Dog video test to raise student project funds

by Hilary Thomson

Staff writer

Psychology Prof. Stanley Coren has gone to the dogs and he's taking the Dept. of Theatre, Film and Creative Writing with him.

Together they've produced a video, The Intelligence of Dogs, which builds on the popularity of Coren's 1994 book on the subject, now in its 16th printing.

Designed to help dog owners better understand their pets, the video guides owners through a series of simple dog intelligence tests that can be completed at home. Proceeds from sales of the video will be used to purchase equipment, and fund graduate student travel and chairs in both departments.

"All faculties are challenged to find funding these days," says Psychology Dept. head Tony Phillips. "We immediately saw the commercial potential of a fun video about dogs."

John Wright, head of the Theatre, Film and Creative Writing Dept., says he jumped at the chance to be involved with the video. It was produced by a team of eight students in the department and directed by graduate student Pat Harrison.

"I'm known as the dog person of the department," says Harrison. "I love dogs and this is my third major dog project."

Starring in the video are 22 dogs belonging to members of the faculty and the community, including Coren's own dogs, Odin, a flat-coated retriever and Wiz, a King Charles spaniel.

Coren hosts the show, giving a step-by-step explanation of 12 tests designed to measure dogs' adaptive intelligence or learning that fits a particular situation. In other words, canine street smarts.

The dogs show viewers how it's done, demonstrating the range of intelligent responses.

To test problem-solving, for instance, a leashed dog watches its owner place a treat under a tin can. The dog is then released and timed on how long it takes him to recover the treat.

The language comprehension test has the owner address the dog in the customary tone while substituting an irrelevant word for the pet's name. The intelligent dog ignores the command "Here, refrigerator!", and waits to be personally addressed.

The video also shows how to measure observation, social learning and memory in a variety of tests using simple props such as furniture, towels and, of course, dog treats.

The time it takes to complete the task earns the dog a score on a five-point scale. The dogs don't seem too concerned about their performance, however. To them, it's just another game.

Most dogs have an intelligence roughly equivalent to that of a two-year old child, Coren says. Dog breeds known to have high adaptive intelligence include border collies, poodles, German shepherds, retrievers and Dobermans.

Dogs chewing at the short end of the intelligence stick are bulldogs, basenjis (an African hunting dog) and the beautiful but less than brainy Afghan.

So what if your pooch flunks the IQ test? Coren says talking to your pet, and naming actions and objects, helps them identify words with activities and develops their adaptive intelligence.

"Most of my dogs haven't even been in the top 50 per cent of intelligent breeds," says Coren, who is a trainer at the Vancouver Dog Obedience Training Club. "But they were all loyal, loving, playful companions -- wonderful pets."

The video costs $19.95 and is available at UBC Bookstore or by calling the Dept. of Psychology at 604-822-3244.