More lies from Big Cat
November 27, 2018 2:48 PM   Subscribe

Scientific American reports on a study which claims that dogs are not exceptionally intelligent in the animal world. Twitter responds.
posted by Johnny Wallflower (66 comments total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
 
Scientific American

They're bad boys, Brad.
posted by Splunge at 2:57 PM on November 27, 2018 [9 favorites]


The otter in the thread below is smarter than all but three dogs in the world, and I've got it on good authority he isn't even that smart an otter.
posted by Keith Talent at 3:01 PM on November 27, 2018 [6 favorites]


This response sums up everything I came here to say:
Did your study account for the emotional advantage of being able to bring humans happiness, did it account for the ability they have as service animals, did it account for the amount of lives saved by good boys doing a heckin guard job every night
Well, did it?! This is like that oft-paraphrased thing about intelligence and ability, where you wouldn't measure a fish by how well they are able to climb a tree. A dog's job isn't to be smart or solve math problems. It's to be helpful and a good buddy, and to eat snacks and take naps.
posted by witchen at 3:04 PM on November 27, 2018 [41 favorites]


So when do we get the article debunking all those wondrous claims about those human creatures?
posted by njohnson23 at 3:05 PM on November 27, 2018 [7 favorites]


A dog's job isn't to be smart or solve math problems.

Originally, it was, but God had to rethink that one a bit after the first quarter reports.
posted by GenjiandProust at 3:09 PM on November 27, 2018 [23 favorites]


Well, I know someone going on the naughty list this Christmas...
posted by praemunire at 3:10 PM on November 27, 2018


Rough.
posted by Segundus at 3:13 PM on November 27, 2018 [29 favorites]


Someone help me out:
I seem to remember seeing something (very possibly on the blue) that suggested that dogs seem so intelligent because they’re uncommonly social. The example given was that there are primates that beat dogs at a lot of cognitive tests, but they can’t figure out pointing like a dog. It was theorized that the primates didn’t have the social understanding that anyone would be trying to help them.
posted by es_de_bah at 3:17 PM on November 27, 2018 [9 favorites]


Pfft all you have to do is come home feeling vaguely of work is a bag of shit or maybe wake up with a sore throat or just get a email from your crappy ex and your pupper knows right away and puts her muzzle on your thigh and stares at you with those big eyes like it's okay my guy the dog is here now and it's okay shall we walk or cuddle do you think?

Why is emotional labour always undervalued?
posted by seanmpuckett at 3:18 PM on November 27, 2018 [77 favorites]


A dog's job isn't to be smart or solve math problems. It's to be helpful and a good buddy, and to eat snacks and take naps.

FTA: "None of this is to diminish the benefits of dog ownership. ... even if dogs can’t follow hand signals as well as a bottlenose dolphin and their sense of smell is no better than a pig’s, their effects on our lives may be remarkable all the same."

So the answer to "Well, did it?!" is "No, and it wasn't meant to."
posted by Greg_Ace at 3:18 PM on November 27, 2018 [10 favorites]


Just because dogs in general aren't exceptionally intelligent (I'm surprised anyone thought they were) doesn't mean *your* dog isn't exceptionally intelligent (of course he is.)
posted by sfenders at 3:33 PM on November 27, 2018 [17 favorites]


babies are also very stupid and everyone loves them regardless, where is the article on THAT important topic, scientific fraudmerican
posted by poffin boffin at 3:39 PM on November 27, 2018 [85 favorites]


This is definitely a case where many, many people, have failed to RTFA. Nobody is telling you that your dog is stupid, merely that dogs do not have some special intelligence that other creatures do not. Indeed, the main point is that there are other species that have considerable abilities to follow human cues, but that we don't notice because we form emotional bonds with dogs (and other pets) and therefore want to believe the best of them.

It even ends thusly:
[O]owning a dog alleviates psychosocial stress caused by isolation and depression, which has been linked to cardiovascular disease. The second explanation is that dog owners, in taking their canine companions on walks, are more physically active. So even if dogs can’t follow hand signals as well as a bottlenose dolphin and their sense of smell is no better than a pig’s, their effects on our lives may be remarkable all the same.
Both the article and these comments say a lot more about human cognitive biases than they say about dogs.
posted by kewb at 3:42 PM on November 27, 2018 [22 favorites]


Counterpoint: dogs are dumb as a box of dumb, dumb rocks sometimes. Just the other day my parents' dog ran off on a walk and got himself stuck in a hole, and then five minutes after being rescued he ran off and did it again. He's still a Good Boy, but I don't know if I would call him a Smart Boy.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 3:46 PM on November 27, 2018 [17 favorites]


maybe he liked being stuck in the hole though, and being rescued was exciting.
posted by poffin boffin at 3:48 PM on November 27, 2018 [29 favorites]


Dogs are great. My dogs are great. And my dogs think I am great.
posted by Elmore at 3:49 PM on November 27, 2018 [1 favorite]


Dave Barry vindicated at last
posted by prize bull octorok at 3:50 PM on November 27, 2018 [2 favorites]


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.”

