-fulfilling because if his owner won’t train him, the dog really won’t know anything.

On the other hand, labeling a dog smart may create unrealistic expectations and disappointment if he doesn’t respond as expected. Perhaps all these “dumb” dogs are just clever enough to make their owners think they are dumb to avoid the effort of obeying! A very frustrated Basset Hound owner complained to his instructor that he had spent a month trying to teach his dog to sit on command and the dog just didn’t get it. As the owner was explaining his dilemma, the instructor was mindlessly playing with a piece of liver that she had not put away after working with another dog. The Basset noticed the liver and began nudging the instructor. From pure habit, she told the dog to sit. The Basset plopped his rear end down as fast as Bassets do. This is a good demonstration of learning theory proven long ago that a lack of response does not mean that learning is not occurring. This dog was learning, the owner just hadn’t found the right motivator to get him to respond.

Perhaps canine intelligence is not measurable, particularly when the criteria for intelligence are measured on another species’ yardstick. Fortunately, regardless of breed, the great majority of dogs are intelligent enough to grasp basic obedience commands when training is intelligently presented. A trainer armed with motivating training methods and a good understanding of the principles behind canine learning can shape a dog’s behavior into desirable conduct.

The Dog/Wolf Connection

Many of the wolf-like social behaviors of the dog are not things that endear them to us, and many have lost their original social purpose to the dog as well. They are appendages that evolution hasn’t managed to shake yet. Like the human appendix, they range from merely useless to downright awkward.

The elaborate eliminatory patterns of the dog are a source of puzzlement and grief to many a dog owner, but if it is any consolation, they don’t make a great deal of sense for the dog, either. In wolves, both the alpha male and the alpha female generally urinate with a raised leg; all other members of the pack merely squat. The raised-leg urinations involve depositing relatively small amounts of urine in prominent places and on conspicuous objects. This of course has almost nothing to do with the needs of elimination and everything to do
with territorial markers.

Many people have come to believe the frequently repeated tale that wolves only mark the perimeter of their territory in this fashion, as a “keep-out” signal. In fact, careful studies in Minnesota found that wolves urine-mark throughout their territory. They do the same with their feces (scats) which are frequently deposited on prominent spots, too, such as snowbanks, stumps, shrubs, and even empty beer cans.

Wolf scats are also frequently found at trail junctions, especially in the immediate vicinity of rendezvous sites where growing wolf pups are left while the adults go off to hunt. Scent glands on either side of the anus probably serve to add an individually distinctive odor to scats, reinforcing their function as scent markers.

The scratching of the ground that sometimes follows elimination by socially dominant wolves, and which some but not all dogs exhibit, appears to be aimed at reinforcing the scent mark with a visual mark, or possibly to reinforce it more directly with odor from glands in the paws. (Wolves are careful while scratching up dirt or leaves during this action not to aim the debris directly at the site of their eliminations.)

Dogs not only have no instinct to keep such a large area clean; on the contrary, they have a definite instinct to thoroughly mark their immediate vicinity with both urine and feces. Wolves apparently do this so that pack members can know at any time whether they are in their home territory. The primary stimulus for raised-leg urination in wolves is not, as is often said, the smell of a strange wolf’s urine, but rather the presence of the wolf’s own mark: there is a strong instinct to mark and remark sites along frequently traveled routes within the wolf’s own territory. Indeed, it may be an almost automatic response to the odor of urine. Laboratory studies have found that when the nasal lining of dogs is electrically stimulated, it triggers an immediate relaxation of the urinary sphincter muscles.

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