It seems likely that most people who try to evaluate the intelligence of animals are probably measuring the wrong things! Yes, there is great importance in the fact that parrots and parakeets can often quickly learn to COPY sounds they hear. Similarly, most dogs can be conditioned to behave in specific ways on command. These are certainly aspects which show native intelligence. But I believe that it is important to place higher standards on what is expected.
Here is an example of what I consider to be far clearer evidence of the native intelligence of one specific dog. As a puppy, a dog of mine was frightened by a very loud sound, the firing of a shotgun just a couple feet away from her. As a result, Deimos always hated loud sounds throughout her life.
It was only after watching this happen many times that I finally realized that she had somehow figured out the relationship between lightning and thunder! When she would see the bright flash, she had figured out that a few seconds later, there would be a loud boom! So it was not the bright flash at all that she was afraid of, but the thunder that she knew would soon follow.
That is amazing ANALYTICAL THINKING! How could a dog discover such a relationship?
It actually had some humorous side effects! Whenever a flash camera was used to take a photo of anyone, she would immediately run to her bed and start shivering! I would wonder if she was confused as to why there was no sound of thunder then!
This example shows a combination of good observation and good logic in an analysis and then in arriving at a reliable conclusion. That is pretty close to what is considered the Scientific Method of investigation! That is quite different from an animal simply learning to copy some sound or behavior, or to reinforce a specific behavior based on treats or praise training.
In February 2011, PBS aired a program about a dog which showed similar analytical thinking. An owner had gotten the dog to recognize an amazing number of words, each associated with different stuffed animals. The dog could hear a (known) word/name and immediately go to her pile of stuffed animals to find the correct one, quite consistently. A Reporter decided to push the idea farther. (He was also a Physicist!) He brought a stuffed animal of his own along, which the dog had never seen and had never heard the unusual name of that animal, Darwin. So the Reporters asked the dog to find Darwin. The dog was clearly confused, and he needed to ask again. She then brought out the CORRECT stuffed animal, one that she had never seen before! She clearly did a lot of logical thinking, in first realizing that the word Darwin was not associated with any of the stuffed animals that she was familiar with. Amazingly, she did deductive thinking in then concluding that the new WORD Darwin MUST BE associated with the NEW stuffed animal, so she decided to bring out the CORRECT stuffed animal (which was absolutely unknown to her).
This is EXACTLY the sort of experiment which I have always tried to challenge my various dogs with. Some failed miserably at such tests. Only four consistently impressed me with their ability to FIGURE OUT things that they rightfully should not have been able to deduce (Mimas, Deimos, Meatball and Phobos). The rest of my many dogs seemed to be pretty normal in dog terms, but still wonderful!
I have always been a "critter" person. Ever since I was a little kid, I had the opportunity to be around quite a number of animals, especially dogs. I have shared my life with about 20 dogs, nine of them all at the same time!
During those times, I have witnessed a number of incidents that certainly seem to indicate some thinking capability in at least some of them. Several of these incidents are presented below.
Quite a few of the dogs I have had have been hunting breeds. Nearly half have been varieties of Coonhounds. Since I would never want to even injure any animal, much less kill it, I needed to find a way to let them practice some skills while still teaching them to never hurt anything. So I trained them to ONLY kill tennis balls! But I encouraged full out attacks on their tennis balls!
After a while, many of their lives revolved around tracking, catching, retrieving and trying to chew up tennis balls! They REALLY looked forward to the times I would play with them. Usually, I would sit on the living room floor and ask for a ball. They would disappear in all different directions and in short order I'd have half a dozen tennis balls!
Mimas always knew what was about to be asked and understood the question, but she rarely actually went to find a ball. She clearly knew that the other dogs would bring back the necessary balls to play with, so usually she just got into the best avaiable position! I suppose that could seem to be laziness or stupidity on her part, but I tend to think that she knew how to USE the other dogs like that. She seemed to confirm that on certain times when her brother Titan had found a ball and was about to give it to me. Mimas would nip his back leg, and when he would turn around to nip her back, she would catch the ball that came out of his mouth and bring it to me. She and I would then look at each other, and I wondered if she thought she had fooled me about bringing a ball!
Early on, when I just had two Coonhounds, they would often be satisfied just playing with one ball. Whoever brought it back got praised and petted, so there was a lot of competition. They were VERY active dogs and I would throw the ball against a wall pretty much as hard as I could. The ball would come back at really high speed. (I didn't want this game to be TOO easy for them!) Sometimes, the ball would bounce off one of their mouths or noses and wind up almost anywhere. Sometimes, that would be rolling under a couch.
If it was near any edge of the couch there was no problem and either dog could reach under for it. But when it rolled to near the middle, their heads were too big to fit far enough in to be able to grab it. They would look under at it. The two dogs DEFINITELY had different ideas. After a few seconds of looking, the male, Phobos, would just jam his head under, lifting up the heavy couch as he pushed. He did this a couple times even when I happened to be sitting on the couch. That had to be REALLY painful!
The other dog, the female, Deimos, clearly had more organized thoughts. Her usual method resembled the following methodical approach: She would go up to all four sides of the couch and look at the ball. Then she would again look from all four sides. She would stay for several seconds in each place. So this all took more than half a minute. After all that, she invariably would pick the side that was nearest the ball. I was always impressed with the thoroughness of her approach. It suggested to me a series of organized thoughts, taking observations and then analyzing them to determine the best side to work from. (Even when the ball was near one end of the couch, she would still look from the other end, five feet away! She had found a system that worked and she never varied from it.)
Once she selected the best side, her head was still too big to fit under the couch to reach it. At different times, she tried various ways. One worked well, of just kicking at it with her paws, but the ball would come out the other side of the couch and the other dog would get the credit for bringing it to me. She eventually came up with a way that worked relatively well. She would CAREFULLY reach both of her forepaws under the couch (her head was up alongside the couch so she couldn't actually see what was happening). If the ball was only a little beyond what her mouth could have reached, she would gently put a paw (usually the right paw) on top of the ball and carefully pull it back toward her. Even if it slipped off (and it usually did) the ball rolled generally toward her side of the couch enough for her to grab it with her mouth.
When the ball was even farther away, she could sometimes somehow extend her claws that would catch in the fuzz of the tennis ball. Sometimes, she used both paws alternately to very slowly pull the ball toward herself. Quite impressive!
I was SO impressed by her combination of logical analysis and then motor skills that, sometimes when the dogs were not around, I would use a ruler to place the ball just 1/2 inch nearer the front back or end of the couch, to see if she would try from the best direction (she ALWAYS did!) and how successfully she would be at actually getting it. She was remarkably effective! I do not see how that sequence would be possible without intelligence, logic and creative thought.
Several years later, these two dogs had a litter of nine puppies, three of which were kept as parts of the family. Two of those three were not particularly notable except as being generally good dogs, Titan and Enceladus. The third, Mimas, was the most remarkable animal I have ever had the honor of being near. She exhibited a number of behaviors, each of which I cannot explain except by attributing to her a significant analytical ability. I have collected some of the anecdotes about her in a separate page, at Animal Insights.
(Yes, Phobos and Deimos were named for the two moons of Mars. When they had a litter of nine, at that time the planet Saturn was known to have nine moons, and I named each of them appropriately, so the three unusual names above arose that way.)
There are some other web-pages which are dog-centered:
This presentation was first placed on the Internet in June 1997.
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C Johnson, Theoretical Physicist, Physics Degree from Univ of Chicago