I’m just not sure I buy the premise of this opening. Who actually thinks their dog is a genius? A genius “for a dog” maybe, but a genius? Strawman maybe?
If you are convinced your dog is a genius, you may be disappointed in the conclusions of a study just published in the journal Learning and Behavior .The study finds that dogs are cognitively quite ordinary when compared to other carnivores, domestic animals, and social hunters. “There is no current case for canine exceptionalism,” the authors conclude.
That we think otherwise is not surprising. Claims of canine exceptionalism abound, from people’s anecdotes about their dogs’ ability to read their minds (“Sparky looked into my eyes and then at the refrigerator—he knew I wanted a beer!”), to books with titles such as My Dog is a Genius: How to Improve your Dog’s Intelligence, to a canine intelligence test that will let you “find the genius in your dog.”
The great increase in the study of dog cognition in the current century has yielded insights into canine cognition in a variety of domains. In this review, we seek to place our enhanced understanding of canine cognition into context. We argue that in order to assess dog cognition, we need to regard dogs from three different perspectives: phylogenetically, as carnivoran and specifically a canid; ecologically, as social, cursorial hunters; and anthropogenically, as a domestic animal. A principled understanding of canine cognition should therefore involve comparing dogs’ cognition with that of other carnivorans, other social hunters, and other domestic animals. This paper contrasts dog cognition with what is known about cognition in species that fit into these three categories, with a particular emphasis on wolves, cats, spotted hyenas, chimpanzees, dolphins, horses, and pigeons. We cover sensory cognition, physical cognition, spatial cognition, social cognition, and self-awareness. Although the comparisons are incomplete, because of the limited range of studies of some of the other relevant species, we conclude that dog cognition is influenced by the membership of all three of these groups, and taking all three groups into account, dog cognition does not look exceptional.