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How to make your dog smarter
Everyone wants a clever dog, so they ask: “How can I make my dog smarter?” They want to give commands and for their dog to follow them. If they don’t, is it because their dog is disobedient or are they simply not smart enough to understand what you want?
In most cases it’s not because dogs aren’t smart, it’s because they don’t understand what you want them to do. In some cases they may understand but have no incentive to do it. Yes, dogs need encouragement, too. Would you go to work for nothing?
Associating a command with an action
Dogs need to associate an action with a command. If someone told you to “sprindang burlit” you wouldn’t have a clue what they wanted. Once you’re told they’re from Planet Zog and want you to make them a cucumber sandwich you’d be a happy bunny. So to speak 🙂
So making your dog smarter is as much about taking time to teach them what your commands mean as it is about increasing their doggy IQ.
But is it possible to make your dog smarter and can technology help?
Here’s a super video of a dog playing a hi tech puzzle game. He understands which sound mean ‘here’s a treat’ and which one doesn’t..
Is our IQ fixed at birth?
First, is it possible to increase our – or our dog’s – IQ?
You probably know that we can test humans for their IQ (Intelligence Quotient) which is a comparative measurement to see how intelligent someone is compared to the rest of the population.
It was long thought that IQ was fixed at birth and couldn’t be changed but recent research suggests that IQ can be improved by enhancing existing knowledge. Is your IQ fixed for life?
Top tip to improve your IQ
Experiments have also shown that practising IQ tests will improve your ability to do – yes, you guessed! – IQ tests and thus ‘improve’ your IQ. That’s a tip for anyone preparing to take the Mensa entrance exam.
There is also the relatively new science of neuroplasticity, or brain plasticity which is the brain’s ability to reorganise itself. There is an element of ‘use it or lose it’ here whereby functions and abilities you don’t use are gradually lost.
All of this supports the premise that keeping your brain active with existing abilities and new challenges is a Good Thing.
Is the human brain similar to a dog’s brain?
This is all very well but can we equate the brains of our four-legged friends to human brains?
A growing number of studies show that there is much similarity between the two.
A study by researchers in Hungary asked How is the human brain similar to a dog’s? and discovered myriad similarities, particularly in the way we respond to stimuli.
A smart dog is a smart dog
In research by the London School of Economics – Dog IQ tests reveal canine ‘general intelligence’ – researchers discovered that dogs who do well at one type of dog IQ test also tend to do well at other IQ tests. This is exactly what we find in human IQ tests.
So using human-like approaches to improving intelligence in dogs seems to have a real foundation in fact.
What is a ‘smart’ dog?
When we talk about a ‘smart’ dog we usually mean an ability to understand many commands and react accordingly. If we assume dogs’ brains work in a similar way to ours, and current research suggests they do – How Smart Is a Dog Really? – there’s every reason to suppose that continued training and challenges will keep a dog’s intellect in top form.
Just as practicing IQ tests can improve our IQ – as measured by IQ tests – so regular training can help your dog learn more and become smarter.
How intelligent are dogs?
You may have heard that a dog is as intelligent as a two-and-a-half-year old child. If you haven’t – you have now! 🙂
This is a concept popularised by Dr Stanley Coren PhD., DSc, FRSC back in 2009. Through a series of tests he determined that a dog knew and could respond to 165 words, as many as a two-year old.
Some dogs are as smart as a three- or four-year old
What is more remarkable is that the item had not been named or shown to Rico. He was able to infer that the new item was the one he had not seen before and associate it with the new word. This shows an ability equivalent to that of a three-year old.
It’s important to realise that these tests were based on understanding words and language so it’s probably an exaggeration to say that dogs are as intelligent as a two- or three-year old, although let’s not allow the facts to get in the way of a good headline! 🙂
Dogs can count, too!
However, Dr Coren also tested a dog’s mathematical ability and found most dogs could be taught to recognise numbers up to 4 or 5 which is in advance of a three- or four-year old.
Dr Coren is also popularised the fact that the average dog can understand 165 words – you’ll see this scattered around all over the internet.
There’s no reason to doubt this. The ‘average’ dog is probably taught far fewer words but that’s the domain of their owner and not a reflection on the dog’s ability to learn.
Some dogs have been trained to recognise 200 and even 250 words. Which leads us nicely to the question…
Which dogs are the smartest?
In his 1994 book (republished in 2006), The Intelligence of dogs, Dr Coren lists dog breeds by intelligence. Do note, however, that not all breeds were included and his criteria were how well the dogs responded to commands, essentially tests of work and obedience. In other words how easily they learn and respond to orders.
If we look at reports by owners who have taught their dogs to retrieve a ball and drop it into an automatic ball thrower, we see that some dogs pick it up in a few hours while others may take a few days.
So just because your dog doesn’t ‘get’ an instruction immediately, it doesn’t mean they aren’t smart and can’t learn.
All dogs can learn
Before you scan the list to see if your furry pal is an Einstein or a Duffus, remember that dogs are individuals, too, and their breed is no guarantee of their ability which can vary according to several factors.
