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New study finds that your dog is ‘not exceptional’

Dogs. They’re what you get when you realize that the only way to deal with your insecurities is to have complete subordination of another animal.

If it sounds like I’m being a bit too harsh, I’m sorry. But cats are better, and if you hate cats, the science isn’t on your side.

I’m (mostly) joking of course, but I do roll my eyes every time a friend tells me about how “smart” their dog is.

Oh? Your dog knows his own name? Wow, that’s so amazing. Let me know what else he knows after he gets done eating his own poop.

My (four) cats are largely ambivalent to my existence and that’s perfectly fine with me.

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It’s almost as annoying as people who say that their dogs are their kids, or that they understand what it’s like to be a parent because they have dogs. Just. Shut. Up.

And now, a new study in the journal Learning and Behavior found that cognitively speaking, dogs are pretty par for the course. The authors even concluded that “There is no current case for canine exceptionalism.”

This will undoubtedly be a hard pill to swallow for many canine lovers who have built their dog’s intelligence into their own self-worth. And it should be devastating to the author of  My Dog is a Genius: How to Improve your Dog’s Intelligence (a real book). It will also be a shock to the users of “Dognition“, a website where you can have your dog do an “intelligence test” to, and it actually says this on the landing page of its website, “find the genius in your dog.”

I think the true intelligence test there is to not give money to people just because they pretend that your dog is a genius.

But as Scientific American pointed out, many people still think that their dog is special or possesses above-average intelligence:

Case studies add to the perception that dogs possess uncanny intelligence. A striking example is a Border collie named Chaser. Trained from puppyhood by her owner, the late Wofford College psychologist John Pilley, Chaser has learned the names of more than a thousand toys. She even seems able to reason, as she demonstrated for the astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson on the television program NOVA. Tyson begins by placing a random selection of Chaser’s toys behind a couch and asking her to retrieve several of them, which she does with dispatch. He then adds to the array a toy she has never seen—a Charles Darwin doll. Finally, he asks Chaser to “find Darwin!” Chaser walks behind the couch, and after a few seconds of hesitation, brings the doll to an astonished Tyson.

Well, check freakin’ mate, bro. I guess your dog should run for Congress.

Nevertheless, systematically reviewing the animal cognition literature, British psychologists Stephen Lea and Britta Osthaus found dogs to be unremarkable in their cognitive capabilities compared to wolves, cats, dolphins, chimpanzees, pigeons, and several other species. For example, dogs seem no better at learning associations—such as between a behavior and a reward—than other species. Similarly, dogs can spatially navigate within small spaces, but other species can, too. And while dogs have an excellent sense of smell, the “pig’s olfactory abilities are outstanding and might even be better than the dog’s.”

Scientific American goes on to point out that many dog owners feel that their dogs are unique because they respond to hand signals. I found this out personally over Thanksgiving weekend when my brother brought his dog to my parents’ house for Thanksgiving. He was very proud of how his dog would lay down (for about 2 seconds on average…) when you pointed your finger to the ground. Wow. Much impressive. Dolphins and seals do the same thing, and they do it so well that people pay money to see them do it at aquariums.

But it’s not all bad news:

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.

Damn. You got me. I guess all the shade I’ve been throwing at dogs is busted by this.

lol, jk

Even then, dogs aren’t special or unique. A connection between pet ownership and lowered risk of cardiovascular disease is nothing new. And yes, this includes cats.

A decreased risk for death due to MI and all cardiovascular diseases (including stroke) was observed among persons with cats. Acquisition of cats as domestic pets may represent a novel strategy for reducing the risk of cardiovascular diseases in high-risk individuals.

But in all seriousness, dogs are fine.

That is, if you need constant emotional reassurance from an inferior animal.

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Written by Dan Broadbent

Science Enthusiast. Atheist. Lover of cats.

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