A DOG’S INTELLIGENCE RATING – The Political Side
When you search on the internet for information on a dog’s intelligence rating, breed by breed, it is (almost always) a case of “you’ve seen one article, you’ve seen them all”.
Don’t get me wrong, there is some great information; fascinating information, but generally you find all on topic information leads to these lists of “The Most Intelligent Dogs”. And without exception it seems that most writing points towards data derived from a University of British Columbia psychology professor named Stanley Coren, and his book “The Intelligence of Dogs”.
Now although he does refer to a dogs cognitive abilities, (where dogs have displayed some thought processes to carry out an action or have actually counted a number of items to reward themselves), it also tends to focus on a dogs keenness and speed to obey commands and, for want of a better description, do tricks.
And that is why I have a real issue with how a dog’s intelligence rating is measured. And I’ll admit it is a biased issue as I have owned the breed that is at the bottom of most lists when it comes to the top 100 most intelligent dogs. (Being on the bottom of the list infers that this breed is the least intelligent). That breed is the Afghan Hound and I now own a very similar breed called a Saluki. They don’t even get a mention in the top 100, but that may be because they are quite scarce; but it could also be because they were assessed as being so dumb they score over the century! You certainly can’t go into a dog shelter and find a Saluki, and you won’t find an avid devotee dog trainer looking for one to be their next award winning obedience champion. If you wanted to own one you would probably have to be interviewed and added on a list to have a chance as Saluki litters are few and far between and potential owners are scrutinized for their suitability. (But that is another story and that statement is not entirely comprehensive of the situation).
Anyhow … the thing is that it seems that the World in general judges a dog’s intelligence rating on their ability and speed to learn and obey commands and directions and do obedient tricks for their “master”.
I DON’T WANT A SLAVE THANK YOU! I WANT A COMPANION!
(However, if you can point me in the direction of a dog breed that can cook dinner for the family every evening then take me to the breeder and I’ll find a home for my Saluki).
In my opinion all dogs that have a kind, loving, intelligent owner, (a trained owner), and / or a great family to live with and sufficient socialization and exposure to the World learn just the right amount of intelligence to become that family member, that companion that makes dog ownership so wonderful. And that amount of intelligence is a combination of a dogs brain capability (all dogs having the same capability), its specific breed inherited traits and the environment it is brought up in.
I don’t care what breed they are, Border Collie, (apparently the most intelligent breed) or a “dumb” Afghan Hound, they are all DOGS …. they ALL have the same brain …. just as every color, height, shape, race of HUMAN BEINGS are all born with the same brain capability as each other; and the difference between each humans situation on this planet is governed by external impacts and attributes; no exceptions.
And just like human beings, genetic (inherited) traits can have a huge bearing on what each dog can be best at, WITHOUT this over-stated, over-rated “dog’s intelligence rating” coming into contention .
I’ll go straight to an example to show my point.
I have a Border Collie living 5 houses down the street from me; not 200 meters away, and it is an idiot. Why? Because it belongs to a family that shouldn’t have it. Not only are they clueless about anything to do with dogs you can tell by the whole demeanor of them and their environment that they are …. well …. basically lazy, and learning basic dog husbandry would be the furthest thing from their mind.
How do I know this dog it is an idiot and it’s family are clueless? On the odd occasion when it is taken for a walk it slinks along in a sort of crouching position typical of the stance this breed take when they are measuring up a few sheep. It pulls, it zig-zags, it lunges …. it doesn’t look as if it enjoys itself at all. The 2 women of the house who walk it clearly have no idea about lead training. I doubt that it ever sees the inside of the family house (to get some close “people” socialization), as the husband of the house is not the type to allow it. (I won’t elaborate on this … just believe me). It is the women’s dog; you never see any association between him and the dog.
This poor relationship has resulted in a dog of a so called intelligent breed acting quite out of character to some Borders I see at my local dog park. It has that look in its eyes where “a doggy person” can identify that is not to be trusted with other people or dogs. It is just simply a dumb dog due to the limited environmental stimulation it receives. It is a classic example of a dog starved of any type of intelligent stimulation. It has not shown any type of this claimed extraordinary inbuilt breed intelligence that the proponents of this breed purport it to be capable of. They had a German Shepherd prior to this latest addition that was quite ferocious and equally unruly; again due to poor management / socialization I would conclude, and that was all to do with lack of knowledge by the owners.
I expect that some readers might think I have been a bit “personal” in denigrating a neighbor, (who we talk to quite amicably), but they are the classic example of someone who needs to be “trained” on how to own and love a dog the right way. The lady owners even apologize on its behalf for the way it acts when confronting a new situation. When we cloak suggestions about how their pooch could be such a better companion if they did a little bit of training and socialization, all we get is a condescending smile as if to say “nothing wrong with my dog”.
