Man's best friend may be smarter than we think

TORONTO - Canine researcher Stanley Coren says dogs have the ability to sniff out and solve complex problems and are more like humans and other higher primates than previously thought.

In fact Coren, a University of British Columbia psychologist, said the average dog has a ``basic'' ability to do arithmetic.

But that's not new to veteran Ontario dog breeder John Mitchell.

``There's an old saying: If you don't think a dog can count just put two cookies in your pocket then give him one and see what happens,'' said Mitchell.

But Coren, who gave a talk - How dogs think- Saturday at the American Psychological Association's convention in Toronto, said: ``You're not going to turn them into an accountant, but they know that one plus one equals two.''

Coren noted there seems to be two extremes in the way people think about dogs.

``There are a whole lot of people who think of dogs as being just people in fur coats and others who think they are biological robots with no consciousness at all,'' he said.

Based on a review of numerous studies and several behavioral measures, Coren said a dog's mental abilities are close to that of a human child age two to 2.5 years.

Coren said there are different types of dog intelligence: instinctive, what a dog is bred to do; adaptive intelligence, what a dog has learned for itself and obedience, what dogs can learn to do.

When it comes to communication, Coren said dogs understand 165 words, signs and signals and ``super dogs'' - or those in the top 20 per cent of intelligence - can learn 250 words.

Coren said dogs have been ``designed'' to pick up bits and pieces of information to a much better extent than previously thought and more so than people tend to recognize.

``Dogs are the masters of body language and picking up gestures and slight signals,'' Coren said. ``If you come home and you've just broken up with your lover and the dog immediately starts acting very solicitously and you haven't said anything to the dog, what the dog is doing is reading your body language.''

Mitchell said it all boils down to effective communication.

``The fundamentals of basic communication is listening,'' said Mitchell, who lives in Campbellville, Ont. - just west of Toronto - and raises Labrador retrievers and Nova Scotia duck tollings. ``Dogs can do that without a word being said and that creates a strong bond.''

Coren even said dogs during play are capable of deliberately trying to deceive other people and dogs.

``They'll stand in front of you and wait until you reach for the ball and then dash away with it,'' Coren explained. ``If you don't fall for that, they might drop it out of their mouth and wait for you to reach for it before grabbing it and dashing away.''

Using data from dog obedience judges from the United States and Canada Coren said the most intelligent dogs are border collies followed by poodles, German shepherds, golden retrievers, Dobermans, Shetland sheepdogs, and Labrador retrievers.

Among the lowest on the intelligence list are Afghan hounds, bulldogs, chow chows, beagles and Basset Hounds, he said.