Yeah, but a dog's got personality. Personality goes a long way.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 3:59 PM on November 27, 2018 [16 favorites]


I haven't noticed that dogs are, for instance, destroying the biosphere--an activity which humans, hilariously enough, regard as proof of our superior intelligence. I guess intelligence looks like different things to different people.
posted by Sing Or Swim at 4:03 PM on November 27, 2018 [4 favorites]


Be careful what you ask for, people. Dogs are already too good for us. If they were really smart, they wouldn't be our friends.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 4:05 PM on November 27, 2018 [24 favorites]


Just because dogs in general aren't exceptionally intelligent ... doesn't mean *your* dog isn't exceptionally intelligent (of course [s]he is.)

My dog is a red heeler, so of course she is intelligent, as well as good looking. Heelers and Border Collies rule. All other dogs drool.
Well, I guess the smart ones both rule and drool.
posted by BlueHorse at 4:07 PM on November 27, 2018 [2 favorites]


My favorite response.
posted by lazaruslong at 4:17 PM on November 27, 2018 [25 favorites]


Most of the time what we mean by "canine intelligence" is "exceedingly adept domestication," which both isn't the same thing and is extremely important and valuable and good.
posted by penduluum at 4:20 PM on November 27, 2018 [2 favorites]


The only real response to this kind of article is ABBWABABAA
posted by Countess Elena at 4:21 PM on November 27, 2018 [5 favorites]


I mean we haven't even sorted out what intelligence even means or how to fairly measure it in humans, much less dogs...

And there are all these anecdotes of people who have unusual "genius" level IQ end up with troubled lives, many end up living alone and have difficulty sustaining long term relationships.

I'm somewhat certain that the "dumber" the dog is the happier they are - all they need is to do the same repetitive dumb tricks and snuggles and in return they get pets and praises and treats for life. The smarter dogs see through the matrix and are certain there's more to life than this so they keep testing the boundaries... I wonder what is inside that garbage bin... I wonder happens when you open up this leather couch... what's inside that neighbors fence... I can't squeeze through the fence but I wonder if you could dig under it... what happens if I try to fight this strange animal... what if I just got on the road and kept running, where would I end up...
posted by xdvesper at 4:36 PM on November 27, 2018 [10 favorites]


Lalalalalala, I can't hear you.
posted by theora55 at 4:57 PM on November 27, 2018 [3 favorites]


“pig’s olfactory abilities are outstanding and might even be better than the dog’s.”
Yeah, but a dog's got personality.


And pigs have baconality.
posted by Greg_Ace at 5:17 PM on November 27, 2018 [4 favorites]


Why is emotional labour always undervalued?

I don't think this study undervalued it at all, since the article specifically pointed out that having a dog can be very beneficial. Emotional labor isn't directly equivalent to intelligence.
posted by Greg_Ace at 5:20 PM on November 27, 2018 [4 favorites]




My dad had to spend thousands on his dog because it managed to swallow a large rock.
posted by 4ster at 5:27 PM on November 27, 2018 [12 favorites]


I read the article, but I feel like it's attacking a straw man? Like, I love and value dogs and think they are deeply intelligent in the sense that, on a broad cultural basis, we underestimate the richness of their internal lives and their facility at constructing a theory of mind. I don't generalize from there to assume that dogs are straight-up more cognitively capable than wolves or dolphins, and I guess I don't think that dog lovers in general do. They're just one of many types of animals that we've rather selfishly assumed are closer to flesh robots than to conscious entities. If you're tempted to retort that dog owners as a class go over the top in anthropomorphizing their pets, you're not wrong, probably, but I'm talking on a more general level about our societal disposition towards such animals. If a reasonable belief in their agency and moral status were actually encoded in law and practice, I think they would enjoy a much stronger set of legal protections against their abuse, they would endure many fewer instances of blatant mistreatment, and they would benefit from a much more nuanced view of what it means to be a dog's caretaker and how to meet their needs as fully as possible. Not that human cruelty knows any boundaries as to its excess, but we treat dogs (and many other animals, but we're talking about dogs here) poorly out of proportion to their sapience, I think.
posted by invitapriore at 5:38 PM on November 27, 2018 [7 favorites]


