People look at their dogs and might see nothing more than pets. However, they are companions who keep our homes safe and provide us with companionship during those quiet moments. Yet still, these furry friends are even more than that! It would surprise some people to discover that their dogs are actually more intelligent than they are given credit.
This notion is more than just being disciplined and knowing several tricks. It is about the cognitive functions of a dog’s brain and the fact that the same areas of the brain light up in their head that do in a human’s brain as well when exposed to certain stimuli. That means they can recognize numbers like humans, and much more.
Scientific studies have revealed that dogs use a similar part of their brains to humans when trying to process the number of objects before them. Dogs do not need to be taught this skill either; it is entirely instinctual.
Stella Lourenco, an associate professor of psychology at Emory, states that brains in various species have evolved along specific paths over time, resulting in the similarities that are noticeable today.
The study placed dogs within a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) machine to scan their brains while they were exposed to several flashing dots on a screen. They also flashed different sized dots throughout the study to form a baseline for their results.
What the study demonstrated is that the dogs’ brains reacted to the number of dots, especially in the parietotemporal cortex. In a human brain, this area responds as well, likely from our ancestors needing to estimate how many predators are approaching or how much food is available.
In fact, the ability to decipher numerical information is present in many animals throughout the animal kingdom. It does not need to be taught or trained and seems to be inherent in almost animals from a very young age. Evolution is definitely stranger than we give it credit.
No one really knows why these animals have this ability, to begin with, and scientists can only speculate the reasoning for such skills. For the moment, they can only make their best scientific guesses.
What does make our brains a little different from dog brains is that we can use that ability of numerosity to engage in more complex math. It is unknown how or why the human species managed to evolve to perform more complicated forms of math. However, no matter if you’re good at advanced calculus or algebra, everyone is born with this inherent ability to distinguish different numbers of objects.
So maybe there’s no real need to actually be good at advanced calculus since it is rarely used later in life, but it is still a marvel that the subject even exists at all.
However, dog brains are not only limited with recognizing numbers; there are several other studies as well, proving that dogs are capable of differentiating and processing different voices and emotions.
Their brains have evolved to interpret vocal sounds and the emotions attached to them so that they can respond accordingly. This concept might be to avoid pain or to receive pleasure. It is another function that seems to be present in several other animal species.
Eleven dogs were placed inside a scanner and were made to listen to about 200 recordings of both human and dog sounds. These included whining, barking, crying, and laughing. Twenty-two humans were also exposed to these sounds.
What is surprising is that where human brains responded to humans laughing and crying in different ways, dog brains responded in the same pattern when hearing playful barking and then dog whining.
7. The Importance of Processing Sounds and Emotions for Dogs
This ability is fundamental to many animals, as it helps them to survive. However, this study also took a different turn when exposing dogs to human voices and vice versa.
Dogs responded more actively to human sounds and voices, while humans did not show the same type of reaction to hearing dog sounds. This is likely the results of the 15,000 years dogs have spent in human company and have evolved to react to human social cues.
Looking at these results, it’s challenging to determine what dogs actually hear when they listen to human speech. Do they understand intonations, or is it more than that?
Unfortunately, that was not what the study was looking at, but researchers did take note of how dogs vocalize their emotions and how similar they are to human sounds. For example, when dogs are at play, their barks are short and high-pitched, much like laughter. When dogs are serious about something or providing a warning, their barks are much longer and deeper.
Just because dogs cannot use words does not mean that they do not know how to express themselves. A little body language is natural to recognize – wagging their tail means they are happy – but there are other signals a dog provides that most people may not be paying attention.
Dogs have a better-developed cerebral cortex than other animals their size, which gives them the ability to express complex social behavior. Canines will show their owners when they are displeased with something or if they are incredibly overjoyed.
Humans need to retreat to safe spaces in order to avoid becoming over-stressed. Threats to personal safety often result in anxiety and fear, which are controlled by the limbic system. This system is also present in dogs, and they react to stress the same way humans do.
The limbic system ensures proper reactions to threats and prevents them from taking over at the wrong time. This concept might be difficult for dogs to face: they want to feel safe in an environment that’s entirely controlled by humans. Moreover, how is anyone to know what they mean when they cannot use words?
It is because of these strong bonds developed between dogs and humans that can lead to a wide range of other behaviors. For example, socializing with other people or dogs that they do not know can lead to fear and stress; they may lash out in order to get these “dangers” away from them.
