Stanley Coren on Dog Intelligence

March 9, 2008 at 5:42 am 3 comments

What do dogs know? How smart are they? Are dogs conscious? Do they have feelings like we do?


 In a recent interview with Alex Tsakiris of http://www.skeptiko.comDr. Stanley Coren stated that dogs’ cognitive powers are roughly equivalent to those of two to three year old human children.  Dogs solve problems, respond to language and play games in much the same way that toddlers do.  We all assume that young children have consciousness.  So doesn’t it seem logical to also assume that dogs have it as well?

 Charles Darwin believed that all aspects of mental life, including consciousness, exist along a continuum. He also recognized that animal consciousness is not the same as human consciousness.  Psychologists understand that very young children are conscious, but they don’t experience a full repertoire of emotions until they’re five or six years old.  Considering this, it may make sense to study animal consciousness by using some of the same techniques commonly employed in studying very young children.

 In doing this, we should also keep in mind that dogs and children are equipped with different kinds of intelligence, consciousness, sensory processing and other cognitive functions.  So, while a dog’s problem solving abilities are similar to a two-year old human child’s – your dog very decidedly does NOT have all the same emotional, sensory and cognitive powers that a two-year old does, and vice-versa.

 In other words, YOUR DOG IS NOT A FUR-BABY!

 For example, your dog’s social consciousness is much closer to a teenager’s than a toddler’s.  The dog is more interested in questions like who’s trying to move up in the pack and who’s sleeping with who than a toddler is.  The dog is probably less interested in music and television than the toddler is. In addition, the dog also has different physical and sensory skills than the toddler does.

 Toddlers don’t experience emotions the same way that adults do, but they do share all our basic emotions: fear, anger, surprise, happiness, sadness, etc.  What they don’t yet have are the learned emotions like guilt, which don’t show up until about four to five years of age.   

 Given this information, it makes no sense to ascribe things like infinite wisdom or infinite empathy to dogs.  Remember, their emotional makeup is similar to that of a two or three year old child, and it seems safe to say that toddlers do not have those qualities.

To read the complete transcript of the interview or download a podcast go to:

Entry filed under: behavior science, dog, dogs. Tags: , , , , , .

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3 Comments Add your own

  • […] SmartDogs had an interesting blog post (Stanley Coren on Dog Intelligence).Here’s a small excerpt:Given this information, it makes no sense to ascribe things like infinite wisdom or infinite empathy to dogs. Remember, their emotional makeup is similar to that of a two or three year old child, and it seems safe to say that toddlers … […]

  • 2. Caveat  |  March 10, 2008 at 2:30 pm

    Word. Dogs are most definitely not humans, or baby humans. They see the world quite differently. If dogs are like humans, then so must bears, foxes, lions, horses and other animals be. It is just anthropomorphism. They are mammals, so obviously they would be similar physiologically and in other ways such as instinct, drive, ability to generalize and differentiate, etc.

    Dogs are more civilized, more altruistic, more cheerful and more grounded in reality than most of the humans I’ve encountered – especially baby ones!

    Stanley lost his lustre for me a few years ago, so I tend to dismiss his remarks as nothing more than opinion presented as fact.

    I think it was his insistence that the much-touted ‘2000 psi’ bite pressure of a couple of types of dogs was true that led to my final disenchantment with him. After much correspondence he admitted through his silence that this ‘fact’ he has repeated in media interviews and books is pure bunk.

    He is a self-styled expert who fools media (obviously not all that difficult to do, considering who gets quoted) but nobody else.

  • 3. Julio  |  July 18, 2008 at 11:33 pm

    My two dogs, Blanco and Marron used to open the doors of my home.
    While one pushed the door, the other pulled down the door handle.
    In my country the doors looks have handles, not knobs.
    They learned this by themselves.

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