Is my puppy smarter than me?
Recently, I got a border collie puppy. He’s cute, active, and too smart to be ignored (even when writing a thesis).
His name is Loki. It suits him. [Source: author’s own image.]
But how smart are border collies?
One border collie, named Chase, was able to learn 1022 words (all proper nouns) in 3 years.
In comparison, Loki knows three: sit, drop, and Piggy (Loki’s favourite toy).
But that’s not all. Chase also knows commands, such as ‘take’ and ‘paw’, and that they apply to specific toys when said with that toy’s name. He also learned words for categories of objects – meaning that border collies can learn ‘sock’ and the word ‘clothes’, which also refers to socks, but also jumpers and pants.
Chase was also able to learn what a new object was called by the process of exclusion. Place a new object among familiar ones, then say a new word, and he would realise that the new word goes with the new object. After all, all of the familiar objects already have their own words.
That’s pretty impressive for an animal without its own language. In fact, Chase seems to have the same level of verbal reasoning as a child.
Here is Loki realising that bears should have faces. Like a child, he knows that this bear is wrong and should be destroyed. [SOURCE: Author’s own image.]
The child-like understanding of the world goes even further than that too. Dogs can understand that weird variants on common actions can be caused by the original action being impeded. For example, if they watch a dog paw at a rope while it has a ball in its mouth, they will just use their mouth when given the chance to play with the rope later. However, if they watch a dog paw at a rope despite its mouth being free, they will also paw at the rope later.
This is called ‘inferential selective imitation’, and children do it too. It tells us two things: one, that dogs understand that there is a more efficient way to perform the action shown, and two, that if that efficient method isn’t used, there might be a good reason why – so it’s better to use the weird action.
Faceless bear was destroyed. The humans were clearly stopped from doing this for some reason, so Loki did it himself. [Source: Author’s own image.]
To continue the trend of learning through the importance of absence – dogs can also figure out that if there are two identical containers and one hides a treat, then when one is lifted to show no treats, the other must have the treat. It seems simple enough, but that’s pretty clever. Not only do they remember that the object exists when they can’t see it, but that it could be in one of two places. That’s not bad at all since babies can have trouble with it.
Dogs can also tell which container has the treat based on which one you look at or point to.
Basically, dogs know what you’re on about – provided it’s about food or play time.
So, am I about to be outwitted by my puppy? Science says no (after all, I’m an educated adult), but experience says otherwise.
Science doesn’t yet have all the answers – or at the very least, doesn’t account for humans underestimating puppies.
Now, I’ll sign off before you get all of my puppy stories. Good luck with any puppies you may have in the future! They are smarter than you think!