Experts have discovered that dog intelligence works the same way as human intelligence, so clever canines who perform well in one task tend also to do well in others — just like humans.
Recent studies have shown that brighter people tend to live longer, and so scientists believe if they can prove the same is true in dogs they can use them to study long-term health problems such as dementia.
Dr Rosalind Arden, a research associate at the London School of Economics, which carried out the study with Edinburgh University, said the discovery could have “far reaching implications for understanding human health and disease and canine health and disease”.
She said: “We asked the question, if a dog is good at one test does it tend to be better than average at the other test? And we found that yes that’s true.
“This is the first step in trying to develop a really snappy, reliable dog IQ test, and that has got implications that aren’t obvious at first.” Scientists put the intelligence of 68 working border collies to the test by devising a series of cognitive tasks for them to carry out.
One involved finding their way to a food reward they could see but was behind a barrier — meaning they had to find a way around the barrier rather than digging under it. Another involved offering two plates of food and assessing if the dogs learnt to go to the one with the bigger portion, while a third task examined how many times a dogs followed a human pointing gesture.
Dr Arden said scientists have known for some time that brighter people tend to live longer. But this can be notoriously tricky to investigate because our lifestyle choices — whether we smoke, and how much we eat, drink, and exercise — have a major impact on our health.
Dogs offer a good insight because they are “basically teetotal”, Dr Arden said.
They also have another important trait — like humans, they naturally acquire dementia. This causes their behaviour and brain structure to change, Dr Arden said.
“Dogs are excellent for this kind of work because they are willing to participate and seem to enjoy taking part.”