of “intelligence” does a dog need to get duped into trusting us only to be
eaten, or to live compatibly near to or with us, to lead us to animals that
have gone to ground, to bark as a warning, to guard either home territory or
what it considers as family, even to fight against restraint, to pull a load?
How do you compare these types of “intelligence” to what’s needed to drove, to
point, set or retrieve, to obediently follow command, to undertake agility
exercises, to serve by acting as the eyes or ears for people with disabilities?
I’ve put “intelligence” in quotations because it’s a word I
hear at least once a day.?“Doesn’t she look intelligent?”?“He’s the most
intelligent dog I’ve every had.?“I think he’s going to grow up to be quite
intelligent.”?“She’s very intelligent. She knows to bark to go outside.”?I
doubt that there’s a breed standard anywhere in the world that doesn’t use the
word “intelligent” in its description of that breed but what does it mean? I
also hear its antonyms, “dumb”, “dim” and “slow”.?“She’s just a dumb bunny but
I love her.”?“He’s wonderful but a bit dim.”?“Goofy’s a bit slow off the mark.”?“He’s
a few eggs short of a dozen.”?Do you know what you mean when you say your dog
is “intelligent”??In a dog context, there are four different types of intelligence
Dogs use their instincts intelligently?
Instinctive intelligence is hard wired into the brain’s
various learning centres and the wiring in some dogs is certainly more
fault-free than in others. As I’ve mentioned, dogs inherit from their ancestors
a variety of learning centres in their brains. Natural pressures on the dog
have modified these, enhancing some learning centres in some groups of dogs
while diminishing the quality of some learning centres in others. Dogs inherit
these augmented or diminished abilities. Then, through selective breeding,
we’ve heightened or lessoned other inherited dog characteristics – barking –
running – digging – retrieving. Terriers are persistent and inveterate diggers.
Toy dogs bark territorially. Hounds communicate through howling. Retrievers do
what the label says they do. Instinctive intelligence is what’s there in the
genes, to be strengthened or weakened but never eliminated
Dogs communicate intelligently?
Dogs must communicate well with each other, to work harmoniously
together and to avoid fighting. But more than any other mammal, the dog has an
extraordinarily sophisticated ability to communicate with us, to understand
what we mean by a nod of the head or a look from the eyes. This type of
intelligence, variously called, “communication intelligence”, “obedience
intelligence” or “working intelligence”, helps a dog work with us. A dog needs
efficient communication skills to understand what we want it to do. It needs a
willingness, a desire, to take directions from a person and not be diverted by
distractions. Dogs with longer attention spans and persistence are more capable
of concentrating on what they are being asked to do.
Dogs have the ability to learn through experience?
Dogs can use their skills and abilities to help them adapt
to their environment or they can alter their environment to make it better to
live in. I leave the back door off the latch so that Bean can go in and out but
before she could do so she had to learn how to use her nose to push open the door
and how to use her paw and especially her claws, to pull it open to return
inside after the wind almost closes it completely. She watched by daughter’s
visiting Labrador do these things and immediately copied her. Generally
speaking, dogs with good learning intelligence need only a few exposures to a
situation to form stable responses.
Dogs can solve problems?
Problem solving is a slightly different form of
intelligence. This is an ability to mentally construct a solution to a problem.
The faster a dog solves the problem, with the fewest false starts, the better
its problem solving capacity. For example, if you place a food reward on the
far side of a barrier and attach it to a string running under the barrier to an
anchor on the side where the dog is, how long does it take the dog to
understand that if he pulls on the string he gets the reward? This is an actual
experiment that has been carried out on a variety of animals and certainly
compared to primates, dogs are not good at mental problem solving. However some
are much better than others.
When dogs are ranked by “intelligence” (I’ll give their
rankings in the next chapter.) what they’re really being ranked by is a
combination of learning intelligence and problem solving abilities. Sheep
herding breeds such as the Border collie have been selectively bred for their
problem solving capabilities and their willingness to be trained. They’re also
phenomenally good communicators. That’s why they always come tops in “intelligence”
Dogs can be trained to herd and drove livestock?
Herding and droving dogs almost invariably evolved from
guarding breeds, mostly in the last thousand years. While guardian dogs worked
on their own, herders and drovers were dramatically different. They worked in
unison with their shepherds and cattlemen, helping to move livestock to new
pastures or to the market place. These dogs combined the livestock guardian’s
reduced instinct to chase, with an increased willingness to listen to and obey
the shepherd or farmer. In that sense they had a different, you could say more
sophisticated form of intelligence. You may question this when I add that the
Welsh Corgi, a breed not renowned for its ability to listen to and follow
commands, is a herding and droving dog but the Corgi, together with its close
relative the Swedish Vallhund (Vallhund means “farm dog”) are dwarf exceptions
to the reality that most of today’s shepherd dogs and sheepdogs are medium or
large in size and responsive to human command. Typical of regional herding dogs
are the Bouvier des Flandres (more aptly described by its original Flemish and
French names Koehund – Cow dog – and Toucheur de boeuf – Cattle drover) and the
mountain dogs including the most popular breed, the Bernese
Mountain Dog. The German Rottweiler is a classic drover while the Australian
Cattle Dog is perhaps the most successful of the modern drovers or heelers. The
New Zealand Huntaway performs a similar task in that country.?On canine “intelligence”
tests, livestock movers often rank high. On dog “personality” tests many of the
“shepherds” and “sheepdogs” rank high on excitability while classic cattle
drovers such as the Rottweiler rank low on excitability but high on
trainability and aggression. I’ll discuss all of these dogs in more detail in
the next chapter.