Dog owners who think their pooches are exceptionally intelligent are barking up the wrong tree, according to new research.
A review of the brain power of dogs compared to other domestic and wild animals – with a particular emphasis on wolves, cats, hyenas, chimpanzees, dolphins, horses and pigeons – found the cognitive abilities of dogs were not superior at all.
Dr Britta Osthaus, of Canterbury Christ Church University, said the study showed “dog cognition does not look exceptional”.
She added: “We are doing dogs no favour by expecting too much of them. Dogs are dogs, and we need to take their needs and true abilities into account when considering how we treat them.”
The study, by researchers from the University of Exeter and Canterbury Christ Church University, examined more than 300 papers on the intelligence of dogs and other animals, and found several cases of “over interpretation” in favour of dogs’ abilities.
The review focused on sensory cognition, physical cognition, spatial cognition, social cognition and self-awareness.
It found dogs excelled in social cognition tests, as they have an “impressive ability” to use other animals’ behaviour (especially that of humans) as a cue. However that was where the praise ended.
In other areas – such as recognising faces or following human pointing – their intelligence was matched by several species of animals.
In addition to this, dogs were unable to recognise their reflection in a mirror, whereas dolphins and chimpanzees could.
When it came down to navigation, pigeons outperformed pooches by a long shot with their homing capacities, scientists said.
“During our work it seemed to us that many studies in dog cognition research set out to ‘prove’ how clever dogs are,” said Professor Stephen Lea, of the University of Exeter.
“They are often compared to chimpanzees and whenever dogs ‘win’, this gets added to their reputation as something exceptional. Yet in each and every case we found other valid comparison species that do at least as well as dogs do in those tasks.”