In what may be the largest laboratory study of canine intelligence ever carried out, researchers at the University of Helsinki in Finland put over 1,000 dogs from 13 different breeds through a battery of cognitive tests. Their findings were recently published in the journal Scientific Reports.
The study’s authors encouraged dog owners to bring their one- to eight-year-old puppies into a sizable indoor field to take the smartDOG test battery, developed by study author Katriina Tiira, between March 2016 and February 2022.
Ten different tests are included in smartDOG, and they each assess characteristics including activity level, exploratory behavior, inhibitory control, problem-solving aptitude, logical reasoning, and short-term memory.
In one evaluation of social cognition, the owner is asked to make various specified gestures toward a bowl of food, ranging from strong pointing to a mere stare, to see if the dog will pick up on the caretaker’s cues. Another logical thinking exercise involves showing the dog two upside-down bowls and a treat before putting a visible barrier between it and the bowls. After placing the treat in one of the bowls and removing the block from view, the human tester raises the other bowl that is empty. The dog receives the treat if it moves to the other bowl and correctly indicates that the treat is there.
Thirteen breeds, each with at least 40 individuals and ranging in size from medium to large, were evaluated. The Border Collie, Belgian Malinois, English Cocker Spaniel, German Shepherd, Golden Retriever, Labrador Retriever, and the general mixed-breed category were among the breeds that were included.
Short-term memory and logical reasoning tests did not reveal any differences between the breeds, but social cognition, inhibitory control, and spatial problem-solving abilities did. Border Collies were at the top of the list in all of these categories. On the other hand, Labrador Retrievers ranked among the lowest of all breeds in inhibitory control and problem-solving abilities. Despite not traditionally being regarded as the smartest breed, Labradors are the most popular in the U.S. They are devoted, sociable, trainable, and affectionate.
“There is a possibility that the differences seen in our study were not based on genetic differences between breeds but rather due to variation in life experiences or training, since these have also been found to influence behavior in cognitive tests,” the researchers wrote.