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Big dog clever, small dog not so clever, claims human research

Big brown dog with small dog dog-wow
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Researchers have claimed that big dogs are more intelligent than small dogs – at least as far as certain types of intelligence are concerned

By G. John Cole , 7 Feb 2019

The study, carried out at University of Arizona's Arizona Canine Cognition Centre using data from 7,000 purebred domestic dogs across 74 different breeds, is sure to prove controversial among small dog communities.

Humans are too clever for their own good

While the results of the study do seem to make sense in terms of biopsychology – bigger brains equal more neurons and connections – critics have been quick to point out the very human flaws in the way the research has been reported.

For one thing, neither the word ‘intelligent’ nor the American word ‘smart’ appears in the original paper. The researchers actually measured what they call “executive functioning.”

The tests measured how long a dog could remember where a treat was hidden, and how long they could restrain themselves from eating a forbidden treat.

“There are multiple intelligences in dogs and other animals, and individual differences are to be expected,” writes biologist Marc Bekoff in a blog post. He points out that Mexico’s stray dogs are super-intelligent in terms of street sense, while his own domestic dogs lacked so-called ‘street-smarts’ but “could easily steal my food and that of the other resident dog in a heartbeat, without either of us knowing what was happening.”

Clever little butterfly

Dog psychologist Stanley Coren says that the research backs up his own analysis of dog ‘intelligence’ data. In the figures Coren studied, only the Papillon fared well among toy breeds that were measured.

But the Arizona researchers have not provided a definitive explanation of their findings.

“The jury is out on why, necessarily, brain size might relate to cognition," said Daniel Horschler, lead author of the study, as reported on Insider. “Nobody's really sure yet, but we're interested in figuring out what those deeper things are.”

It all seems like a lot of fuss about nothing when the researchers could instead be outside playing joyfully in the park.