Are Dogs As Smart as a Two-Year Old? (And Is That a Good Thing?)

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2015-04-19 – While half the world believes the other half isn’t intelligent enough to be considered human, scientists are busy finding that all sorts of nonhuman critters have human-level intelligence. This time, it’s dogs. (Read: Why Scientists Believe Dogs Are Smarter Than We Give Them Credit For.) Scientists are now saying that “the average dog’s intelligence is roughly as sophisticated as a 2.5-year-old baby’s.”

The terrible twos.

As with all scientific studies these days, these studies are supported by MRIs and double-blind experiments. You can’t get more scientific than that! But that’s not why I’m writing. I’m writing because these findings are presented as counter-intuitive.

Are they really?

Pet lovers have always told us that dogs are smarter than we think. Cynics have always told us that humans are dumber than we think.

One of the doggy behaviors that scientists have taken on is the so-called “guilty look.” This is a behavior that dogs supposedly exhibit when an owner discovers that the dog has done something “bad” in their absence (peed or pooped in the house, gotten into things they shouldn’t have, torn things up, you name it—dogs are always guilty of something, it’s doggy original sin). Bowed dog head. Sad dog expression. Downcast dog eyes.

Scientists probed this behavior by using controls. Some of the test subjects authentically did the “bad” behavior, some did not. But all exhibited the guilty look when “caught.” Apparently the guilty look is no more than a response to being accused, regardless of whether the dog was guilty or not. This, according to scientists, distinguishes dogs from humans.

Does it?

I thought most humans exhibit the “guilty look” only when caught and they exhibit it whether they are guilty or not.

Especially two year olds. And politicians.

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Note: When I said “bad,” above, I did not mean to imply that there is any sort of doggy morality that is somehow shared with humans. “Bad” in that context simply means doggy behavior that a human would scold them for. It’s a kind of social contract.

The great thing about the science of dog behavior is that, while it debunks a lot of mythology, the conclusions are not really surprising if you have a dog. My dog Lefty never shows any remorse.

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Read some of my other posts on dog behavior:

Cathedrals of Scent

What Is the Purpose of a Dog?

Best Dog in the Whole Wide House

Stockholm Syndrome for Dogs

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