who’s smarter: dogs or children?

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Posted by Dr. Ernie Ward on Oct 31 2016
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Do dogs stick to instructions? Not if they don’t have to, according to new research from the Yale University Canine Cognition Center. In other words, our brilliant best friends can learn to cut corners and complete a task more efficiently than our own two-legged children – no, really!

Previous studies prove that kids and chimps will faithfully follow all steps in a given task, even when one is obviously unnecessary. The Yale research shows that dogs seem to ditch those wasteful steps and cut to the chase.

that was easy

The researchers tested wild dingoes and domesticated dogs by giving them a lidded plastic box with a lever on one side. Inside the box was a tasty treat. They taught the dogs to move the lever, lift the lid and get a snack. But the lever did nothing; the dogs could open the box without moving it. The scientists used both clear and solid plastic boxes.

In similar experiments, human kids would keep on moving the lever, even though they discovered it was useless. What would the dogs do?

After watching the two-step process, 75% of the dogs and dingoes learned and repeated it. After performing the trick four times, 41% of dogs and 58% of dingoes abandoned the pointless lever step. It made no difference if the box was transparent or not.

Clearly dogs can learn to cut corners and press the “easy button” pretty quickly.

the difference with dogs

This study shows that wild dogs are less reliant on human-taught lessons than domesticated canines. It also proves that all dogs seem to be more independent than primates and people. I’d also suggest there’s a link to nursing and nurturing time.

Humans and chimps care for their kids for many years, while momma dogs spend only a few months mothering their offspring. Perhaps people evolved to stick to these lessons more closely because we’re taught for a longer period of time.

Further, our social norms dictate that some seemingly pointless actions help keep our societies together – things like saying “thank you,” shaking hands and opening a door for someone. If we start skipping these steps, it could hurt our interactions.

Learning and living together as humans is a complex process. Sharing our lives with another species is even more challenging. This type of research ultimately helps us understand our canine companions better, so we can take even better care of them. So next time your dog presses the “easy button,” respect their intelligence. You’ve got to be pretty smart to cut corners.