Do You Have A Smart Dog?

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Derby - Yellow Lab
Derby - Yellow Lab

Do you have a smart dog? I know there are many different tests availabe to see if you have a smart dog. Some dogs are more trainable, but does that actually constitute a higher intelligence. Another ongoing controversy has to do with smart dog breeds and which one is considered the most intelligent. I did a little online research and the consensus is the Border Collie is the smartest (I guess that would make Sprollies a pretty darn smart hybrid breed). Anyhow, we received an email the other day claiming that “if your dog does this, he’s very smart.” Here’s the email I received:

Smart Dog Test

If Your Dog Does THIS, He’s Very Smart

What happens when you yawn? If that causes your dog to yawn, give him a treat. He’s one smart pooch. Reuters reports that some dogs find human yawns contagious, which suggests they have a rudimentary capacity for empathy, something scientists thought only applied to humans and chimpanzees. Fully 72 percent of 29 dogs tested by British researchers at London’s Birkbeck College were so sensitive to human yawns that seeing one made them yawn in response. Writing in the journal Biology Letters, lead study author Atsushi Senju said this behavior showed dogs were skilled at reading human social cues and “may relate to their capacity for empathy.”

Too bad the article didn’t mention which dog breeds were included in this test so we could definitely find the smart dog breeds. A second point to note is that 72 percent of dogs tested would yawn in response to human yawns. That means the majority of dogs responded. So maybe if your dog doesn’t respond to the yawn then he’s actually not smart and does not empathize with you. Anyhow on to self testing…

Do I Have Smart Dogs?

Time to head on over to the all important and highly scientific experimentation of the Smart Dog Test. Remember the days of high school or college where you had to do lab write ups with a purpose , hypothesis, procedure, data, and conclusion? Well that’s where we’re going with this article…afterall I am an Ecology and Evolutionary Biology major!

Purpose

  • The purpose of this experiment is to find out if my dogs are smart according to the email I received via forward which has probably touched everyone on the globe by now.

Hypothesis

  • After reading the highly traveled email I hypothesize (I think that is the proper word?) that 2 out of 3 of my dogs will yawn in response to my yawn. That would mean 66.6 percent of my dogs have skill in reading my social cues (that percentage is a little smaller than the amount reported in the email, but with such a small test group it’s the best I could come up with).

Procedure

  1. Take one dog at a time free of distraction in the comfort of our home.
  2. Sit on couch with dog in front of me (be sure you have his attention).
  3. Give him a nice big yawn.
  4. Repeat 5-10 times.
  5. Record results.
  6. Repeat with the other dogs.

Data

  • Smart Dog Test Subject 1 – Linus
    Linus - The Australian Shepherd Mix
    Linus The Aussie Shepherd Mix
    1. Yawn – Yes/No
    2. Yawn – Yes/No
    3. Yawn – Yes/No
    4. Yawn – Yes/No
    5. Yawn – Yes/No
  • Smart Dog Test Subject 2 – Stetson
    Stetson The Black Lab
    Stetson The Black Lab

    1. Yawn – Yes/No
    2. Yawn – Yes/No
    3. Yawn – Yes/No
    4. Yawn – Yes/No
    5. Yawn – Yes/No
  • Smart Dog Test Subject 3 – Derby
    Derby - Yellow Lab
    Derby The Yellow Lab
    1. Yawn – Yes/No
    2. Yawn – Yes/No
    3. Yawn – Yes/No
    4. Yawn – Yes/No
    5. Yawn – Yes/No

Conclusion

After a countless number of yawns (15) and a very sore jaw I can conclude that my dogs do not empathize with me and are therefore of below average dog intelligence according to the email I received circulating the internet.

According to most resources both online and in print my dogs should be above average intelligence based on their breed. Linus is an Australian Shepherd mix and both Derby and Linus are purebred Labrador Retrievers. Both are considered smart dog breeds and my three dogs should be highly intelligent. Maybe empathy is not high among the criteria on the list of smartest dog breeds.

Here’s the consensus list of top 20 Smartest Dogs (why is it the consensus…after searching through several different top 10 lists the same dog breeds were always in the same order – I know not very scientific).