These include their innate nature as well as their environment, upbringing, care, mental stimulation and training. A bit like us, really.
If you want an intelligent dog, the best thing you can do is to pick a breed you like, any breed – even a mixture like Murphy – and spend a lot of time looking after them and training them as early as possible. If you do that, you’ll have a smarter dog than 95% of other dog owners.
The top 12 smartest dogs
So here’s a list of the top 12 smartest dog breeds:
- Border Collie
- German Shepherd
- Golden Retriever
- Doberman Pinscher
- Shetland Sheepdog
- Labrador Retriever
- Australian Shepherd
- Pembroke Welsh Corgi
- Miniature Schnauzer
It’s no surprise that the Border Collie tops the list as they have long been considered one of the most intelligent dogs. But before you rush out to buy one, realise that these dogs need a lot of exercise and challenge and you will have to commit to spending a lot of time with them.
The Poodle may come as a surprise but they were originally bred for hunting. They also need challenge and stimulation but make excellent pets and are generally good with children.
The German Shepherd is the dog of choice for many security forces, selected for their agility and sense of smell. They also require lots of daily exercise. They are loyal and quick to learn.
At the other end of the ‘smart dog’ scale
And here’s the 12 that fill out the bottom of the list:
- Lhasa Apso
- Shih Tzu
- Basset Hound
- Chow Chow
- English Bulldog
- Afghan Hound
If your favourite dog is on this list, don’t worry. They can still make excellent pets but realise that training may take a little longer. Use positive reinforcement and keep your cool 🙂
For the complete list, here’s Stanley Coren’s list of smartest dog breeds.
Can youmake your dog smarter?
So here’s te Big Question. With all that said, is it possible to make your dog smarter?
The short answer is Yes, but it’s probably not so much a case of increasing their doggy IQ as it is simply recognising it and getting them to do more with it.
Most owners rarely push their dog’s intellectual abilities. How many commands does your dog understand?
Unless they’ve been trained for a special purpose, most domestic dogs are probably only taught 20-30 commands. Compared to the average dog’s ability to learn 165 commands, that’s vastly under-using and under-appreciating your dog’s ability.
Make your dog smarter – do it yourself
Hopefully you will have realised by now that:
- Your dog is already smarter than you think
They simply require a little extra training to bring it out
You can do this by engaging more with your dog and ensuring they have fun challenges to tackle such as the games in Worry Free Walks.
When your dog has mastered the essential basic commands, teach them new tricks. Don’t rush. Start with simple tricks and work up. Remember to go over early trick and commands at regular intervals so they retain the information.
These tricks don’t have to be complicated. One of Murphy‘s favourite ‘tricks’ was to find a treat I’d hidden somewhere in the room. This gives dogs a chance to use their sense of smell – and earn a treat, too!
The ‘other paw’ trick
When I asked Murphy for a paw, if my hand was near his left side he’d give me his left paw and vice versa for the right. If my hand was in-between, he’d make his own choice.
However, after getting a paw I’d ask for the ‘other paw’ and he’d give me his other paw regardless of where my hand was. So he knew what ‘other’ meant. I think that’s pretty clever.
When washing his paws with the hosepipe after a mucky walk, he’d also do this with his back paws, lifting them one at a time so I could wash them. Well, I thought it that was clever, too 🙂
How to make your dog smarter
So what do we need to do to make our dog smarter?
Dogs need challenges to keep their brain stimulated and to stave off boredom. One-to-one time is great for engaging and bonding with your dog but we know that’s not always possible.
Kongs are king
There are many toys that can offer your dog a challenge, not least of all the not-so-humble Kong which most dogs love – mainly because they’re stuffed with treats 🙂
In fact, a Kong or two really should be in every dog’s toy basket. It provides hours of challenge and stimulation and Kongs are quite inexpensive.
The main challenge with a Kong is how to get the food out so your dog works away at it much like you might (and I know this is a poor analogy) dig around at the bottom of a Knickerbocker Glory long glass to fish out the last cherry.
Throw it again, Sam
Challenges don’t always have to be about food, although many are.
Automatic ball throwers can keep your dog amused for hours, especially once you have trained them to drop the ball into the funnel or bucket.
As well as giving your dog exercise, throwers challenge your dog to work out where the ball is going to land and many dogs will back away from the thrower in anticipation of the balls’ trajectory.
Many dogs like to try to catch the ball in mid air of they can which is brilliant for eye-mouth coordination.
Hide a treat
Most dog puzzle toys offer food as a reward and present a range of challenges which must be solved in order to release the food.
There are dozens of what we can call hide a treat toys available. One of the most popular is the Nina Ottosson range from Outward Hound which has a couple of catchy slogans including ‘raise the woof’ and ‘more fun under one woof’. Quite… 🙂
Level playing field
They all work in a similar way. They consist of a plastic base containing flaps and tracks and your dog must lift the flat or slide pieces around the track in order to release a treat.
Some dogs will take to this more than others and some, alas, may not get it at all. If your dog struggles, show them where you’re placing the treats and encourage them to lift the flap, remove the bone or whatever the puzzle requires.
