The genius of dogs is in their relationship with humans, write Brian Hare and Vanessa Woods, authors of The Genius of Dogs, in The Wall Street Journal (2/2/13). While other language-trained animals can “learn to respond to dozens of spoken signals associated with different objects,” dogs are the only animals that have demonstrated an ability to learn the names of objects the same way humans do. A 2004 experiment by Juliane Kaminski of University of Portsmouth in Britain, involved a dog named Rico, who could infer the name of a new toy simply because the name was different from that of the toys he already knew, just like a human.
Dogs have only “half as many neurons in their cerebral cortex as cats,” but apparently have better memories. “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 a treat. Cats started guessing after only one minute. But even after four minutes, dogs hadn’t forgotten where they saw the food.” Okay, so maybe the cats are just too smart to be bothered with “playing our silly games.”
Dogs are not as bright when it comes to “navigational memory.” Rats — not cats this time — performed better at finding food through a maze. In a contest against wolves, dogs were not as adept at figuring out how to get at food “placed on the opposite side of a fence, as shown by a study by Harry and Martha Frank of the University of Michigan.” However, a later study out of Hungary found that dogs solved the problem immediately after observing “a human rounding the fence first,” suggesting that “the secret of the genius of dogs” is when they “join forces with us.”