It may seem from a dog’s friendly demeanour and ability to perform tricks that they are smarter than most animals but a new study suggests this is not the case.
Psychologists from Exeter and Canterbury University examined the cognitive abilities of ‘man’s best friend’ when compared with other animals – including cats.
Experts concluded that canines do not possess particularly higher intelligence than their feline rivals, as well as a number of other creatures.
Researchers used data on observations of the behaviour of dogs, cats, wolves and chimpanzees to see if pooches possessed any specific special skills.
They found that dog’s mental faculties are not exceptional compared to other species and were even bested in many categories.
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A new study has discovered that dogs may not be as smart as many people perceive them to be. Psychologists examined how the cognitive abilities of dogs compared to those of other animals and concluded that canines do not possess (stock image)
The study, led by Professor Stephen Lea and Dr Britta Osthaus, was published in the December issue of scientific journal Learning and Behaviour.
They compared canine cognition to other carnivores, social hunters and domestic animals.
Various aspects of a dog’s intelligence were analysed, including sensory, physical, spatial and social cognition as well as self-awareness.
The team used a series of tests to assess how different animals reacted.
Examples included the ability to follow human pointing, which indicated that dolphins, seals and pigs were top of the class in this respect.
When it came to pulling strings to release food, wolves, cats and racoons were more effective at learning the ropes than dogs.
Cats were found to be good at locating hidden objects, though relying primarily on egocentric cues. Physical cognition is not a domain in which dogs excel, and their performance is at least equalled by other members of all three of our comparison groups (stock image)
Professor Lea and Dr Osthaus said that dogs appear to be no better than other animals at associative learning.
They gave an example of when they’re being trained to respond to social cues by an owner.
When it came to physical cognition, how dogs understand objects around them, they were ‘at least average’.
HOW DO DIFFERENT ANIMALS REACT TO BEHAVIOURAL TESTS?
Findings from the study revealed other species perform just as well as dogs in the following domains:
- Following human pointing – goats, pigs, dolphins, seals, sea lions
- Identifying humans by their smell – pigs
- Identifying humans by their faces – sheep, pigeons, chimpanzees
- Identifying humans by their voices – cats Detour solution (whether an animal can find its way around a barrier, often away from the visible goal) – donkeys, mules, horses
- String-pulling (where pulling a string releases food) – wolves, racoons, hyenas Tool use – dolphins, chimps, giant pandas, American badgers, two species of bear, sea otters
- Referential communication (sounds referring to something external, such as a predator) – goats
- Mirror self-recognition (dogs don’t do this) – chimpanzees, dolphins
- Episodic-like memory (the ability to remember the what, where and when of an event – not present in dogs) – pigs, pigeons, chimpanzees
Their social cognition was above average, especially when they are taking cues from humans.
‘Dogs have an impressive ability to use other animals’ behaviour (particularly the behaviour of humans) as a cue,’ they said.
Physical cognition is not a domain in which dogs excel, and their performance is at least equalled by other members of all three of our comparison groups.
In spatial tasks, dogs have shown good performance, but the same is true of other species
Cats are good at locating hidden objects, though relying primarily on egocentric cues.
Researchers used existing information on the behaviour of dogs, cats, wolves and chimpanzees to see if canines possessed any specific special skills. They concluded that ‘dog cognition does not look exceptional’ (stock image)
They referred to studies that dogs have been used in countless behavioural and psychological experiments over the years due to their status as ‘model organisms’.
They gave an example of Ivan Pavlov’s 1927 study on the way in which dogs salivate when presented with food.
They were simply choosing to use canines in the experiments as a matter of convenience.
The scientists explained that early research didn’t compare the cognitive abilities of dogs to other animals.
While many may think that dogs have the best sense of smell in the animal kingdom, the researchers found that pigs ‘ might even be better than the dog’s’.
Professor Lea and Dr Osthaus found that horses were ‘just as able’ to communicate with humans just as well as their canine peers
When it came to physical cognition, how dogs understand objects around them, they were at least average. Their social cognition was slightly above average, especially when they are taking cues from humans (stock image)
HOW DID DOGS BECOME DOMESTICATED?
A genetic analysis of the world’s oldest known dog remains revealed that dogs were domesticated in a single event by humans living in Eurasia, around 20,000 to 40,000 years ago.
Dr Krishna Veeramah, an assistant professor in evolution at Stony Brook University, told MailOnline: ‘The process of dog domestication would have been a very complex process, involving a number of generations where signature dog traits evolved gradually.
‘The current hypothesis is that the domestication of dogs likely arose passively, with a population of wolves somewhere in the world living on the outskirts of hunter-gatherer camps feeding off refuse created by the humans.
‘Those wolves that were tamer and less aggressive would have been more successful at this, and while the humans did not initially gain any kind of benefit from this process, over time they would have developed some kind of symbiotic [mutually beneficial] relationship with these animals, eventually evolving into the dogs we see today.’