Researchers have conducted a study to uncover whether dogs have a measurable intelligence or “IQ” – defined as intelligence across a span of general cognitive tasks, rather than a specific skill or test. While this might sound like an excuse for scientists to play with dogs, it actually has some very promising implications for the study of human intelligence.
For the study, 68 working border collies were assessed on their ability to tackle three tasks. Unsurprisingly, two of the tests revolved around food: The first sought to see how quickly the dogs identified a portion of food as larger than the other, while the second looked at how long it took them to access food behind different barriers. The third task measured how effectively the collies managed to follow human orders.
Despite all the dogs being from the same breed, they displayed different levels of ability. The dogs that performed well at one task tended to succeed in the other two, and vice versa.
What this suggests, according to researchers from the London School of Economics (LSE) and University of Edinburgh, is that the structure of dog intelligence is similar to that of human intelligence. The study has been published in the journal Intelligence.
Recent studies have shown that health and intelligence are linked in humans. However, these kind of associations often become tangled in a mess of numerous other lifestyle choices and socio-economic factors. The hope with studying dogs is to provide a subject with minimal confounding factors yet with measurable intelligence.
Dr. Rosalind Arden, a research associate at LSE, said in a statement: “This is significant because in humans there is a small but measureable tendency for people who are brighter to be healthier and live longer. So if, as our research suggests, dog intelligence is structured similarly to ours, studying a species that doesn’t smoke, drink, use recreational drugs and does not have large differences in education and income, may help us understand this link between intelligence and health better.”
She added: “In addition, dogs are one of the few animals that reproduce many of the key features of dementia, so understanding their cognitive abilities could be valuable in helping us to understand the causes of this disorder in humans and possibly test treatments for it.”