University of Arizona studies dog intelligence with 'Canine Aptitude Test'

Posted at 4:14 AM, Nov 28, 2018

PHOENIX — Besides being our best friends, there are plenty of important jobs our dogs can be good at, like assisting people with disabilities, arson investigations and police work.  

But is there a way to find out what is on a dog's resume before they go through all of that expensive training?  

Researchers at the University of Arizona believe they may have found a solution. 

It is called the Canine Aptitude Test and it is in the early stages of development. The test is for adult dogs and looks to see if a dog's cognitive behavior will dictate where they would have more success as a working dog. 

"With assistance dogs that help people with disabilities, only about 50 percent of the dogs who begin training ultimately make it through," said Arizona Canine Cognition Center Director Evan MacLean. 

That means that major amounts of money are going to the dogs with no return on investment.

For those who rely on these pets to live their lives, they are forced to wait sometimes up to two years or more.

"If that were any other kind of medical procedure it would be, we would think about this as a horrible thing," MacLean explained. "I need this operation and there's a two-year waiting list to get it. So, we would do something about that. So we want to do something about that with the dogs, too." 

Shelby Smith spoke to the University of Arizona on the impact an assistance dog has had on her life with a disability.

"Picasso to me is more than independence ... he's my best friend," Smith said. "He's someone I lean on ... depend on to get through daily challenges that comes with having a disability." 

MacLean said that stories like Smith's pushed him to really ramp up his research.

"For a long time, we've been interested in whether you can predict which dogs will become good working dogs based on aspects of their psychology or their cognition," MacLean said. 

Their next step is to determine if they can see these skills in puppies as well as testing a dog's genetic makeup.