Monday, 1 July 2013

What does dog intelligence tell us about possible causes of the decline of human intelligence?


The causes of the significant decline in intelligence in the past 150 or so years include

1. Differential reproduction such that the less intelligent have higher reproductive success than the more intelligent.

2. Relaxation of natural selection on those of lowest intelligence, due to the massive decline in child mortality rates - leading to an accumulation of deleterious mutations


Can the estimated intelligence of dogs tell us anything about the plausibility of the second of these mechanisms?

I made a blind hypothesis that (English) bulldogs would be among the least intelligent of dogs, due to my knowledge of the fact that most bulldogs have been, for several generations, born by Caesarian section, and that this would be consistent with a relaxation of natural selection

I also hypothesized that dogs selected for the functional abilities (working dogs) - thus subjected to natural selection for ability; would be of higher intelligence than dogs selected for their appearance (show dogs - which would include bulldogs) - since these dogs would selectively be kept alive and bred from, even when subject to what would, in natural conditions, be fitness-impairing problems.


On consulting the Wikipedia page on The Intelligence of Dogs

I found my hypotheses both to be broadly consistent with the data:

Brightest Dogs

  • Understanding of New Commands: Fewer than 5 repetitions.
  • Obey First Command: 95% of the time or better.
  1. Border Collie
  2. Poodle
  3. German Shepherd
  4. Golden Retriever
  5. Doberman Pinscher
  6. Shetland Sheepdog
  7. Labrador Retriever
  8. Papillon
  9. Rottweiler
  10. Australian Cattle Dog

Lowest Degree of Working/Obedience Intelligence
  1. Shih Tzu
  2. Basset Hound
  3. Mastiff
  4. Pekingese
  5. Bloodhound
  6. Borzoi
  7. Chow Chow
  8. Bulldog
  9. Basenji
  10. Afghan Hound

There are apparent inconsistencies - such that Poodles and Papillons seem like show dogs, despite their intelligence; while Beagles used to be hunting dogs and bloodhounds used to be tracker dogs which would suggest they ought to have higher intelligence.

However, perhaps some of these data (Papillons?) are wrong; or the big Poodles are still used as working (gun) dogs; and perhaps pedigree Beagles and Bloodhounds have not been working dogs for many generations, and are now show dogs?


Anyway - I present the data for what its worth.

As I say, it seems broadly consistent with my hypotheses based on the idea that relaxation of natural selection could rapidly lead to a decline in intelligence, due to accumulated deleterious mutations.



Unknown said...

I do not follow this. IQ seems to be about utility, it is a sociological indicator and not a indicator of intelligence.
So the working dog IQ is indicated by the amount of work they do successfully and not by intelligence, which is something unto itself. I think the whole IQ scheme pretends to be about intelligence when it is more about utility and status than intelligence, and in this manner it does poor service to our ideas of what intelligence is.

Anonymous Conservative said...

Beagles used in rabbit hunting aren't really designed to follow commands, as I understand it from relatives. You let the beagles out, and they chase the rabbit around, until you get a shot. Rabbits tend to circle around the same areas, moving from established cover to established cover in a predictable, sequential pattern, so when the rabbit runs from one bush to a pile of brush, you position yourself, and let the dogs chase him around again, until he makes the same trip once more, and you get a shot.

I heard a lot of stories about beagles running off, and not coming when called at the end of the day. You left a jacket on the ground, and when you went by the next day, the dogs would be laying on it, and hop in the car, almost more out of habit and conditioning than thought.

Cute pets, but not selected for intelligence, so much as their ability and drive to run and chase all day as a pack. I almost wonder if smarter beagles would have realized they were running in circles, and found a way to catch the rabbit, and thus have not been bred. Wolves would split up instinctively, and find a way to come from two or more directions, and you will not find a more cuning canid than them.

Dan Kurt said...

On poodles: have owned poodles since 1968. They are not dogs but two-year olds who never grow up.

Do read this web site:


Dan Kurt

Luke Lea said...

Hey, my Bernese Mountain Dog is plenty smart. Good looking too.

Avery said...

Poodles were originally bred as working dogs--their 'showy' coats were originally designed to cope with the cold-water conditions of retrieving game from lakes and marshes. They're descended from or related to Portuguese water spaniels, who also work in the water, and they are still used for their noses in truffle harvesting. Also, standard poodles are big dogs, and big dogs, in my experience, tend to be smarter than little dogs, probably for a variety of reasons, among them that a dumb little dog is less of a problem for humans than a dumb dog who can knock you over.

Avery said...

Also, I'll note that working dogs who've been bred for one purpose (say, beagles or pointers) may not be as intelligent as dogs bred for more general work, like sheepdogs.