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Published October 15 2011

Swift: Dogs struggle on CQ (canine intelligence) tests

This just in: My dog is not smarter than your honor student.

It pains me to admit this, but ’tis true.

I’d once heard that the average dog has the intelligence of a 2-year-old human child, with the ability to learn anywhere from 165 to 250 words.

Like any proud pet owner, I’d always assumed our dogs were not just 2-year-olds, but they were genius toddlers who could read French and play Mozart.

Indeed, our golden-Lab Jake has an amazing food-related vocabulary, and will perk up at words like “pizza,” “grilled cheese,” “biscuit,” “treat,” “hungry,” “water,” “yogurt” and “dinner.” (Then again, Jake is such a food addict that he could hear a Pop Tart being unwrapped in another county.)

He’s even a bit of a mathlete, who will nudge my hand once if I feed him two treats instead of the customary three.

Kita, our Pomapoo, seems more content to coast by on her cute face and perky personality. She used to get all worked up when we yelled “squirrel!” “chipmunk!” or “rabbit!”

Then we realized she was responding more to the enthusiasm in our voices than the actual words and would get just as fired up if we hollered “toaster!” “Uganda!” or “Jennifer Lopez!”

A few nights ago, I decided to put our canines’ intelligence to the test. I’d found a few exercises online that are supposed to gauge a pooch’s ability to solve problems.

One involved placing a towel over the dog’s head and seeing how long it took him or her to shake it off.

Jake wriggled the towel off almost immediately. But Kita sat under the towel for so long that I feared she’d dozed off.

Irwin hooted with laughter when he saw this. “Little dog, little brain!” he yelled. “Looks like she’ll have to be a rich dog’s trophy wife.”

Determined to prove him wrong, I tried the next test. While each dog was relaxed and lying close by, I was supposed to stare at him or with a “huge exaggerated smile.”

A valedogtorian would supposedly pick up my social signals and happily come to me. A dog who moved away from me or ignored me completely was destined for a lifetime of staring slackjawed at “Gilligan’s Island” marathons.

For the next five minutes I sat there, grinning like a deranged Miss Universe contestant. Irwin found it so creepy that he actually got up and left the room (possibly to go watch “Gilligan’s Island”). The dogs watched me suspiciously out of the corner of their eyes but seemed determined to ignore me.

They probably saw my bared teeth and thought I was trying to protect a bone.

The final test involved placing a treat under a soup can and then counting how long it took them to find it.

I thought the perpetually hungry Jake would test in the 100th percentile on this one. Not only would he immediately tip over the soup can to gobble the treats, but he would carry the can to the sink, wash and rinse it, steam off the label to participate in a school label drive and then carry it back to me and bark, “More, please.”

Indeed, Jake did quickly tip over the container, but then he spent all his time licking the inside of the can and ignoring the treats. (Note to self: Next time, use a clean soup can.)

I had less faith in Kita, who is indifferent about food.

But she completely surprised me, tipping the can and gobbling the treats well within the 15-second limit outlined in the test.


Soup, there it is.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Tammy Swift at (701) 241-5525