Science: Dogs aren’t that smart. Dog owners: ‘Shut it’

In their most honest moments, even the most loyal dog owner has to admit their dog probably isn’t as smart as they think they are. In fact, they’re really not that smart, a new study says.

The study, first published in the journal  “Learning And Behavior,” says it’s the Lake Wobegon effect at work. People tend to think they’re above average when they’re not. They treat their dogs the same way, Scientific American reported.

Here’s the part that hurts: Dogs fared poorly compared to cats. Also wolves. And chimps. And pigeons.

But there’s something pigeons, wolves and chimps can’t do: keep you alive.

Even after the researchers statistically controlled for age, education, and socioeconomic status, dog owners were significantly less likely to have had a heart attack and significantly less likely to have died from cardiovascular disease than non-dog owners were.

What’s more, these benefits of dog ownership were largest for single people. While stressing that the results must be interpreted cautiously because they are correlational, the researchers suggest two possible explanations for the findings.

The first is that owning a dog alleviates psychosocial stress caused by isolation and depression, which has been linked to cardiovascular disease. The second explanation is that dog owners, in taking their canine companions on walks, are more physically active.

So even if dogs can’t follow hand signals as well as a bottlenose dolphin and their sense of smell is no better than a pig’s, their effects on our lives may be remarkable all the same.

That aside, dog owners don’t want to hear any of this.

A reader suggested the article was written by a cat.

Even Steve Inskeep of NPR’s “Morning Edition” got a little rebuttal this morning when he relayed the SA article.

There are, of course, exceptions. Your dog, probably.

  • MrE85

    Points for sneaking an image of the newest member of your family into a post. Well played, Sir,

    PS: More BlogDog photos are always welcome.

  • Angry Jonny
  • The Resistance

    My cat taught herself to climb a Christmas tree. We’re so proud.

    • But that’s a cat’s natural habitat.

    • Rob

      But was it able to climb back down, or did you have to call the fire department? : )

      • The Resistance

        Cats don’t have a reverse gear.

  • MikeB

    It’s a well-known fact that the Dunning-Kruger effect does not apply to dog owners.

    • The story calls the D/K effect “Lake Wobegon”, but yes.

      • MikeB

        While on the walk this morning, Dog #1 was still talking about the Mars landing. Dog #2 was giving me tips about fixing the wood bolier. Dog #3 brought up the Deutsche Bank raid. And Dog #4 was riding high about last night’s Wolves game. Then they reminded me it was time to go inside and fill their dog bowls.

  • Nick Rocks

    I hunt with a dog that never misses finding a pheasant, stays close so they don’t jump to far out, always retrieves them (even when they might not be dead) and brings them back to you. Guess I should be using a cat instead.

    • >>Guess I should be using a cat instead.<<

      It'd just bat the pheasant around…

    • Jerry

      One of the farm cats at my parents’ house killed and brought home a pheasant once.

    • jon

      Keep the dog, swap out the shotgun for a CATapult.

      Dog will either bring back the pheasant of the cat…

  • John F.

    I object to that pigeon remark. Pigeons were used extensively during both world wars and are credited with saving soldiers lives.

  • Al

    Same probably goes for our children. *ducks*

    • jon

      At 3 months old my dog could roll over on command…
      Takes human children 6 months to even be able to roll themselves over… and when I told my nephews (16, 12, and 9) to roll over… none of them did… even when I waved a treat in front of them… They mostly just rolled their eyes and went back to playing video games… One of them physically assaulted me for the treat by jumping up for it on his hind legs…. something my dog wouldn’t stoop too…

      Clearly dogs are smarter than children.

      • Al

        Let’s be honest: For the first few years of their lives, kids are just fancy, expensive dogs. You can’t even kennel them when it’s not night or naptime. 😉

        • John

          that’s kind of a mean thing to say about dogs.

        • Kassie

          Yeah, but you can bring them places dogs aren’t allowed. My dogs would be much easier to deal with if they were actually wanted at my in-laws or parents’ houses. No one is allergic to children. No one gets mad when children jump on them.

        • >>You can’t even kennel them<<

          Who says?!

        • Jack

          You can put them on a leash at the zoo. I did that to keep our son from going into the exhibits.

    • crystals

      I wish I could send you to the next Darien, CT school board meeting so you can tell them that.

      • Al

        Well-played. 😀

  • jon

    That’s why smart shepards use dolphins to herd sheep.

    It’s why pigs are used in airports to sniff out explosives and bombs…

    It’s why police bears are used rather than police dogs, far more effective at catching and restraining subjects…

    Maybe we have so many breeds of dogs because we bred and train them to be companions as well as to perform particular tasks. And as it turns out they make the best companions, extending life and improving well being…

    We don’t measure dolphins by their ability to hunt pheasants, but we expect dogs to measure up to dolphins in other ways?

    Dogs are far better than being “that smart”, dogs are smart enough.

  • Postal Customer

    “this kind of bullshit is why people stop trusting scientists”

    This kind of asinine statement is why climate change deniers are invited to Meet the Press.

  • Veronica

    We have two dogs. One is pretty smart. The other, while being very cute, is very, very dumb.

  • Jerry
  • Rob

    I occasionally give my Rat Terrier a Kong filled with cheese; when she gets to the point where there’s a little bit of cheese left inside that she can’t get to, she drops the Kong near me, and waits for me to dislodge the remaining bit. Smart dog!

  • Brian Simon

    Smart is relative. A gradeschool friend of mine was/ is brilliant. But when he went off to college he’d forget to eat. Cats may be ‘smarter’ than dogs, by whatever arbitrary metric these scientists use, but cats, unlike dogs, use their smarts not for the greater good, but the furtherance of their own interests.

    • Jack Ungerleider

      If you are familiar with the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy then this will make sense: Cat’s are here to protect the experiments being done by the white mice. (That’s my theory anyway.)

  • John O.

    The average dog is a nicer person than the average person.

    -Andy Rooney

  • JamieHX

    When I read “something pigeons, wolves and chimps can’t do: keep you alive,” I thought you were referring to how SERVICE dogs are trained to help keep people alive (and engaged in the world) in various ways. REGULAR dogs make their owners aware of life-threatening situations all the time. I wonder if pigeons, wolves, chimps, or cats can do those things.

  • JamieHX

    Is there a typo in the headline to this post?

  • lindblomeagles

    The health effects dogs provide makes a lot of sense. Most dogs, even in the wild, are a) very social, b) very physically active. In the wild, dogs are successful when they tire their prey while trotting great distances. Domesticated dogs similarly form a pack with their humans, and they look forward to vast quantities of time outdoors, especially when they are young. Dogs lack of intelligence makes sense too. People spend a great deal of time and money taking their dogs to obedience school, placing gentle leaders around their muzzles, or using a muzzle in general. And while wild dogs know how to keep silent and still while on the hunt, domesticated dogs lack this knowledge, barking at just about anything that excites them. But most domesticated pets are not smart, social, and energetic in a way that helps human beings. Fish, rodents, reptiles, cats, and even birds have pretty big limitations as pets. So keep loving your dogs! And for those us who don’t have one, form a large family that enjoys walks, biking, and cuddling.

  • Guest

    That first dog was pretty smart to go up to the caveman’s campfire and wag his tail begging for a treat rather than snarling like a wolf.

    I tried to teach my dog Fetch but he taught me Keep-Away instead 🙂