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5 Tests to Tell Your Dog's IQ

By: Alex Lieber

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"My dog is smarter than yours! And I can prove it!" Once upon a time, this challenge was hurled from one child to another on playgrounds and in neighborhoods. Today, you're just as likely to hear a barrage of these claims and counterclaims among adults.

Dogs, after all, have become surrogate children, and no one wants to think their "children" are lacking in brain wattage. Since the early 1990s, a number of tests have been published that allow adults to "measure" their dogs' brainpower (the most notable of these is Stanley Coren's book, The Intelligence of Dogs, by Bantam Press).

This assumes, of course, that they perform the test correctly. Sometimes, intelligence tests tell a lot about the smarts of the tester as well as the tested. Fortunately for all of us, intelligence is not a prerequisite for love.

It shouldn't be for a dog either – if he doesn't do well, just remember that anyone can be too smart for their own good. Do you really want a dog that can open the refrigerator, operate machinery or run up the credit cards?

The following test (adapted from Coren's more complete version) should tell you if your dog is a canine-Einstein. If he doesn't do well, don't get upset ... he may just be playing dumb so you continue to cater to his every whim.

Setting Up the Test

Your dog should be at least a year old before testing him. Treat the exam as a game, so he wants to do it. Each test scores up to three points – but there are bonus points.

1. On a day you normally don't walk the dog, quietly pick up your keys, and his leash (and whatever else you usually take with you) while he's watching. If he gets excited, score 3. If you have to walk to the door before he knows it is time to go out, score 2. If he sits there with a confused look on his face, give him 1 point.

Bonus points: If your dog typically lets YOU know when he has to go to the bathroom – by bringing you his leash, for instance – score 2 extra points for a total of 5 points. If he's mastered the toilet, stop the test. Your dog is a canine version of a brain surgeon.

2. With your dog out of the room, rearrange the furniture. If he goes directly to his favorite spot on the couch – the one with his impression in the cushion – give him 3 points. If he investigates the room and finds his favorite spot within 30 seconds, give him 2 points. If he settles for a less comfortable place because he's just too lazy to make the effort, score 1 point.

3. Take a large towel and gently throw it over your dog's head. If he manages to extricate himself within 1 to 15 seconds, score 3 points. If it takes 15 to 30 seconds, score 2. If he walks around with it all day, bumping into things, score 1.

Bonus points: If your dog walks around all day with his head covered by the towel and NEVER bumps into anything, give him an extra point. Subtract points from yourself for being so mean as to let your dog go around with a towel on his head.

4. Now we're going to test problem-solving ability. With your dog watching, put a treat under a table or chair low enough so your dog can only fit a paw, not his head. If your dog reaches under with a paw and gets the treat within 1 minute, score 3 points. If he uses his muzzle and his paws, score 2 points, whether he gets the treat or not (at least he's trying). If he gives up after using just his muzzle, score 1 point.

Bonus points: If your dog looks at the treat, then at you, then at the treat again, then at you again, score 5 total points. He knows if he looks at you mournfully long enough, you're going to reach under that nasty furniture and get it for him.

5. Another problem-solving test. Construct a barrier from cardboard. The barrier should be higher than your dog when he's on two legs. Attach two boxes to either side as support structures. The entire barrier should be about 5 feet wide. Cut a 3-inch-wide rectangular aperture in the center of the barrier. The aperture should run from about 4-inches from the top to about 4-inches from the bottom.

Give yourself 10 points – those were pretty complicated directions! As for the dog, show him a treat from the other side of the barrier. If he walks around the barrier within 30 seconds, give him 3 points. If he goes around the barrier between 30 seconds and a minute, give him 2 points. If he gets his head stuck in the aperture, give him 1 point for trying.

Bonus points: If he goes to someone else in the house and gets a treat, give him 3 points – he knows how to get the goodies.

Rating His Intelligence

16 points or higher: Your dog puts Lassie to shame. You should hope to be so smart!

13 to 16 points: Well above average. He isn't going to be designing missiles, but he knows how to get what he wants.

9 to 12 points: Okay, Fido isn't exactly setting the world on fire with brilliance, but he's no slouch. Your dog is comfortably in the middle.

5 to 8 points: Below average is no big deal. A lot of U.S. presidents scored below average too.

1 to 4 points: Definitely not the brightest bulb, but so what? With a dog as cute as yours, who needs smarts?

Less than 1 point: Check for breathing.

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