Smarter than you think

Inside of a Dog: What Dogs See, Smell, and Know - Alexandra Horowitz

"If we revisit some of the problem-solving tasks on which wolves performed so much better than dogs, we now see that the dogs'  poor performance can . . . be explained by their inclination to look to humans.  Tested on their ability to, say, get a bit of food in a well-closed container, wolves keep trying and trying, and if the test isn't rigged they eventually succeed through trial and error.  Dogs, by contrast, tend to go at the container only until it appears that it won't easily be opened. Then they look at any person in the room and begin a variety of attention-getting and solicitation behaviors until the person relents and helps them get into the box.


By standard intelligence tests, the dogs have failed at the puzzle. I believe, by contrast, that they have succeeded magnificently. They have applied a novel tool to the task. We are that tool.   Dogs have learned this – – and they see us as fine general-purpose tools, too: useful for protection, acquiring food, providing companionship.  We solve the puzzles of closed doors and empty water dishes. In the folk psychology of dogs, we humans are brilliant enough to extract hopelessly tangled leashes from around trees; we can magically transport them to higher or lower heights as needed; we can conjure up an endless bounty of foodstuffs and things to chew.  How savvy we are in dogs eyes! It's a clever strategy to turn to us after all. The question of the cognitive abilities of dogs is thereby transformed: dogs are terrific at using humans to solve problems, but not as good at solving problems when we are not around."