A new intelligence test really can prove whether your pooch is top dog.

The aptly named IQ test for dogs, devised by British researchers from the London School of Economics and the University of Edinburgh, found that canines, just like humans, vary in brain power.

The cognitive tasks, which were carried out on 68 border collies from Welsh working farms, included dogs having to find a visible food reward placed behind a barrier. Another task saw them having to pick between a larger or smaller portion of food. The tests are designed to help scientists understand the relationship between intelligence and health. Dr. Mark Adams, research fellow at the University of Edinburgh and Dr. Rosalind Arden, a research associate at LSE, explain what the future holds for Mensa mutts. 

What inspired you to develop this IQ test for dogs?

We know from thousands of studies that different mental abilities 'hang together' or overlap in people. We wanted to know whether this is also true in dogs.

How does the IQ test for dogs work?

The 68 border collies took six tests. Four of the tests were similar. They involved finding their way around a barrier to some food. One involved choosing between two different quantities. We wanted to test whether the dogs could tell 'a bit less' from 'a bit more’. The last one involved following a person pointing to an object on the floor.

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What were the results of your research?

We found that scores across the tests do 'hang together' to some extent. We saw that dogs who were faster were also more accurate. We learned, too, that there is much more to learn!

Can you explain how it is that dog intelligence is structured similarly to ours?

Dog intelligence is structured similarly to ours in having an overlap among different abilities, just as we do. For example, in people, scores from verbal skills and nonverbal skills tests tend to overlap. We found strong suggestive evidence of this in dogs, except of course we did not measure their verbal skills!

What kind of applications could this test have?

We have learned by studying people how to build really good robust reliable and valid IQ-type tests with excellent psychometric (mind-measuring) properties. We view our work as demonstrating that an equally robust IQ-type test will be an achievable goal in dogs. If we have such a 'mental tape measure' we will be able to test how IQ is linked, or not, with other important things like health and lifespan.

Could this test be adapted to other animals? 

This kind of work is feasible in lots of species. Great work is being done, and has been done, in mice, apes, monkeys and birds. Our tests that involve finding your way to a food reward could easily be adapted to other animals, while tests such as understanding where a human is pointing are more specific to dogs’ capabilities. Each species will need its own set of tests but the larger question of our study: “Do scores on the tests hang together?” – can be asked of any species.

- By Daniel Casillas