A team of researchers reviewed previous studies on dog cognition and found that several cases were interpreted in favor of man's best friend.
On Dog Cognition
Scientists from the University of Exeter and Canterbury Christ Church University examined more than 300 papers discussing the intelligence of dogs. They compared it to other domestic animals, other social hunters, and other carnivorans.
"During our work it seemed to us that many studies in dog cognition research set out to 'prove' how clever dogs are," explained Stephen Lea, a co-author of the study and a professor at University of Exeter. "They are often compared to chimpanzees and whenever dogs 'win', this gets added to their reputation as something exceptional."
For the study, the researchers look at three perspectives: phylogenetically (as carnivoran), ecologically (as social hunters), and anthropogenically (as domestic animals). They also considered sensory cognition, physical cognition, spatial cognition, social cognition, and self-awareness. In addition, the researchers contrasted the existing understanding of dog cognition to data on other animals, with emphasis on wolves, cats, spotted hyenas, chimpanzees, dolphins, and pigeons.
During the review, they discovered "over interpretation" of some cases in favor of dogs. Their findings were published in the journal Learning & Behavior.
Smart But Not Exceptional
Taking all the aforementioned factors into consideration, the researchers found that dogs are smart, but their intelligence is in no way exceptional when compared to other animals. Out of the five cognitive tasks, the researchers found that dogs did well but no better than other animals in sensory cognition, physical cognition, and spatial tasks.
Dogs did excel in social cognition, which involved the ability to use other animal's behaviors, including humans' as well as social learning. However, in all tests, other animals did as good or significantly better than dogs.
The researchers also found no firm evidence of self-awareness in dogs and other carnivorans and domestic animals. Chimpanzees and dolphins are the only animals (in the data available) that have shown signs of self-awareness.
Britta Osthaus, a co-author of the study, said that it is necessary for dog owners to realize and accept the fact that their canine companions are not as smart as they give them credit.
"We are doing dogs no favor by expecting too much of them," Osthaus added. "Dogs are dogs, and we need to take their needs and true abilities into account when considering how we treat them."
The study, however, is not a complete review of dog cognition. Researchers recognize that the comparisons they have made were incomplete due to the limited range of studies. The goal is to place the understanding of dog cognition into context by looking at the intelligence of similar animals.