Similarly, strong social bonds can lead to separation anxiety when their “favorite person” is no longer around for extended periods of time. Abusive relationships can cause fear, detachment, and even an inability to experience any positive emotion whatsoever. Recent studies show that dogs can experience a disorder that’s similar to PTSD.
These problems can be rectified or reduced by exercising empathy with your dog. The language barrier is the biggest thing to keep a human and a dog separated, so it’s essential that the human play his or her part to try and understand what the dog is trying to say.
Being sensitive to their needs and paying better attention to their body language will help to enrich the bond even further for a more harmonious household.
Although studies have produced results for how the dog brain works, this isn’t a reason to lump all dogs together as acting the same, just as you would not do the same for human beings. Dogs are different from each other in the way that they think and the ways their brains are programmed.
Different dog breeds have different kinds of intelligence: some are very easy to train, while others are better at gauging social situations; some dogs are even great at problem-solving when faced with a difficult task.
One of the dog’s best senses is the sense of smell. Dogs are known for their powerful noses; in fact, a dog can tell which direction a person is going in after smelling only five of their footprints.
That is why when a dog goes for a walk, the four-legged friends stop to smell just about everything. They are learning about the world around them, like what other dogs might live in the neighborhood or what kind of creature may have crossed the yard. That is how they paint a picture of the world they live in, whereas humans do the same thing through seeing.
Instead of pulling dogs away, allow them to sniff so that they can indulge their senses for a little while when they are in a new environment. Studies have shown that dogs who are allowed to do more sniffing have a more positive approach to the world around them.
In fact, it gives them more self-confidence in approaching new situations and people, as they’ve gathered such an encyclopedia of smells in their brains that they are more likely to be adventurous and curious when placed in new situations. Allowing them to sniff more also provides them with mental stimulation, which is really needed for high-energy breeds that get bored quickly.
Getting a dog engaged with some kind of sport or activity is also an excellent means of getting those brain cells jogging. There are a wide variety of activities to choose from, too; it’s just a matter of finding the right fit for your dog.
The most popular categories of sports include agility, rally, learning tricks, obedience training, scent work, therapy dog work, and AKC FIT DOG training. Teaching tricks is the most popular one since you can teach from home.
There are plenty of these competitions on television; they involve the handler running their dog through a number of obstacles in a set order and within a set period of time. Success is dependent on completing through the obstacle right and getting to the finish line the fastest.
Getting a dog involved in agility training can be difficult at first. However, there are plenty of indoor training facilities that can help a dog get ready for these obstacles.
Rally training is something of a cross between obedience training and agility training. The dog is kept in the heel position next to the handler, and they walk side-by-side through an obstacle course. There is no judge involved, asking either party to perform.
Unlike obedience training, the handler is also allowed to encourage their dog as they go through the course. Rally training can be excellent for any breed of dog who is good at listening to instructions.
General obedience training is one thing, which establishes good manners within your dog. Competitive obedience training is something else; the judge is the one who decides what actions the handler and the dog are performing and calls out each action.
Throughout the exercise, the handler is not allowed to say anything to the dog, and the dog must be kept in the heel position the whole time.
Nose work can be very stimulating for a dog, as they get rewarded in the end for finding the target item. Nose work competitions provide the dog with the mental stimulation of using their noses to find the right thing.
Once finding the item, they can play with or eat it as a self-reward for their successful find. Handlers are not allowed to speak to their dogs, so it’s up to the animals themselves to solve the problems put before them. This competition is also a great way of developing a dog’s hunt drive.
Therapy dogs receive extensive training in being able to help their disabled humans function in their everyday life. For example, they can work as seeing-eye dogs for the blind, preventing them from dangers such as cars running red lights.
Not all dogs are fit to be therapy dogs; it requires dogs with specific personality characteristics to determine whether they will be a good fit for the program or not. However, this kind of training does require much intelligence.
This training isn’t really a competitive sport. Instead, it’s an encouraging endeavor to get people to walk their dogs more often. Anyone can qualify by walking their dogs at least 30 minutes each day for five days out of the week.
Such exercise is suitable for both humans and dogs alike, as it gets the cardiovascular system going and keeps the heart healthy. It is also great fun for your dog to get his nose out in the world and smell all those great smells.