Top 20 Smartest Dogs

  1. Border Collie
  2. Poodle
  3. German Shepherd
  4. Golden Retriever
  5. Doberman Pinscher
  6. Shetland Sheepdog
  7. Labrador Retriever
  8. Papillon
  9. Rottweiler
  10. Australian Cattle Dog
  11. Pembroke Welsh Corgi
  12. Miniature Schnauzer
  13. English Springer Spaniel
  14. Belgian Terrine
  15. Schipperke / Belgian Sheepdog
  16. Collie / Keeshound
  17. German Short Haired Pointer
  18. Flat Coated Retriever / English Cocker Spaniel / Standard Schnauzer
  19. Brittany Spaniel
  20. Cocker spaniel

Source(s):
The Intelligence of Dogs by Stanley Coren

Of course this entire experiment and article is all in good fun. If you have a chance try experimenting with your dog and let me know if he yawns in the comments area below. Maybe we can get a larger pool of dogs and come to some more realistic conclusions. What do you think constitutes high dog intelligence?

For the record: I tried doing this again and did get Stetson to yawn at me…was it coincidence or did I just need to give my dogs more yawns? or maybe Stetson is just lazy and tired all the time.

UPDATE: I was playing with Stetson yesterday blowing out of my nose at him and everytime I did it he did the same thing back to me.  It seemed very similar to the experiment in this article.  Does that mean that Stetson was empathizing with me or just playing a game???  Another thought I had this week was regarding a dog training book I read a while back on dog tricks.  One of the tricks was teaching your dog to sneeze.  It was a while back, but I remember the idea was to sneeze at your dog and in response he would sneeze back at you.  Again an example of your dog showing empathy.  I tried this with my dog Linus several years ago and it just freaked him out.  He didn’t want any part of it and just left the room and didn’t want to be around me for several minutes.

Have you had any luck with your dog?

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8 Comments

  1. I feel it is very subjective…meaning a dog who did not need to yawn might feel it serves no useful purpose to mock or imitate his “master” so he would not do it.

    I would rather have a dog that was “smart” enough to differentiate between strangers who posed a threat and those that didn’t, as opposed to one who was “smart” enough to jump though a hoop on command.

  2. @Randy those sound like pretty cool mixed breed dogs. We think Linus might be a cross between an Australian Shepherd and a Black Labrador Retriever, but I guess we won’t know for sure unless we get him tested. Unfortunately, he’s not the biggest fan of water and my purebred Labrador Retriever hates the water.

  3. Right on. i have a german sheppard/golden retriever cross and hes about 3 half months old and of course super smart and comming together fine. my last dog was a flatcoat retriever/aussia sheppard who was amazing to from her being a lightwight medium size dog that loved water and anything outdoorsy so hoping this one will follow suite

  4. I added a short update to the bottom of the post. Here it is just in case you’re subscribed to the comments of this article:

    UPDATE: I was playing with Stetson yesterday blowing out of my nose at him and everytime I did it he did the same thing back to me. It seemed very similar to the experiment in this article. Does that mean that Stetson was empathizing with me or just playing a game??? Another thought I had this week was regarding a dog training book I read a while back on dog tricks. One of the tricks was teaching your dog to sneeze. It was a while back, but I remember the idea was to sneeze at your dog and in response he would sneeze back at you. Again an example of your dog showing empathy. I tried this with my dog Linus several years ago and it just freaked him out. He didn’t want any part of it and just left the room and didn’t want to be around me for several minutes.

  5. I found your article very interesting. Whether or not my dog will yawn after I do, I don’t know, but I am pretty sure she understands English. I think she’s pretty darn smart. My Lucy is a Lab Retriever. Actually it is the other way around. She starts yawning and then I follow.

  6. Hahaha! Having no knowledge of this study, I’ve done this with my parents’ dog and he would yawn here and there, but I think it’s just coincidence. I would even try yawning right after he yawned, but he would just end up staring at me. I don’t think it means that he doesn’t have empathy. 🙂

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