Every dog owner knows that our beloved furry family members are not ‘dumb animals’. We know our dogs know plenty of words. All we have to do is say ‘treat’ or ‘walk’ or ‘bath’ to see how well they understand. While pet dogs often learn a few basic commands and a trick or two, working dogs perform tasks as complex as detecting illegal drugs, assisting visually impaired people, herding sheep and locating people trapped in rubble after a disaster. And if you’ve owned a dog for any amount of time, you probably have a funny story about how your best friend used those skills to gain some forbidden treat.
We know dogs are clever, but how can we assess just how clever they are? Scientists have been investigating canine intelligence for decades, and they’ve come to a few conclusions.
Your Dog’s Vocabulary
Would you be surprised to know your dog understands 50 different words? Well, if your dog is average, they understand a lot more than that. Most dogs can learn about 165 words, with the brainiest canines learning up to 250, according to leading canine intelligence researcher and author Stanley Coren, PhD. Researchers have also shown that dog can do some simple addition and subtraction too. That’s something to keep in mind when you are promising them treats!
Many of the words that dogs know are commands, including commands to do tricks. Dogs thrive on praise and treats, and they are quite happy to perform for either. Their ability to interpret our demands and perform commands from sit to fetch to roll over shows that they are able to learn. Some of them need more motivation than others, but once the treats come out, dogs become very eager students.
Has your dog outsmarted your efforts to pooch-proof the kitchen bin or tricked you into leaving some tempting treat unguarded so they could snatch it? We might be reluctant to admit it, but every now and again, our dogs manage to outwit us to get what they want. Researchers agree. Dogs are problem solvers. If you’ve ever seen a collie working sheep, you know dogs can think on their paws and change tactics to get the job done.
A dog’s brain, like our own, is sharpest when stimulated and engaged. We can do a few things to help our fub babies reach their potential. Keeping your dog mentally active has benefits for owners. Not only are our dogs more entertaining, they are less destructive if they are entertained with mental as well as physical activity.
You don’t have to pay for advanced obedience classes to give your dog the mental stimulation they need, although your dog might love it if you do. But you can simply teach them some tricks and practice regularly. Play games with your dog. Take different routes on your daily walk, and let them stop and sniff. Give them lick matts and toys that hold treats they have to work to retrieve. You might not have a canine Einstein, but every dog will benefit from regular training and games.