Unrelatedly, my dog is in fact a genius because I got her one of those Kong toys that you can fill with kibbles and that has a small hole that they come out through, and the first three times she played with it it was a random process of smacking it around with her nose, and then after that she realized she could hold it down horizontally with her paws and roll it around in that orientation such that an activity that used to keep her occupied for fifteen minutes became an activity that would keep her occupied for one minute instead.
posted by invitapriore at 5:40 PM on November 27, 2018 [4 favorites]


Ha! My friend's dog realized you could pin that same toy against a wall and roll it slowly to achieve the same goal with even less effort.

Then he also realized he could gnaw the top off.

Then he charged a 100+-lb bear cub in the backyard, so...
posted by praemunire at 5:43 PM on November 27, 2018 [7 favorites]


To be fair, I've seen a bar fight or two take place under similarly mismatched circumstances, so if unwarranted bravado is a disqualifier for intelligence then (male) humans at the least have also demonstrated their unworthiness of the qualifier as a class.
posted by invitapriore at 5:51 PM on November 27, 2018 [4 favorites]


the real question is can we potentially prevent bar fights by throwing kongs full of peanut buttered chex mix at the combatants
posted by poffin boffin at 5:59 PM on November 27, 2018 [29 favorites]


poffin boffin for Mediator Prime 2020
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 6:12 PM on November 27, 2018 [13 favorites]


So when do we get the article debunking all those wondrous claims about those human creatures?

That was assigned to Fluffy but she's apparently very busy killing dust devils.
posted by sammyo at 6:35 PM on November 27, 2018 [1 favorite]


For example, the reigning champions of the ability to follow human hand signals are the bottlenose dolphin and the grey seal.

If one of those is willing and able to snuggle up and nap with me on the couch, I'll acknowledge their intelligence. Until then, I'm still on Team Dog (and Cat, of course).
posted by Dip Flash at 6:41 PM on November 27, 2018 [1 favorite]


From what I've heard a dolphin will "snuggle up" with you more than you might wish.
posted by Greg_Ace at 6:47 PM on November 27, 2018 [11 favorites]


Some of the responses seem to weirdly combine claims that there are positive traits beyond just intelligence researchers are ignoring and a level of indignation that dogs are not rated at the uncontested top of the intelligence chart.

(Though seriously including pigeons in the list of rival smart animals seems gratuitously insulting.)

I read the article, but I feel like it's attacking a straw man?

Counterpoint: I believe many of the things purports to debunk, and indeed just this holiday shared the "fact" that dogs are the only animal that look at what you point at. A family member immediately mentioned dolphins so I've already had my illusions shattered and have had a few days to mentally prepare for this article.
posted by mark k at 6:48 PM on November 27, 2018


I'm not going to say that dogs aren't mostly dumb, bc obviously they are much of the time. I've had maybe 6 dogs in my life and most of them were not especially intelligent.

But one dog? Figured out the jingling of her tags tipped off the squirrels that she was coming, so she figured out how to get the tags IN HER MOUTH SO THEY WERE SILENCED and then went about being a murdering machine until we caught her doing it. 20 or so years later I still find it spooky as all hell that she figured that out. (She also bit everyone in the house badly enough to require stitches but me, so clearly she was a genius.) Anyway Rest in Prowess, Heidi.
posted by nevercalm at 7:00 PM on November 27, 2018 [15 favorites]


Somewhere deep of the Cave of Forever Sunbeams, a clowder of cats stare at a computer screen and smile knowingly.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:09 PM on November 27, 2018 [6 favorites]


I mean, yeah, like this study measures indicators of intelligence that most people aren’t talking about when they say their dogs are smart.

My German Shepherd is crazy smart, but not because of ability to understand hand symbols, but the ability to intuit my desires and try to fill them without active training. Emotional intelligence is intelligence. Ability to read another species’ moods is a form of intelligence. Learning a significant degree of another species’ language is intelligence.