Of course, some dogs have been evolved to perform specific jobs, making them more adept at taking instructions from humans. That is why it is essential to look at the characteristics of a breed before you consider adding one to your family.
This is not to say that other dogs outside of these breeds are dumb, but they’re a little harder to train in some respects or are not as eager to please their humans. Here are ten of the smartest top dog breeds.
The border collie is the epitome of a workaholic. Without a job, they can actually become quite destructive. That’s why they are not the best pets for families who are not active.
They are active, medium-sized dogs who thrive on having something to do. Dogs require exercise every single day, as well as some form of mental stimulation. Many border collie dog owners give them what they need through obstacle courses, agility training, and tracking events.
Taking a look at this dog, you would think that the poodle is just a delicate breed that’s all show and no substance. However, you would be dead wrong. The poodle is actually way up there when it comes to intelligent dog breeds.
Both the standard and toy breeds were bred to retrieve things from the water, such as waterfowl during a hunt. They have very high energy levels that require daily exercise and some means of mental stimulation to prevent them from getting bored.
German Shepherds are most often seen doing police or security work. That is because they are highly intelligent and straightforward to train. They are eager to please their owners, so they take to obedience training very quickly.
These types of dogs are smart, confident, and quite courageous, not backing down even when the odds do not seem to be in their favor. They can be aloof at times and do not trust easily, which makes them perfect guard dogs within the home.
Golden retrievers are anything but floppy couch potatoes. They were bred to be hunting companions, especially when it came to waterfowl. They are also used a lot as service animals and seeing-eye dogs.
They require daily exercise, or they will start engaging in unwanted behavior, such as chewing up belongings or destroying furniture. Without exercise, golden retrievers can become prone to obesity.
These dogs can look scary at first, probably because you are used to seeing them as guard dogs in media. They have great stamina and speed, making them perfect for security. They are also packed with much muscle to get them around as well as deliver a powerful bite.
They are quite intelligent dogs, so they are easy to train. However, these animals know how to throw their weight around if they are not appropriately raised. A Doberman pinscher can actually become quite pushy and destructive if firm discipline isn’t used.
The Shetland sheepdog is not the same as Lassie; this sheepdog is actually much smaller than an actual collie. It was bred to be a herding dog to watch over sheep and keep predators away.
They are a smart breed and are often used in discipline and agility training competitions. Socialization and training should start early when they are puppies so that they know what is expected of them. They have a high prey drive, however, and have significant reactions to moving objects.
Similar to the golden retriever, the labrador retriever was also bred to be a gun dog, retrieving game the hunter has shot. These canines have quite muscular, stocky bodies, but are mostly known for their friendly demeanor.
They’re eager to please their owners and are very extroverted in groups, going up to anyone who looks their way. These types of dogs do need much exercise on a daily basis, or else they gain weight very easily. Exposure to new places and people from an early age will help them to adjust accordingly in the future.
Their name comes from the shape of their ears, which is the French word for “butterfly.” However, they are not designed to be lapdogs. The papillon has high energy levels and is actually quite active in agility training courses.
The papillon might be compact and fit comfortably within your home, but they need to be taken out for exercise every single day. These wonderful animals are good at retrieving things so that they will engage in a game of fetch for long periods of time. They also have a prey drive, so don’t be surprised if they go after the squirrels in your yard.
The rottweiler is a very robust and powerful breed that functions best when it has a job to do. Most times, this ends up being security due to their intimidating appearance and powerful bark. Nevertheless, they are also good at being a herder, therapy dog, and go quite well competing in obedience events.
Training has to start from an early age, or else they won’t take you seriously. These types of dogs can be a bit stubborn at times, but a firm temperament and constant discipline will keep them in their place because they are so eager to please.
The Australian cattle dog was bred to be a herding dog, so this pooch takes commands very readily. Because of this notion, they do need much exercise, so if you’re not prepared to provide this breed with lots of movement, then you’re going to have a destructive dog on your hands.
These animals are brilliant, so training should be started at an early age to keep them in line. They do have something of a stubborn streak, so expect that training will take more time out of your day than you realize.
All dogs are intelligent in different ways, so this does not mean that you cannot train other dogs outside of the breeds mentioned above. Discipline is always required with a new dog so that they learn their role in the household and know which behaviors are acceptable or not.
Above all, remember: your dog is actually much smarter than you realize.