Just How Intelligent Is Your Dog?

June 05, 2017


How do you determine whether or not someone is smart? Do you look at his or her academic experience? Or, do you use some form of standardized IQ test to assign a score to intelligence? Intelligence isn’t as easy to define as one may initially believe.

Research shows that intelligence is not some uni-dimensional quality that one either does, or does not, possess. We express our intelligence is a variety of ways. Some individuals excel in reasoning and critical thinking, while others excel in tasks that involve reading, writing, and the manipulation of words.


This variability in the expression of intelligence isn’t limited to humans; it applies to our dogs as well. From problem solving to communication, dogs display their impressive intelligence in many ways. In fact, researchers report that the mental skills of most dogs are similar to those of a 2-2.5 year old child.

Decoding Your Dog’s Intelligence

If you are like many dedicated dog owners, you have always known that your dog is smart. By watching for the signs below, you can catch a glimpse of what is going on inside of his or her mind.

Ability To Learn Language

According to Dr. Stanley Coren - a renowned canine researcher and author of “How Dogs Think” - the average dog can learn approximately 165 words. Dogs that are especially gifted building their vocabulary can learn up to 250 words. Interestingly enough, research also shows that the manner in which dogs learn language is similar to the learning behavior of humans and apes.


Dog intelligence extends beyond learning language. Recent research shows that some dogs also excel in reasoning and problem-solving.

Reportedly, dogs are able to count up to four or five and even understand basic arithmetic - granted it is a bit challenging to test for considering you can’t exactly give a dog a sheet of equations to complete. (To learn how researchers test for mathematical skill, check out this article titled “Do Dogs Know Mathematics?”).


Dogs are also able to learn “real world” problem solving skills including: finding the most efficient route from one location to another, learning how to operate simple mechanisms like latches, and remembering the locations of favorite items.

Understanding Gestures And Cues

Dogs are able to understand the meaning of a variety of gestures and social cues. For example, if someone points to a particular object, most dogs will be able to interpret that hand gesture and find the object. Dogs are also able to read more subtle cues - following the direction of human gaze to find hidden treats.

Connecting On An Emotional Level

The ability to connect with others on an emotional level is another valuable aspect of intelligence. According to a 2014 study that examined dog brain activity, a dog’s brain processes voices in a manner that is strikingly similar to how a human’s brain processes voices. Dog brains also respond to emotional sounds like laughter and crying.


Dogs are also believed to empathize with their owners - sensing anger and sadness. Dogs can even “catch” a yawn - evidence of a basic form of empathy that is also witnessed in human and primate interactions.

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