Like yes, I’m sure if crows were big enough they could ALSO figure out how to pull the tablecloth off the table to get the food (I didn’t say he wasn’t an ASSHOLE). But that’s not the only measure of intelligence, nor is a sense of smell.
posted by corb at 7:37 PM on November 27, 2018 [5 favorites]


The smartest dog I ever had was also the most neurotic, so I think being pleasantly dumb is good for dogs in the long run. There's no need for canine ennui in this world.
posted by grumpybear69 at 7:57 PM on November 27, 2018 [4 favorites]


Dude, SQUIRRELS are smarter than dogs. Duh. We know this. It doesn't mean I like squirrels better. In fact, I fucking hate them!
posted by agregoli at 8:07 PM on November 27, 2018 [1 favorite]


SQUIRRELS? How dare you, you cur?!
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 8:14 PM on November 27, 2018 [1 favorite]


One large rock? Pssshhhh. Our dog managed to ingest 3 tampons on our wedding week, leading to thousands of dollars of medical bills 6 days before his senior doggy health insurance kicked in. Thanks for the wedding money, Italian extended family! We absorbed it quickly!
posted by lazaruslong at 8:29 PM on November 27, 2018 [1 favorite]


The smartest dog I ever had was also the most neurotic, so I think being pleasantly dumb is good for dogs in the long run. There's no need for canine ennui in this world.

My dog's intelligence is definitely deeply intertwined on a causal basis with her existential boredom, which I am reminded of at regular intervals when she looks me in the eye and then sighs willfully. Luckily, it's a situation that's easily resolved with a bit of the old tug at the horrible nasty rope that I have to wash my hands after touching for a few rounds. We usually go best of five.
posted by invitapriore at 8:30 PM on November 27, 2018 [1 favorite]


As someone who (a) loves and owns dogs and (b) does research into animal behavior for a living, I find the reactions to this sort of news by most dog owners kind of mystifying. If it's any consolation, the takeaway from this is not that dogs are much dumber than we think they are. It's that many other animals that we take for granted are a lot smarter than many of us realize.

Pigeons are a good example. It's easy to hate on pigeons because we've all be taught that they're the rats of the sky, but they have a lot going for them. Unlike dogs, their color vision is comparable to ours, and covers a much wider field of vision. They use this intensely 3D vision to routinely navigate in three dimensions at high speed with very few mishaps. They can efficiently solve many foraging problems (basically, optimizing distribution of effort) that even humans would find taxing. We know all of this because pigeons happen to be a species we have exhaustively studied for decades, but there's no reason to assume that pigeons are noteworthy among birds - if pigeons can do it, it stands to reason that lots and lots of other bird species share similar cognitive faculties, especially those with similar ecological niches.

What makes dogs remarkable is how keenly attuned they are to our needs. We have, in essence, bred them to have an instinct that we belong to their packs and that our behavior therefore matters. Many, many other species have the processing power to match dogs in reading body language, but have no instinct (and thus no motivation) to do so. As a result, nearly all other animals literally can't care about us the way dogs do. And yes, undoubtedly, that makes (i.e. we made) dogs special. But don't count all those other animals out too quickly. They'll surprise you.
posted by belarius at 8:38 PM on November 27, 2018 [27 favorites]


Where are my testicles, Summer?
posted by XhaustedProphet at 9:06 PM on November 27, 2018 [7 favorites]


But don't count all those other animals out too quickly. They'll surprise you.

Not always a good thing.
posted by Greg_Ace at 9:08 PM on November 27, 2018


This FPP is a balm for all my woes today

Bless you for doing the Good Dog's work as usual, Johnny W.
posted by Hermione Granger at 9:33 PM on November 27, 2018 [2 favorites]


I think this was proven with Hyperbole & a Half's Simple Dog.
posted by ikahime at 10:35 PM on November 27, 2018 [9 favorites]


It's that many other animals that we take for granted are a lot smarter than many of us realize.
It's something that one can realize after being around other species. In a dairy farm I worked on, some cows had figured out that by pulling a certain string with their mouth (while on the milking parlor) they could turn the otherwise restricted feeder in an all-you-can-eat buffet, and they were passing the information to each other. Intelligence is basically an emerging property of having a brain, no matter how big or complex it is (and intelligence doesn't even need a brain, so it's more an emerging property of life itself). We focus on dogs because the domestication process turned them into human look-alikes, but intelligence is really everywhere.
posted by elgilito at 2:10 AM on November 28, 2018 [9 favorites]


It was only recently that scientists acknowledged animals in general are capable of feeling pain. Squealing or acting hurt was very likely just that, acting hurt or learned mimicry. In fact, it's only recently that scientists began acknowledging that animals are smart at all. I mention this because scientists have huge blind spots, and will often refuse to accept, even as a baseline assumption, what is obvious and nearly irrefutable to anyone who has spent time with animals.

