Are Female Dogs Smarter?

Study Reveals Difference in Canine Cognition

Beagle

Evidently, the battle of the sexes applies to dogs, too.

Researchers from the University of Vienna recently conducted a test to determine whether gender plays a role in a dog’s cognitive abilities.

Surprisingly, even for female dogs, size matters.

How Much Do Dogs Perceive?

By the age of one, children understand object permanence—the physical law that says objects continue to exist in the same form even when they cannot be seen, heard or touched.

Researchers wanted to find out if, like humans, dogs had the same cognitive ability. They studied 50 dogs, a mix of golden retrievers, poodles, Australian shepherds and mutts, and divided them into two groups—25 males and 25 females.

Using blue tennis balls attached to a board with strings, four different scenarios were presented to both groups of dogs:

  •  A small tennis ball disappears behind the board and then reappears.
  •  A large tennis ball disappears behind the board and then reappears.
  •  A small tennis ball disappears behind the board but a large ball appears.
  •  A large tennis ball disappears behind the board but a small ball appears.
  • Consistently, a different response emerged between sexes and across all breed types.

    Female Dogs Keep an Eye on the Ball

    Golden retriever

    While male dogs appeared oblivious to any change in the disappearing blue tennis balls, female dogs immediately noticed a difference.

    In scenarios 3 and 4, female dogs stared at the different sized balls that appeared for an average of 30 seconds—three times longer than they did when the same sized ball reappeared from behind the wooden board.

    Researchers concluded that the female dogs noticed the change and therefore had superior cognitive abilities. So, why do Fidettes have a leg up on Fido when it comes to detecting the unexpected?

    Explaining Behavioral Differences in Dogs

    While researchers don’t know why the differences exist between male and female dogs, all signs point to behavioral characteristics.

    “Male and female canines didn’t have very different lifestyles that would’ve led to this cognitive difference,” says Corsin Mϋller, one of the lead researchers on the study.

    Female dogs nurture offspring—this could be one possible explanation for cognitive differences in male and female dogs. Male dogs are genetically wired to be hunters; females are nesters and therefore may be better with spatial reasoning.

    Researchers are also quick to point out that no difference was noted in neutered or non-neutered dogs. This logic suggests that cognitive development in each gender was established early on and is not a result of hormones.

    Sounds like man’s best friend has more in common with us after all. Now, if only we could figure out why they chase their tails, roll in stinky, smelly stuff and ritualistically nest at bedtime…