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How Smart is Your Puppy?

By: Dr. Nicholas Dodman

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Test 6 – Long Term Memory

This is the same as Test 5 except that the pup should be taken out of the room for 5 minutes before returning it to the vicinity where the food treat is hidden. By the way, with both these tests it is important to use a food treat that is not too easily located by sense of smell, otherwise the test is biased in favor of olfactory acuity as opposed to visual memory.

Test 7 – Problem Solving in Manipulation Ability

For this test you will need a couple of light cardboard boxes, a sheet of cardboard, and two appropriately sized, light weights. Make a low bridge by placing the cardboard between the two boxes and weight the cardboard down with a weight on either end. Make sure that the height of the bridge is sufficiently low so the dog cannot reach underneath (for a small dog – the bridge should be only a couple inches off the ground). Show the dog a food treat and then hide it under the bridge, out of sight but not out of mind (or olfactory range). The pup must figure how to get the food treat out. If it quickly demolishes your bridge and obtains the food treat, score 5. If it takes a while to get the treat out, but less than 1 minute, by pushing or nuzzling, score 4. If the pup tries to get the treat out but fails, score him 3 points. If the pup simply sniffs the structure, score 2. If the pup simply looks vacantly and does nothing, score 1. If he shows no interest and walks away, score him 0.

Test 8 – Speed of Learning

Assuming you have not already taught to get off furniture when instructed with the word off, find out how quickly he learns this command. Place the pup on a piece of furniture that is low to the ground, say, a couch. Attach a training lead to his flat collar. Issue the verbal cue off and then tug ever so lightly on his collar until he is obliged to flop onto the floor. Praise him. After 30 seconds or so, place him back on the couch, say the word off again and, if necessary, assist him off the couch using the same gentle traction applied to his collar, as before. This should be enough to train most pups the meaning of the word off. For a third time, place the pup back on the couch. Say the word off and observe his behavior. If he jumps off the couch, score him 5 points. If he requires assistance after about 30 seconds, assisted him off the couch, praise him, and then try again. If he succeeds on the fourth occasion, score him 4; on the fifth occasion, score him 3, and so on, right down to the lowest possible score of 0.

Test 9 – Language Comprehension

Assuming you've taught your puppy the word come, and that he has obeyed this command, try testing his knowledge of the actual word. Stand blankly facing him, say his name, the word come and praise him. Good boy! If he comes, score him 5 points. Wait for a few moments and repeat the exercise but this time, instead of the word come, use a word that he is unfamiliar with, e.g. dark. If he shows some response to his name, appears gratified by the praise, and comes, award him 3 points. If he does not respond to his name or praise and does not come, award him 1 point. Intermediate scores can be awarded for intermediate responses (e.g. coming after a delay) and score 0 for his paying no attention to you and walking away.

Test 10 – Intuitive Problem Solving

Show the pup a treat across a barrier e.g. sheet of cardboard that is impenetrable to the dog. It is probably best to arrange for the barrier to have a small aperture in it through which the treat can be displayed. If the pup immediately walks around the side of the barrier to retrieve the treat, score 5. If he takes more than a minute to come to the same conclusion, score 3. If he doesn't figure the problem out at all and spends his time looking through the aperture or gazing wistfully over the top of the barrier, score 1. Intermediate scores can be given, including 0 for paying initial attention to the treat and then giving up on the quest.

The Analysis

The maximum score on this test is 50. Scores between 40 and 50 indicate a particularly smart puppy. Scores in the range of 30-40 indicate an attentive and responsive pup but one that is not necessarily top drawer material. Scores 20-30 indicate a pup that will do reasonably well but for whom smarts is not a strong suit. Scores below 20 indicate a slow learner who will need considerable help to learn what he needs to know (a special needs dog if you will).

The above test modified from a canine IQ test developed by Dr. Stanley Coren, and published in his book The Intelligence of Dogs (1994) is designed more as a fun guide than an empirical measure and owners should not put too much store by it. Remember that Albert Einstein was considered to be a slow learner and barely said a word or put a play brick on top of another until he was 5. He actually didn't do too well at school either and was never good at arithmetic. However, he turned out to have one of the most brilliant minds that has ever been. Perhaps some of the slow learner puppies may also be gifted in some special way. Perhaps they may have a different kind of smarts. Perhaps they are extremely affectionate and loyal. And, remember, just as with people, being smart isn't everything. It's important to be nice, too. How nice is your puppy? I'll leave you to be the judge of that.

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