This is the key point to dog intelligence in my opinion. If you want intelligent (learned) obedience it has to be taught, by exposing the dog to new stimulus, no matter what breed. If you want your dog to do tricks, it has to be taught, no matter what the breed. If you want your dog to be a problem solver (cognizant) it STILL has to be taught to a certain degree and given the right learning environment. Your “foundation” might be a dog that can herd … or hunt … or point … or race …. or guard; go for a breed that has the inherited traits/ qualities that align with your requirements of a companion.
But remember, that is not intelligence, it is the result selective breeding by humans over time where they strengthen the targeted characteristics / traits, both physical and mental, to produce an animal (dog) with the functions and physique they require. Then …. when you have your desired breed, no matter what breed, it has to be taught to use those traits as well as be educated on other commands you demand of it, and depending on what breed you chose those commands might be learned quickly or they might be learned at a more moderate pace depending on how your commands fit with the “genetic modelling” of that breed. And most importantly if you don’t know what type of stimulus your breed requires from you to educate it, then it may STILL never reach it’s breeds potential.
Let me ask you this. Do you think a Border Collie is more intelligent than a cow? Well I’ve just watched a video on U Tube where a cow actually launches itself off the bank of a river and does a perfect dive. Another has been taught to hitch itself up to a cart while another opens a double latch gate to get out of its pen; another is playing soccer, and another is helping itself to water by pumping a hand pump on a well. If a cow can be taught these things then ANY dog can achieve some incredible skills that involve independent intelligence. Even a poor old dumb Afghan Hound. Dumb my ass!
I’m not going to leave this issue here either ….. another example ….. a story about an Australian Wombat that could count! Go HERE to read the story about this wombat that loved his carrot treat too much. Yes it apparently beat the test done on dogs where …. you guessed it …. that “so intelligent” breed, the Border Collie was the test subject.
So my point is ….. it’s NOT about the breed, or this “dogs intelligence rating” nonsense. It’s more about the dog.
Take for example a particular dog that is “acquired” by someone who has the goal of “educating” his four-legged friend to be super special in the world of dog obedience and trialing. Of course, if such a person has decided that this will be their next achievement in life, (to educate a dog to it’s ultimate obedience / trialing / trick capability), …. again …. of course they would choose (say) a Border Collie over an Afghan Hound wouldn’t they. It wouldn’t take Einstein to work out that their job would be far easier with a breed that is “bred to obey or be directed” or “very eager to please”, rather than a breed that is “bred to think for itself” or “rest and be lazy until required to catch dinner” or a breed that has an attitude of “why would I bother to do that?”
The world of dogs is just SO political!! It’s political when it comes to owners barracking for their own breed or cross breed as THE choice in dog ownership. (Fair enough too; I’m a big advocate of sight hounds; barracking for your chosen breed just shows you love them and their personalities over other breeds). And just like politics is affected by media, the most popular dog breed at any time is often dependent on trends that are grown through media focus in lifestyle shows or some super-star walking a particular breed of dog down the street. The Focus is on THE popular breed or THE popular designer dog at any time. I’ve been involved in dogs so long I’ve witnessed a variety of breeds from Her Royal Highness’s Corgis being THE breed, through the hippie era when my beautiful hairy Afghan Hound was the dog to be seen with both in the public and in the show ring. And since then we’ve had a raft of popular breeds including German Shepherds, the Pointer Breeds, some tough breeds, some ugly breeds, the odd giant breed and the ever lovable Staffordshire Bull Terrier as well as the Toy breeds like Chihuahuas that always maintain a fan base.
And through all these breed “fads” a dog’s intelligence rating has NOT been a deciding factor. (Train-ability yes, personality yes, looks yes, … but NOT intelligence because it wasn’t a word that was bandied around to describe a dog breeds capabilities). Until recently!
But now with dog breeds being subjected to (what I hope I have shown) somewhat breed biased studies we now see an abundance of intelligence related information that is just pure poppycock in my opinion. And my opinion is based on over half a century of dog ownership at many levels of involvement. No science I admit! Just plain old hands on observation.
So if you see any credence in my opinion, when you think about your dog, or what breed of dog you are aiming to acquire, just remember that the most important factor you must decide on is what PERSONALITY you want. NOT what intelligence your dog is rated at on some heavily biased internet dog websites.
Because YOU and your dogs personalities need to be compatible. If you don’t “suit” your dog’s personality, which is mostly governed by its inherited traits, you might not have that great companion and friend that is the reason why we all love our dogs as family.