It is estimated that dogs were first domesticated by humans around 30,000 years ago, possibly even earlier. Our relationship with dogs has evolved from hunting companions to beloved pets and even, in the case of support dogs, vital parts of our lives.
Does our closeness with dogs stem from a shared understanding and intelligence?
Are Dogs the Smartest Creatures in the Animal World?
Dog intelligence levels are usually measured by their ability to understand and obey human commands. Dogs have evolved, out of necessity and through selective breeding, to obey human commands and to respond to human emotions, often exhibiting reactions that reflect our own.
Dogs will often try to comfort their owners when they display signs of distress, or reflect their owner’s excitement when they are happy.
Of course, there are variations of intelligence within different dogs and dog breeds. Certain breeds are particularly prized for their perceived intelligence and ability to learn quickly and obey commands.
The Border Collie is known for its intelligence and athleticism, making it an excellent sheepdog. Labradors and German Shepherds are also able to learn to obey commands very quickly, but as they are generally more sedate than the energetic Collie, they make great guide dogs.
On the other hand, smaller dogs such as pugs and dachshunds, although wonderful family pets, might struggle with the more complex commands and discipline required of traditional support dogs.
But are dogs the world’s smartest creatures?
The Brightest Species
We share 99% of our DNA with chimpanzees. Like humans, they live in social groups with complex hierarchies and relationships. Chimps can also adapt to different environments, even learning sign language from humans.
Chimpanzees can also use tools such as stones to open nuts and certain fruits, something most dogs would struggle to do.
Dolphins are also famously intelligent animals. They identify themselves by way of a uniquely pitched whistle, enabling other dolphins to call for each other using specific sounds.
Dolphins have also demonstrated the ability to work in teams with humans, driving fish toward shore and signalling to fishermen when they should cast their nets. The dolphins then eat whatever fish don’t make it into the nets.
Elephants have the largest brain of any land animal. They have shown the ability not only to learn commands, but to remember individual humans and animals many years after they have encountered them.
Elephants have also been observed mourning their dead, staying with the body of a deceased member of the family for days. Once, months after a bull elephant had died, another bull elephant found the site where of the remains, picked up his friend’s tusk and caressed it.
Man’s Best Friend
Should animal intelligence be measured by the ability to carry out commands? Or is it more complex than that? Should we instead be looking at their social structures and ability to demonstrate self-awareness and complex social behaviours?
Like elephants, dogs have also demonstrated the ability to mourn. Bobby, a Skye Terrier, guarded the grave of his deceased owner for fourteen years until the little dog himself died. A statue of Bobby was erected in Edinburgh, Scotland, as testament to the enduring bond between a dog and his owner.
Perhaps loyalty and love are what ultimately mark dogs as one of the most intelligent creatures on Earth and as a human’s best friend.