Dogs


With half as many neurons in their cerebral cortex as cats—and half the attitude, some would say—dogs are often taken to be the less intelligent domestic partner. While dogs drink out of the toilet, slavishly follow their master and need a chaperone to relieve themselves, cats hunt self-sufficiently and survey their empire with a regal gaze.

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Cats can hold grudges and look like kings—but when it comes to memory, dogs get the pat on the head.

If you show a child a red block and a green block, and then ask for the chromium block, not the red block, most children will give you the green block, despite not knowing that the word “chromium” can refer to a shade of green. Children infer the name of the object. They know that you can’t be referring to the red block.

In 2004, Juliane Kaminski from Britain’s University of Portsmouth and her colleagues published the results of a similar experiment with a dog called Rico who knew the names of hundreds of objects.

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Pole gets ready to play at the Duke Canine Cognition Center.

Dr. Kaminski showed Rico an object that he had never seen before, along with seven other toys that he knew by name. Then she asked Rico to fetch a toy using a word that was new to him, like “Sigfried.” Just like human tots with the word “chromium,” Rico was immediately able to infer that “Sigfried” referred to the new toy. Since the report on Rico, several other dogs have also been shown to make inferences this way. Dogs are the only animals that have demonstrated this humanlike ability.

Based on the ability of cats to hold a grudge, you might think that they have better memories than dogs. Not so. Several years ago, Sylvain Fiset of Canada’s University of Moncton and colleagues reported experiments in which a dog or cat watched while a researcher hid a reward in one of four boxes. After a delay, they were allowed to search for the treat. Cats started guessing after only one minute. But even after four minutes, dogs hadn’t forgotten where they saw the food.

Still, dog owners should not be too smug. In 2010, Krista Macpherson and William Roberts of the University of Western Ontario published a study that tested navigational memory, in which dogs had to search for food in a maze with eight arms radiating out from a central position. The researchers then looked at rats previously given the same test. They beat dogs by a wide margin. 

Animal Planet’s “Puppy Bowl” pups take a romp in The Wall Street Journal studios. (And leave us a special, uh, surprise). Watch them Super Bowl Sunday at 3 p.m. EST just before kickoff. 

While it may seem intuitive that most doggies know how to paddle, some need a little instruction. WSJ’s Geoffrey Fowler attends a canine swimming class. Even the dog’s closest relative, the wolf, beat its cousin when food was placed on the opposite side of a fence, as shown in a 1982 study by Harry and Martha Frank of the University of Michigan.

In 2001, Peter Pongrácz and colleagues from Eötvös Loránd University in Hungary published a study with an important qualification to this earlier finding: When the experimenters showed dogs a human rounding the fence first, the dogs could solve the problem immediately.This is the secret to the genius of dogs: It’s when dogs join forces with us that they become special.Nowhere is this clearer than when dogs are reading our gestures. Every dog owner has helped her dog find a lost ball or treat by pointing in the right direction. No other animal—not even our closest relatives, bonobos and chimpanzees—can interpret our gestures as flexibly as dogs.

So are dogs smarter than cats? In a sense, but only if we cling to a linear scale of intelligence that places sea sponges at the bottom and humans at the top. Species are designed by nature to be good at different things.And what might the genius of cats be? Possibly, that they just can’t be bothered playing our silly games or giving us the satisfaction of discovering the extent of their intelligence.

* By Brian Hare and Vanessa Woods

—Dr. Hare is the director of the Duke Canine Cognition Center, and Ms. Woods is a research scientist at Duke University. This essay is adapted from their new book, “The Genius of Dogs,” published by Dutton.

A version of this article appeared February 1, 2013, on page C3 in the U.S. edition of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: Dogs.

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A police dog from DeKalb County, Ga., was shot in the face by a fleeing suspect on Thursday morning. Local investigators say the animal, whose name is Twan, is a “sworn officer.” How does a police animal take the oath of office?

Sometimes with a bark but usually with human help. Human police officers are typically sworn in at a brief ceremony attended by the new officers’ families and friends. Canine swearing-in ceremonies, on the other hand, tend to be public events celebrating the role of police dogs. In some cases, the police chief administers the human oath of office to the dog, and the handler affirms on the dog’s behalf. In rare instances, the dog is trained to bark in affirmation of the oath. When the ceremony is complete, the dog is presented with a badge to wear on its collar.

There is no legal significance to swearing in a canine officer. Anyone who kills a federal law enforcement animal will face fines and up to 10 years in prison, but there is no sentence enhancement if the animal has taken an oath. Similar statutes exist to protect police animals from malicious injury in every state but South Dakota—but these, like the federal law, apply to every canine cop, not just the ones that bark, “I do.”

Many police dogs don’t even speak English. European breeders have been selecting and propagating service dogs for generations, and their dogs are preferred by many U.S. police departments for their ability to obey orders under the stressful conditions of police work. Because these dogs receive their initial training in foreign countries, U.S. handlers often continue to command them in German or Dutch. There is a widespread myth that foreign language training is intended to prevent suspects from contradicting the commands of the handler. In fact, the dog is trained to ignore commands from anyone except its handler. (If you want to test the myth, the next time a police dog is pursuing you, try to make the dog heel by yelling “Fuß!” or “Volg!”)

* Brian Palmer is a freelance writer living in Columbia, Md.
Posted Friday, July 18, 2008

Canine prep
A Shih Tzu named Sammy is seen waiting to be groomed during the 132nd Annual Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show in New York on Feb. 12. Nearly 2,600 dogs are entered in this year’s show.
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(Getty Images/Chris McGrath)

Sheepdog line-up
Old English Sheepdogs line-up for judging during the first day at the 132nd Westminster Kennel Club Annual Dog Show at Madison Square Garden in New York City on Feb. 11. The dog show, established in 1877, is America’s oldest organization dedicated to the sport of purebred dogs.

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(AFP/Getty Images/Timothy A. Clary)

Blessing of the dogs
Father Juan Manuel Villar blesses a dog during the feast of San Anton, the patron saint of animals, in Madrid, on Jan. 17. The feast is celebrated each year in many parts of Spain and people bring their pets, farm or work animals to churches to be blessed.

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(AP/Daniel Ochoa de Olza)
 

Pinscher pedigree
Pinscher crossbreed “Milly” poses on a mini-piano to promote the CACIB 2008 pedigree dog show in Nuremberg, Germany, on Jan. 17. More than 3,000 dogs will compete to get the CACIB-title when the pedigree dog prominence meets during the fair running from 19 to 20 January 2008.

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(AFP/Getty Images/Timm Schamberger)