Conversely, some dogs will love these and solve the puzzles very quickly so they cease to be a challenge. Oh what a clever dog you have 🙂
The puzzles are made from a tough plastic and should be fairly claw and teeth resistant but dogs can chew anything so don’t let your dog chew the pieces or leave them alone with the toy until you’re sure they won’t try to eat it.
See how other dogs do it
If you’re not sure how your dog will respond to the puzzles, take a look at the Dog Brick Puzzle on Amazon. Scroll to the bottom of the page where you will see details of the eight most popular puzzles.
NOTE: This link will only work if you’re in the USA.
If you are not in the USA, use this Brick Puzzle link.
Just a little further down there are about 10 customer videos showing how their dogs get on with the puzzles. They will give you an idea of how a variety of dogs respond to the puzzles.
Make your dog smarter through technology
The challenge presented by these types of puzzle is fixed and once your dog has learned how it works he should be able to solve it every time.
Having said that, it may take a while for them to fully ‘get it’ so a puzzle may last for weeks or months and even then your dog will enjoy solving it to get the treats, just as they enjoy ‘solving’ a Kong again and again.
The benefits of tech-based puzzles
Technology, however, offers far more options.
Not only can a tech-based puzzle offer a larger number of puzzles and puzzle variations, but it can automatically adjust the difficulty level according to how well the dog is doing.
In addition, most can be programmed and controlled by the dog’s owner through a phone app which also offers statistics on how well their dog is performing.
Top Hi Tech dog puzzle toys
If you want some top-of-the range hi tech dog puzzles to challenge your dog and keep on challenging them, read on.
We will be taking a closer look at these exciting pieces of gear soon but check them out yourself and see how technology can help make your dog smarter!
The CleverPet Hub is like a Simon game for dogs where they have to press various buttons in order to release treats.
If you’re not familiar with Simon, here are some Simon Games to remind you of your childhood.
The CleverPet Hub has three pads which light up in various ways and your dog has to press the pads in order for the Hub to release food.
Here’s a video of the CleverPet Hub in action – or rather, being solved by clever dogs!
There are several levels of difficulty ranging from simply pressing any pad to pressing the pads in a certain sequence. A recent update added a Colour Match challenge.
Aren’t dogs colour blind?
That dog can only see in black and white has been the commonly-held belief for most of our recorded history with dogs. However, recent research shows it’s not true.
Without going into too many details – you can thank me later 🙂 – dogs see colour much as a red/green colour blind person would.
So although dogs don’t have our full colour vision, it’s significantly better than simple black and white.
Back to the Hub
The CleverPet Hub changes difficulty levels automatically according to how well your dog is doing. You can also reset it to a level if your dog advances but is struggling with the new level.
An app lets you control the Hub and provides statistics telling you how well your dog is performing.
As we’ve discussed, some dogs will take to this faster and more eagerly than others. However, even the smartest dog could take weeks to work through all the levels. The Hub could keep your dog entertained and thinking for months and months.
At the moment, the CleverPet Hub is only available in the USA and Canada.
As of writing, new CleverPet Hubs are out of stock although refurbished models are available from the CleverPet website:
PupPod Wobbler & Pet Tutor
PupPod is similar but different 🙂
When your dog completes a puzzle, the PupPod sends a message to your phone telling you to reward your dog with a treat.
Automatic level changer
The PupPod uses a combination of sounds, lights and timing to create puzzles that automatically get more difficult as your dog solves them. You can also set the difficulty level from your phone.
The PupPod includes a motion sensor so initially your dog can get rewarded simply for approaching the unit.
The Pet Tutor is an optional unit but highly recommended. It links to the PupPod Wobbler via Bluetooth and dispenses a treat automatically when your dog successfully solves a puzzle. This means your dog can use the PupPod in your absence although you may enjoy the interaction of rewarding your dog yourself. Or both, it’s up to you.
Here’s a video of the PupPod and Pet Tutor being used by smart dogs!
The great thing about the Pet Tutor is that it is not attached to the PupPod so you could put it on the other side of the room. One user puts it on a shelf so the treats fall down onto the floor, adding a little ‘scavenger hunt’ to the process.
These are relatively new products so the situation may change as the company increases production and marketing.
How to make my dog smarter – summary
Having looked at the way dogs’ brains work it’s clear that that they need mental challenges just as much as we do. It’s also clear that they love to use their brains to solve puzzles and this keeps them mentally fit which is as important and physical fitness.
‘Fixed’ puzzles like the Nina Ottosson range are a super way to engage and challenge your dog
Tech puzzles such as the CleverPet Hub and PupPod keep on challenging your dog by adjusting the difficulty of the puzzles to match your dog’s progress.
By playing with these puzzles your dog is also learning a type of adaptive reasoning. And that’s no mean feat at all!
I hope you found this article and the reviews interesting and useful.
You may also be interested in these articles and reviews:
If you have any questions about dog IQ or puzzles for smart dog or would like to share your experience of using them, please leave a message in the Comments below and I will reply as soon as possible.
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