What Are A Dog's Cognitive Abilities?

Humans almost take it for granted that they can teach their canine pal tricks such as sit, stay and fetch. Your pal being able to associate different words with actions or items is an indicator of his cognition. While they may not be the smartest animals on the planet, dogs have a cognitive ability on par with a young child.

bulldog lying on the beach background
credit: ArnonPT/iStock/GettyImages

What do dogs understand?

His senses allow your dog to experience the world around him, and cognitive thought is what his mind does with the information. When assessing what level of cognitive thought your dog is capable of, it's important to understand the different aspects of cognition. The aspects of dog cognition include empathy, memory, reasoning, cunning and communication. How adept a dog is at these different aspects of cognition reveals how intelligent he is.

What can dogs remember?

A dog is capable of remembering a lot more words than you may realize. The average dog is capable of learning around 165 words, which is on par with a 2-year-old child. According to Nova, a border collie named Chaser has successfully learned to identify at least 1,000 different toys by their name alone. Chaser also was capable of inference; she was able to retrieve an unfamiliar toy by an unfamiliar name simply because it was different from the other familiar toys in the pile.

Do dogs understand humans?

Years of evolution at the side of humans give dogs an understanding of human emotions, facial expressions and gestures unparalleled by other animals. Dogs are the only animal capable of intuitively understanding human gestures, such as pointing, according to Time. Dr. Brian Hare, a professor of evolutionary anthropology at Duke, tested dogs' ability to understand pointing. A researcher would place a treat under one of two overturned cups out of the dog's sight. They would then point to the cup with the treat and the dog would head to the indicated cup. Even chimpanzees, our closest relatives, performed extremely poorly on the pointing test.

Can dogs count?

Dogs aren't just good at learning tricks or memorizing words; they have a basic understanding of math, too. Dr. Stanley Coren, a professor at the University of British Columbia, set out of find out how intelligence dogs are. During his research Coren found dogs are capable of understanding basic arithmetic, understanding that one treat plus another treat should equal two treats. Coren's study showed that dogs also likely are able to count up to five.

Which are the smartest dog breeds?

During his research, Dr. Coren deduced that not all dog breeds are created equal in the brains department. The most intelligent breed is the border collie. Poodles, German shepherds, golden retrievers and Dobermans round out the top 5. Beagles, bulldogs, Afghan hounds and basenjis are the breeds who are at the bottom of the scale.