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How smart is your dog?

11 November 2015

Do you know how smart your dog is? Put your dog's intelligence to the test with these five simple exercises you can try at home. By Rosie Blundell.

Terrier looking at computer screen
A series of simple exercises can help identify how smart your dog is

Do you have a superdog who could win the next Britain’s Got Talent? Or a lovable, but plain daft, mutt? Here’s how to find out just how smart your pet is.

These intelligence tests are more than a bit of fun. One of the keys to a happy dog is stimulating his mind and challenging him to try new things.

Dogs who were bred for jobs such as herding livestock, which require concentration, intelligence and decision making, need to exercise their brains, just like how just as dogs who were bred for energetic jobs that require a lot of energy need to exercise their bodies. If your dog does not get the mental stimulation he needs, he will keep his mind busy with other things such as chewing and digging.

Read our guide to dog-proofing your home and garden.

Paw preference test

Firstly, is he wired to be smart? Humans who are right-handed supposedly have a more logical mind and higher language ability than those who are left-handed. There is some evidence that right-handed animals can be better at remembering and using words as well, and researchers have found that more right-pawed dogs pass their guide dog training than left-pawed dogs.

Paw preference can be tested by placing a small piece of not-too-sticky tape or a sticker on your dog’s snout and seeing which paw he uses to remove it, or by placing a treat or toy under the sofa and seeing which paw he uses to try and grab it.

Flip the tin test

If your dog understands what psychologists call “object permanence”, he realises that an object exists even though it has disappeared from view.

Place a treat or toy on the floor and, while your dog is watching, place a tin or box over it so it is completely hidden. The treat should not have a strong smell as its scent would give its position away. 

If your dog flips the tin or box over the he understands object permanence and realises that objects continue to exist even after they can no longer be seen. This is smarter than you think.

Drop the treat test

This test determines the degree to which your dog understands the way that horizontal objects relate to each other.

Place your dog in front of a table so that the surface is above your dog’s eye level. Place a cushion on the table and stand on the opposite side of the table to your dog. When your dog is watching, hold a treat above the table and drop it onto the cushion and see how your dog reacts. 

If your dog looks on the floor for the treat and ignores the table or tray completely then it shows that he hasn’t grasped the way in which horizontal objects relate to other objects.

Round the bend test

This is both a problem solving-test and a detour test. To do this successfully, your dog must have a good understanding of its physical world and work out that he must walk away from a treat in order to get to it.

Lay two chairs in their sides facing each other, so that the bases make a V-shaped barrier. There needs to be a small gap in the middle that is big enough for you dog to see through but small enough for your dog to not be able to fit through.

Place your dog inside the V-shaped barrier and stand with him, on the same side of the barrier. Drop a treat onto the floor on the other side of the barrier so that your dog can see it through the gap and watch how your dog tries to get to the treat.

If your dog immediately walks around the barrier to retrieve the treat then it means he has come across a similar situation before or he may be very good at coming up with solutions to problems.

Pull the string test

This tests how quickly a dog can learn something new. Your dog has to learn how to conquer a task it hasn’t encountered before using trial and error.

Tie a treat to one end of a piece of string and while your dog is watching, slide the treat under a sofa so that it is just out of reach but he can still see it. Leave at least half of the string trailing out from under the object so your dog can see and get a hold of it. 

Encourage your dog to pull the string to get at the treat but don’t let him eat it. If he does nothing, pull the string so he knows how and then hide the treat and pull the string again so your dog gets the idea. Hide the treat for a third time and allow your dog to work out how to get to it on his own. 

If your dog pulls at the string and gets the treat immediately then this shows he is very good at learning new physical tasks.

Have a smart dog? Find out how you can volunteer with your dog.


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The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.

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