New Study in Dog IQ Shows Variances Similar to Humans

Researchers in Scotland are attempting to come up with an easy, fast and reliable canine IQ test. This comes after an initial study showed that much like in humans, intelligence in dogs varies considerably. Similarly to human IQ tests, the canine IQ test used spatial patterns and problem solving to determine an underlying intelligence.

To administer the test as fairly as possible the researchers recruited 68 border collies raised on farms in Scotland. They also tested to make sure the dogs had a similar upbringing. They then set about constructing a series of detour and choice-based tests. To ensure a fair ranking, all the testers wore the same outfit and presented a similar demeanor to all the dogs.

In the first test they essentially set a treat behind clear obstruction and created 4 different sets of ‘detours’ that would get in the way of the dog and their treat. These included a short detour, a long detour, a V-shaped obstruction and a maze.

For the second test they used human cues, like pointing, to see how well dogs could understand this line of communication. And for the third test they examined a dog’s understanding of quantity. Essentially giving dogs two different sized portions of food, letting them choose between them, and noting the amount of times a dog noticed they took a smaller quantity and attempted to switch bowls.

According to the researchers, “Our results indicate that even within one breed of dog, where the sample was designed to have a relatively homogeneous background, there is variability in test scores. The phenotypic structure of cognitive abilities in dogs is similar to that found in people; a dog that is fast and accurate at one task has a propensity to be fast and accurate at another.”

However, they also note that our human inclination towards anthropomorphism (assigning human traits to animals) must be taken into account: “It may seem obvious that once a detour task (finding the treat behind a barrier) has been solved in one form, the solution to the other forms will follow naturally, but dogs are not people. Experiments have shown that dogs’ problem-solving skills do not transfer readily from one problem to a different form of the same problem as ours do.”

The researchers are hoping that by studying a dog’s intelligence they can begin to make epidemiologic links between lifespan and health. In addition they point out that dogs are one of the few species on earth that show a similar dementia pattern to humans. Being able to study any link between cognitive abilities and later in life dementia could prove useful to both canine and humans struggling from the disease.

However, despite it being billed as an IQ test, this is not the first test out there that examines a dog’s general intelligence. Other tests, which can be administered at home can be an interesting way to gauge what your dog responds to and what their primary motivations are.

One such test, taken from The Intelligence of Dogs by Stanley Cohen, involves a series of problem solving tasks.

In one, you place a treat under a cup or soup can, and score 1-5 based on how long it takes for them to get to the treat. For instance, 1-5 seconds gets a score of 5, whereas 31-60 seconds only scores a 2. Another famous method is throwing a blanket or towel over your dog’s head and shoulders and seeing how long it takes for them to get free.

When I tried with my own dogs, both of which I got at the same time and raised similarly, one broke free of the towel almost immediately, while the other one, resigned to her fate, simply laid down and went to sleep.

Yet none of this makes up for a certain level of emotional intelligence in dogs. For instance, although my dog cannot get a towel off her head, if I’m sad her immediate reaction is to come check in on me and and cuddle — something most dog owners would agree is far more valuable than intelligence.

Yet strides in science regarding animal behavior and cognition, if nothing else, help people realize the capacity and individuality of each animal. Hopefully in the future leading to better animal care laws and policies.

Photo Credit: Hans-Jörg Hellwig/Wikimedia


Siyus Copetallus
Siyus Copetallus1 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

Muff-Anne York-Haley

I already knew this:))

Patricia D.
Patricia D2 years ago

Dogs are pretty smart

Marie W.
Marie W2 years ago

Can't even measure our own IQ.. why do this?

Veronica Danie
.2 years ago


Joanna M.
Joanna M2 years ago

Why should we care? Will anyone love their pet any less because the neighbors' is a few points "smarter"??

Margie F2 years ago

Can't we just love them for what they are.

Sherry Kohn
Sherry Kohn2 years ago

Many thanks to you !

Neville B.
Neville B2 years ago

No, really? The setting and interpretation of IQ tests - whether for (some) humans or animals, is more reflective of the researchers than the subjects. I got a high score when I was a kid, but the test was so laughably maths-orientated I've not bothered since. I know they've broadened, but they're still the BMI of mental ability (see Care2 article on BMI), of which intelligence is only one factor, and I think they're a dangerous pseudo-scientific tool that is being abused (e.g. by employers).

And if these tests aren't species- or breed specific, where we do put cats? Do we say they have low IQs because they don't co-operate, or high IQs...because they won't co-operate? Speaking of motivation, are these researchers 'dim', because their study is a sieve pretending to be a spoon, or 'bright', because they got the grant? I'd say both, and at the same time.

Debby Mason-Davies

Hmmm. Wish they had asked some dog owners first, they could have saved the cost of the study.