Your dog is highly attuned to your behavior. So much so it knows when you're planning to go for a walk or feed them before you do. Before any other human does. In this way, they are quite obviously better at reading and interpreting human behavior than humans. Bred for it or not, that's an aspect of intelligence where they beat humans hands down.

I volunteer occasionally at a dog shelter and all the time see dogs doing things they're not supposed to be able to do. Some of them quite obviously have complex psychological issues, they communicate in surprising and subtle ways vocally, and yeah, they are crazy empathetic.
posted by xammerboy at 5:46 AM on November 28, 2018


dogs can’t follow hand signals as well as a bottlenose dolphin

True as that may be, my bottlenose dolphin cant fetch to save its life. Rolling in the grass making weird noises...
posted by Splunge at 8:44 AM on November 28, 2018 [3 favorites]


As someone who (a) loves and owns dogs and (b) does research into animal behavior for a living, I find the reactions to this sort of news by most dog owners kind of mystifying.

Worship Dog at the church of your choice or perish!
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 11:11 AM on November 28, 2018 [1 favorite]


"this animal species (that we have spent thousands of years selectively breeding to serve us) is pure and faultless" has always seemed like an odd take to me.
posted by prize bull octorok at 11:28 AM on November 28, 2018 [1 favorite]


My dog is not very smart, and I found out very early in his life. It's OK. He's a good dog.

I've had a smart dog, a lifetime ago, and he was probably as smart as a pigeon or a dolphin, he may even have been smarter than some humans. Dogs are so incredibly different. No, seriously, what other species have such huge variations and are still able to breed? A Shetland pony and a Shire horse are very different in scale, but their basic shape and abilities aren't nearly as different as those of a pug and a border collie.

Heck, a tabby cat and a tiger are more similar than a chihuahua and a bernasenne. It's weird, when you think of it.
posted by mumimor at 2:01 PM on November 28, 2018 [3 favorites]


Given the general value for human non-intervention with nature, I always wonder how we'd feel if some entity took the process by which we created dogs, and applied it to our own species. Like, take normal people, and modify them to be perpetually infantile, overly trusting, docile and dependent. Use breeding to break their complex instincts for self-defense, caution and critical reasoning. Pick random physical variations and amplify them until the resulting anatomies are horrifyingly deformed, even non-functional, from birth. If I were a wolf, I feel like I could write one hell of a dystopian novel about the existence of dogs.
posted by Bardolph at 5:00 PM on November 28, 2018 [6 favorites]


Like, take normal people, and modify them to be perpetually infantile, overly trusting, docile and dependent. Use breeding to break their complex instincts for self-defense, caution and critical reasoning.

Sounds a little like what the patriarchy has tried to do to women, really!
posted by batter_my_heart at 5:29 PM on November 28, 2018 [5 favorites]




this is because dogs who snore are adorable but humans who snore are demons sent directly from hell to disrupt our precious sleeping hours
posted by poffin boffin at 6:50 PM on November 28, 2018 [1 favorite]


Ironically, dogs make me snore.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 7:40 PM on November 28, 2018 [2 favorites]


The idea that intelligence is solely the province of being able to figure out tasks and jobs is adorably Western and businesslike. Dogs understand human behavior, expectations, and body language. That's a skill set that few humans reliably manifest.

Yeah, my dog will chase the ball I fake threw, the little tan goof.

She also knows when I'm sad, and what to do.
posted by sonascope at 12:38 PM on November 29, 2018 [1 favorite]


Yeah, I'm on team it's-not-that-dogs-are-overrated-it's-that-other-species-are-underrated. We can be so self-centered sometimes in forgetting that it's not just humans and human-sycophants who are extremely intelligent and capable beings.

I mean, I'd like to think I appreciate other animals' intelligence - but it doesn't mean I'm not still kind of wowed to learn about owls hearing a single mouse or the social behavior of elephants. It's not that we're trying to be callous as a species, I don't think, it's just that we aren't close enough with many animals to fully understand them. And maybe it's arrogant to think that we can, or should, be.
posted by mosst at 1:58 PM on November 29, 2018


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