Dr. Brain O'Hare would say, "It’s not about how ‘smart’ dog or a ‘dumb’ dog is" as some dogs are just better at some things than others. But can we make our dog as smart as possible? You know, develop them to their fullest potential. Yes I believe we can and here's how.
Dog intelligence is a dynamic process made up of experiences. In puppyhood, the brain is creating all these amazing neural networks and to make a dog smarter is to nurture the development of denser networks. Think of a tree's roots in the ground. The root ball is like the brain of the dog and during puppyhood, we want the root ball to become as dense as possible, architected to provide the maximum chance for supporting the dog throughout their life and maximizing the dog's potential. (1,2) Ideally, its best to begin young, however, don’t think that your adult dog’s ‘smarts’ are fully developed. Even older dogs can create new connections and new pathways in their brain.
As you consider what you need to do to give your puppy every advantage, you want to know that brains are the only organs shaped by experiences; reorganizing themselves and changing physiology (3). When we consider planning to maximize a dog’s brain development, we want to plan a life full of adventures, exploration and relationships. Consider providing a wide-variety of active learning engagements for puppies through to adulthood. Different environments, interactions with things, relationships with other animals, other dogs, and other people. Also, think through engaging all the senses including scents.
With our own dog Sunshine, we planned her experiences. As a puppy she was exposed to numerous adventures in the country-side, and puzzles that engaged all five senses. We also had the advantage of exposing her to many types of dogs, big and small, furry, long-haired and short-haired, and introverts and extroverts. She's observed highly reactive dogs and assisted with very timid dogs, We guided her to make judgment calls about other dogs. And her potential for reading and responding to various dog types has made her to be what I consider highly versatile in dog-to-dog language (and very helpful in assisting changing the behaviour in dogs)
Also consider exercise before teaching your dog new things. We know in the brains of a human child, exercise before a test improves scores (4). And given that we are finding so many parallels between dogs and human brains, it is no surprise that a puppy, exercised first, allows for greater focus, key when teaching them important skills between puppyhood and adulthood.
1 – Reference is from findings by Ross A. Thompson, PhD, professor of Psychology at the University of California, “Lower circuits in the brain must be built before higher circuits, and advanced skills must be based on basic skills”
2 - Brain Plasticity and Behaviour in the Developing Brain
Bryan Kolb, PhD1 and Robbin Gibb, PhD1
3 - Pat Wolfe, EdD, educational consultant and co-author of Building the Reading Brain says, ""The brain is the only organ in the body that sculpts itself through experience," says Wolfe. She adds that we now know experiences actually change and reorganize a (…) brain structure and physiology"
4 - Åberg MA, Pedersen NL, Torén K, Svartengren M, Bäckstrand B, Johnsson T, Cooper-Kuhn CM, Åberg ND, Nilsson M, Kuhn HG. Cardiovascular fitness is associated with cognition in young adulthood. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. 2009;106(49):20906–20911.
'Sparky' Smith is a Canine Behaviorist and Practioner, educated through the International School for Canine Psychology & Behaviour, earning her ISCP.DIP.CANINE.PRAC.