I Tested My Dog's Intelligence, And It Was Not Great (Plus VIDEO!)

The website "Dognition" claims to assess your dog's intelligence based on a series of rubrics, most of which involve strategic treat-hiding. I put my apartment niece-dog Betty to the test.
Publish date:
February 15, 2013
video, dog, Doggie Moms, i am competitive, dogs make you stupid

I'm sure some of you have figured this out by now, but I am totally one of Those People when it comes to my dog. In a city where there are more dogs than children, I still somehow manage to out-creep the vast majority of the population by smiling at their dogs on the street and/or while boarding the bus and/or buying plantain chips at the grocery store.

Worse than the stealth-petting, though, is the humble-bragging. I mentioned already that I have a bit of a gushing problem when it comes to talking about my dog -- I neglected to include the part where I try to justify my dog's disdain for everyone around her with allegations of how smart she is.

"She might not be the most loyal, but she knows how to open doors!" I have been known to say in halting defense. "Name me a Golden Retriever that can do that!"

(I'm sure many Golden Retrievers can do that. Let me have my dignity.)

Rest assured that on the tiny, tiny chance that I ever reproduce, I will grow into one of those parents who send out their child's handprint embossed in their own petrified spit with the words "Future Mathlete" spelled out in corn-bits. Sorry in advance.

I'm the worst with my childhood dog Dottie, but basically any dog in my vicinity will most likely become (Second) Best Dog Ever after a shamefully short period of time. So when I heard that a website called "Dognition" was offering the chance to evaluate dogs' intelligence based on an objective series of rubrics, I jumped at the chance to check it out.

Dottie lives up in Sacramento with my parents, but my apartment dog Betty and I have known each other for more than a year, so I decided our house could totally use the bragging rights when she aced all the dog-tests. The kind folks at Dognition generously offered to give us a test run.

The evaluation is only supposed to take around an hour, but Betty and I took three and a half. You can probably guess why based on this video of the initial "personality test," which most people can apparently get through in 10 minutes or so:

That took us 38 minutes, at which point I began to vaguely fear that my initial assessment of "Any dog I love is brilliant and capable and generous" may have been a tad off the mark.

Dognition was developed by a team based out of the Duke Canine Cognition Center and marketed more or less toward obsessive jerkwads like me. Besides the initial personality test, the "Canine Assessment Test," or CAT, consists of five parts: Cunning, Communication, Empathy, Memory and Reason. Essentially, what most of this seems to boil down to is variations on the old "Pretend-you-threw-the-ball-but-it's-really-in-your-hand-still" trick, the scourge of many a Labrador of my youth.

I was feeling pretty good at first, even considering the 38-minute personality test hiccup. Betty's been on a diet for the last 6 months and is incredibly food-motivated, so it was easy for her to overcome such sneaky plots as "pointing at the cup without the treat in it" and "telling me I can't have the treat when it's clearly RIGHT THERE."

Same thing with "Empathy," which was no surprise. As I say in the video, we call Betty "Grandma Dog" because she has a nagging yet doting nature. She's also really good at freaking out over something as minor as "scream-singing along to Carly Rae Jepsen while cleaning the shower," which makes her a great guard dog but a terrible karaoke companion.

The "Empathy" tests, which included "yawning suggestively until your dog yawns" and "having staring contests," were a piece of cake by comparison.

It was only when we got to the "Memory" and "Reasoning" portions that things started to go a little awry. Betty has, it turns out, amazing selective recall for where the treats had been 10 minutes prior. Part of the testing involves hiding treats under cups (in our case, cleaned-out yogurt tubs). She would methodically turn each tub over, clearly befuddled by her recent, lust-hazed memories of the wheat-free dog biscuits that had been there just moments before.

And, like an asshole, I could barely stand it. "Betty," I started whispering, even though there was no one home to hear me cheat. "Betty, it's the one on the right."

She'd just narrow her eyes at me, suspicious, before leaving the course entirely to make sure that the treat I'd rescued from under the couch 2 hours before was well and truly gone. My greatest ally, Betty's stomach, had turned against me. Damn it.

Needless to say, I couldn't help feeling resentful of the "Reasoning" part when we finally got there. I mean, really. Physics?! I can barely understand that shit, and I have at least a smidge of object permanence.

This may be the competitive streak talking, but it's really no wonder Betty miserably failed that section. She's the child of a humanities major in a household full of life scientists and writer-types; physics just isn't her cup of tea. Or so I told myself as she completely missed the subtle fact that a treat under a piece of paper would change the paper's shape.

Perhaps the test could sense my simmering anger, because it kept reassuring me that "there was no correct answer," which was clearly a lie. Eventually, it brought me to my "canine profile," where I was informed that Betty is apparently a loyal pack member, if a bit dim.

They try to package it like she is clearly descended from the line of great and majestic wolf-dogs that first stuck their cold noses into the crotches of our hominid brethren, but let's be real: My niece is a Hufflepuff.

I know, I know. Hufflepuffs are just and loyal and good finders and all that jazz. But pivoting from bragging about my dog's cognitive prowess to being proud of her team-building skills just takes a little getting used to.

And despite the maybe-dig, the "canine profile" is really the best part. It's basically the dog equivalent of doing your star chart and getting told all the best parts about your personality because you were born an Aries rising. That is, if you're the kind of person who doesn't do that for your dog already. Like anything else of this nature, it's good for a smug laugh if you're willing to pony up $60 for the privilege.

Just think of all the passive-aggressive bragging potential. "That's my baby girl out there," you can say, leaning on your elbows at the dog park. "Off the charts on the Memory scale, NBD. She could have found that dead squirrel among a sea of cunningly overturned yogurt tubs."

"Wow," the other dog moms will say, clutching at their hearts in envy. "She must be a rocket scientist."

Sweet, sweet victory.

This whole thing does have practical applications beyond printing out the page of your baby's accomplishments and sticking it to the fridge. Dognition has apparently employed trainers to consult with members on the best ways to reach their dogs based on their results, whether they be "Renaissance Dogs," "Einsteins," or "Socialites." Or, you know, Protodogs.

I'm almost over it, I swear.

Kate is being a jerkwad on Twitter: @katchatters.