Tests to do with your dog


Rule number one: have fun with your dog, don't worry about whether s/he does well or poorly. You love your pooch for more important reasons!


Can your dog find her way around a barrier to get at a food treat?

While your dog is not watching, assemble some kind of see-through barrier. Put a plate with a small, healthy food treat on it behind the barrier.

Bring your dog, on a leash, to the front of the barrier – the dog should be able to see the food treat, but around a couple of metres from the barrier.

Time how long it takes your dog, from being released from the leash, to get to the food treat.

This is a test that you can adapt to form different kinds of barriers. Try making a kind of maze with safe household obstacles. 

On Countryfile, we experimented with hay bales. It was good fun to see that even smart Peg, was foxed by some configurations of the hay bales. She could see the food, but she didn't always figure out how to get at it.


Can your dog discriminate between bigger and smaller quantities?

Before your dog has been fed for the day try this. First prepare a few paper plates with food.  Put more on some, less on the others.

Have the dog a couple of metres in front of you. Attract your dog's attention, show the two plates to your dog, then set them on the floor and let your dog come to eat from one of them. As soon as the dog has chosen a plate, pick up the other one so the dog learns she will not get a second plateful. Then repeat the test.  Record how many times out of 5 trials (no counting the first one), your dog chooses the plate with more food.

When your dog is not looking, put two plastic cups or bowls upside down on the floor.  Put a single treat under each one.

Have your dog sitting around 2 metres in front of you and the bowls to the and right just in front of you. Look neutrally straight ahead.  Point to one cup/bowl with your whole arm. As you point, have the dog released from the 'sit' – you might need a friend to help you with this. Do this a few times. Change the pointed cup/bowl so there isn't an obvious pattern. Record how many times your dog goes to the pointed side.



In general terms, dogs who figure out more quickly how to get round a barrier more quickly, are brighter than those who see the treat but don't catch-on that they have to find a way round the obstacle.

Dogs who choose 'more' over 'less' more frequently are making the smarter choice (unless they are on a diet!).

Dogs who connect your point with the abstract idea that you have an intention about which is the correct cup are reasoning well.

Depending on your dog's appetite and attention span, you should keep the testing session fairly short.  Just as it's good for us to have interests, it seems to be good for dogs too.  Making up cognitively stimulating games is a good way to have fun with your dogs and keep them learning.


You'll see that I'm saying "dogs who", not "dogs that". Well, that's because animal expert Marc Bekoff wrote a super article about our work in Psychology Today. He chided us on that point, so I'm listening to him!