Measuring Canine Intelligence

Some years ago, Dr. Stanley Cohen the brilliant psychologist and exceptional canine analyst who has published a number of books on the subject of dogs, became famous for a list.  In spite of all the fine research he has done and his appearances in newspapers, on radio and television, where he excelled in discussing a wide variety of topics about dogs, he actually wasn’t that well known until . . . The List.

In his book, The Intelligence of Dogs (1995; 2006), he provided a carefully researched list indicating which breeds were the smartest – and, ah hem, not so smart.  Naturally, custodians of canines who were near the tail-end (pardon the pun) of the list, couldn’t agree.  At that time, I had a dog at the very bottom of his list: the Afghan hound.

Beauty vs Brains -- -- --

— — — — — — — — Beauty vs Brains — — — — — — — — Photo credit: Gloria Yarina

My husband felt that Dr. Cohen’s compilation was exactly correct (he often said that our dog, while beautiful, had the intelligence of a rock – and that was giving the rock a compliment).

I, however, believed my exceptional Afghan knew exactly what to do and what we wanted, but because he was brilliant he refused to be subjugated to our human will. My previous Afghan hound was exactly the same way. I admired the dogs for their independence and adored both of them. In spite of this more “objective” appraisal, I was truly insulted when I went to a local dog show and the crowd laughed when a man entered his Afghan into the obedience trials.  People can be cruel.

Now we have a new intelligence tool called, appropriately enough: “Dognition.” The test uses twenty different games to measure the following attributes: empathy, communication, cunning, memory and reasoning. For a one-time assessment, the test costs $19 and is available through this web site:

Here’s how it works.  You play the games from “dognition” and record the results.  Then, you submit it and find out if your dog fits one of the following nine categories: an Ace, Charmer, Socialite, Expert, Renaissance Dog, Protodog, Einstein, Maverick or Stargazer.

Dog examines the "dog-tionary" Photo credit: Gloria Yarina

Dog examines the “dog-tionary”
Photo credit: Gloria Yarina

On the fun side of doing this test is learning which of the attributes above may be most applicable to your dog.  For example, an “Ace” dog is a problem-solver, socially elite, bonds well and is good at almost everything.

They describe a “Maverick” as a dog with “a cheeky wolfishness and a strong independent streak.” (Gosh, don’t you just love a test which includes the word: “cheeky” in its analysis? OK, I’m going a wee bit off track…)

An “Einstein” is, of course, a genius, able to solve new problems by looking at the facts in front of him or her – and respond accordingly.

One thing the test doesn’t show but, I think, can be inferred is the custodian’s compatibility with their own dog. I’m darn sure me and my dog would fit the Einstein profile, at least the way it’s described: “making inferences that we can flexibly solve a problem we have never encountered before.” For example, if someone were to put a row of chocolates in front of me I know to eat them all up without delay! And if I put a row of dog treats in front of my dog, I do not need to tell him what to do.  He will gobble them up immediately. I don’t have to do anything silly like asking him to “sit,” “stand,” “get off the bed!” or anything else.  He has the facts and he knows what to do.

Gosh, it’s good to know after all this time, and two dogs that were at the bottom of the intelligence list, I finally have an Einstein.

paw prints (crop from frame)


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5 Responses to Measuring Canine Intelligence

  1. Mary E. Trimble July 15, 2015 at 1:43 pm #

    While camping one year, we were throwing a ball for our Chocolate Lab, Toby. We were at a lake’s edge and would throw it a several feet into the water. Labs, of course, love water and he retrieved the ball time after time. A pier was alongside where we stood. Bruce threw the ball and, as usual, Toby watched where it landed. He suddenly left our side ran down the pier and jumped into the water to get the ball. He brought it back to us where we stood to wait for the next throw. He did this time and again. I thought this deductive thinking was impressive.

  2. Kathleen Kaska July 15, 2015 at 1:46 pm #

    I love the chocolate/dog biscuit analogy. I always felt dogs were born knowing everything they needed to know; true for most other animals as well. A few things need to be learned, like where to find food and where to migrate. Humans, on the other hand, spend their lives learning. I’ll say no more.

  3. Patti Cole July 17, 2015 at 6:53 pm #

    Love your always present sense of humor.

  4. Marie Grime July 17, 2015 at 10:24 pm #

    LOL. Isn’t that a coincidence, I would eat all those chocolates too, and my Sally would gobble up all the treats!

    Sally’s a bit like a toddler in the “I just about know how to talk, but I’m not going to because I can just point and get what I want” stage. Spoiled, spoiled, spoiled. And hubby complains about it constantly, but he’s the one who has done the worst of the spoiling.

    If we can’t spoil our dogs, however, why in the world would we have them? I’ve never had a dumb dog, and over my very long life, I’ve had a mixture of mixtures as well of a few pure breeds. All of mine were Einsteins.

  5. Bill Thorn July 18, 2015 at 8:25 pm #

    I always liked to think I could run with the big dogs. But, after reading this, I’m not so sure any more. If you put a row of chocolates in front of me, I know I would eat most if not all of them and put any leftovers in my pocket for later. I believe I’m an empathetic person that communicates well, but it all may stop there! I have never felt very cunning since my cat Freddie could always outsmart me. If I ever told Freddie to “sit” or “get off the bed”, he would look at me with disdain and I know he was thinking “When I’m ready, I might!“ Maybe that’s cheeky and not cunning, or maybe this simply doesn’t apply to cats. As for memory, mine has always been good but age is taking a toll. With reasoning, I still can, it just takes a little longer! Since I don’t have a custodian, my compatibility rating is unknown. So, I’m not sure where that leaves me on the good Dr’s scale. I know I’m not an Ace but neither am I a Stargazer or Maverick. I guess I’ll settle for being an Einstein and not fork over the $19 to fine tune the result! But, then again, what’s in a name??


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