Study Suggests Your Dog May Not Be Exceptional After All, And People Are Outraged


Katy Evans

Katy is Managing Editor at IFLScience where she oversees editorial content from News articles to Features, and even occasionally writes some.

Managing Editor

I'll have you know I have three PhDs. KristinaSh/Shutterstock

Sometimes a scientific study comes along that blows our minds. The impact is felt around the world. Debates over the water cooler abound, and the world will never be the same again.

At least, that’s what appears to have happened after a recent study revealed it is highly unlikely your dog is a genius. In fact, it’s highly unlikely your dog is even exceptional compared to other animals. And the people are not having it.


Let’s back up a minute.

The study, which came out in September, published in the journal Learning and Behavior, is titled In What Sense Are Dogs Special? Canine Cognition In Comparative Context.

The researchers posited that to asses our faithful friends’ cognitive abilities, we need to put our enhanced understanding of them (we do seem to study dogs a lot) into context. To do this, we need to look at them from three different perspectives: phylogenetically (as a carnivore, and specifically canid), ecologically (as social hunters, or at least having limbs adapted for hunting), and anthropogenically (as domestic very good boys and girls).

To find out if we’re being biased that Buster, Rex, and Snowball are actually the geniuses we claim them to be, the researchers argued we need to compare them to other species that also fit into those three categories; particularly wolves, cats, spotted hyenas, chimpanzees, dolphins, horses, and pigeons.


Looking at the sensory cognition, physical cognition, spatial cognition, social cognition, and self-awareness of these creatures, they concluded that dog cognition is influenced by being a member of these three groups, as all the animals they studied exhibited similar levels of cognition, so your dog is probably not a genius.

For example, pooches may be able to spatially navigate within small spaces, but then so can cats, chimps, dolphins, and pigs. They may have an incredible sense of smell, which is why they have carved out a career in the police force, but the researchers admit that domestic pigs’ maybe even better.

Associative learning is probably the most famous example of demonstrating dogs’ abilities, first introduced by one Ivan Pavlov in the 1890s, but it has been demonstrated in many other species too, including pigeons.

Alas, all the evidence pointed towards the conclusion that “dog cognition does not look exceptional.”


However, when Scientific American reported on this study, covering the science that we need to know, as it is wont to do, people on social media were not happy.


Accusations flew of being written, possibly even funded, by Big Cat.


Caveats were sought.


We feel this argument really hits the nail on the head.


And yet...



  • tag
  • intelligence,

  • dogs,

  • dog