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That Doggone Intuition: Is Your Dog Smarter Than You Think?

Researchers at Yale University are investigating how our furry friends learn from their human masters.
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At Yale University’s Canine Cognition Center, psychology is going to the dogs.

In what is likely the school’s most playful laboratory, researchers try to figure out what dogs are thinking by evaluating memory, attention, and even counting skills.

And the results are as individual as the dogs themselves.

“Dogs that are slightly less social might solve problems more on their own, and have better problem solving abilities,” said Laurie Santos, director of the Center, which opened in December. “What dogs overall have done is not necessarily to become smarter, but use difference strategies.”

One of those strategies is to observe what humans do.

“Dogs are making expectations about your actions,” Santos said. “They're getting used to what you know and what you don't know … when you do things that violate those expectations, they are surprised.”

So is there any truth to the idea that some dogs are smarter than others? Santos says it’s too early in their research to know for sure. The Center welcomes all breeds, and researchers are particularly excited to work with collies.

“There is a lore that Collies are pretty smart,” Santos said.

Tom Reznick, owner of a half-collie, half-German Shepherd, says his dog Holly loves to solve puzzles on her own.

"We got a puzzle toy for her that said it's supposed to take three hours for dogs to solve -- she took five minutes and then she looked at us and said, 'What is the next challenge,'" he said.

Santos hopes to publish a paper based on her research next year, and eventually connect insights about dogs with human development.

“What we seem to be seeing so far … is that dogs seem to have some pretty sophisticated intuitions about what's going on,” she said.

Click here to visit the Canine Cognition Center website.