Mar 10, 2009

The Intelligence of Dogs

Canine Consciousness and Capabilities
by Stanley Coren

This book delves into the canine mind. It addresses such questions as: how smart are dogs? do different breeds vary in their level of intelligence? how do dogs manage to communicate with people so well, and understand our spoken commands? do they feel emotions the same way we do? can they remember the past, or anticipate future events? Coren breaks down dog smarts into three categories: instinctual intelligence, adaptive learning ability, and obedience work. There's a chapter of simple tests you can give your dog to assess his problem-solving abilities or IQ, discussion of the very specialized abilities different breeds have, an evaluation of which breeds perform certain tasks better (watchdog, guard dog, etc) and a list ranking 79 popular dog breeds by intelligence. Another author I read just before picking up this book criticized how Coren ranked the breeds, but I thought his explanations made good sense (and of course it's just a general guideline). I found particularly interesting the explanation of how dog breeds have evolved to be so specialized, and learned many interesting facts about dogs in history. For example, did you know that English sheepdogs were bred to have no tail because it exempted them from the tax of livestock, defined as "animals born with tails"? The one thing I didn't like about this book were the awkward drawings sprinkled throughout the text (my brain kept redrawing them and feeling annoyed). But the plates of engravings in the middle are quite lovely and more than make up for that. Alongside Dogs: A New Understanding by the Coppingers, The Intelligence of Dogs is wonderful, comprehensive reading about the mental abilities of our canine companions.

Rating: 4/5                      271 pages, 1994


Lezlie said...

I always like the ranking of dog intelligence, because Border Collies always come out on top! :-) Do they in this book, too?

My hubby might be a little jealous of The Sheep Dog book you're currently reading. He just finished a brand new one, but I can't remember the name of the author.


Lezlie said...
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bermudaonion said...

I know dogs are very intelligent. It didn't take ours very long to train us. She is definitely in charge around here.

Susan said...

We've always had dogs growing up, my father loves them. I haven't had any since leaving home, cats are easier to maintain, but once our kids are a bit older, we're getting a dog - my husband loves them. Probably a Highland Terrier. I will be picking this book up, it looks very good!

Jeane said...

Lezlie- Yes, border collies were ranked number one! The bottom of the list? Basenji, a breed I really like, but they're very independent thinkers (the ranking is mostly based on a dog's obedience ability).

Bermudaonion- You've made me think of Enslaved by Ducks- those parrots and waterfowl had the Tartes doing everything for them!

Susan- I also grew up with a dog but now own cats. My kid really wants a dog, but I'm going to wait until she's old enough to help care for it (and not tease it to death!)

Lezlie said...

Jeane ~ I like Basenjis (ies?). My uncle had one that was very fun to have around. I thought the bottom of the list was usually reserved for Afghan Hounds, which I also like! OK. I just like dogs. All of them, regardless of IQ. And kitties. :-)

Ranked by obedience ability? I'm thinking the key word there is "ability", because those smart dogs have all kinds of obedience "ability" and all kinds of other abilities that leave you eternally thankful they don't have opposable thumbs! :-)


Diane said...

Just dropping by to tell you I gave you a blog award. Your blog is terrific.

Jeane said...

Lezlie- the very last breed on the list was actually Afghan hounds. Next-to-last was basenji. I knew someone when I was little who had an afgahn. Very cool-looking dog, but I can't imagine brushing that long hair!

Diane- wow, thanks so much! Even with the explanation, I still don't quite get "proximidae", but it's still lovely!

TheBlackSheep said...

I read this book once, but wasn't particularly impressed. OK, I admit, a lot of what he said I agree with, but there were a few things I didn't and they kind of got under my skin. I can't remember back far enough to give examples, but I do remember not really believing his ranking system. I have Great Danes, and they rank pretty far down, but that's because he didn't account for willingness factor. GDs know EXACTLY what you want from them, but stop to condsider not only what they get out of it, but if that advantage is really worth their effort. That's true intelligence imho. It's a pain in the heiney, nevertheless, you can't argue that they thought it over. :0) My labs, on the other hand, scored well, but you can't help but think their obsession with food and toys has something to do with that. :P

Jeane said...

Black Sheep- You've made me rethink it. Of course, he doesn't take into consideration why a dog is motivated to work with people. My cats appear far more intelligent than the dog I grew up with (a wiemaraner) yet they rarely follow commands. Obedience doesn't necessarily mean the most smarts. It could just as well be the opposite.