Mirror, mirror on the wall, who’s the smartest of them all?

By Dr. Beth Leermakers

“My Golden Retriever is smarter than your honor student,” boasts a popular bumper sticker. Is that really true? How do we compare human and canine smarts?

Psychologists measure human intelligence using Intelligence Quotient (IQ) tests that assess a range of cognitive abilities. Performance on a single test/puzzle/game does NOT indicate IQ, as many ads for puzzle/game apps falsely state. Similarly, researchers evaluate multiple components of animal intelligence. 

New Caledonian crows can create tools by combining two or more otherwise non-functional elements — an ability once thought of as being limited exclusively to humans.
Photo courtesy of Ken Bohn/San Diego Zoo Global

Test your knowledge about animal intelligence. No, your score on this quiz doesn’t reflect your IQ. 

1. How is intelligence measured in animals? 

A. Sense of self-awareness

B. Problem solving capacity

C. Brain size

D. All of the above

2. What animals come close to human intelligence?

A. Pigs

B. Dolphins and whales

C. Elephants

D. Chimpanzees and gorillas 

E. B, C and D

F. All of the above

3. Which of these animals recognize themselves in the mirror?

A. Cats

B. Dogs

C. Elephants

D. Parrots

E. All of the above

4. Which animal solves puzzles as well as a 5 year old child?

A. Chimpanzee

B. Dog

C. Dolphin 

D. Crow

5. True or false? Chimps have better short-term memory than people.


1. D. All of the above. Scientists use the mirror self-recognition (MSR) test to indicate self-awareness. After allowing the animal to observe his own image in the mirror, the scientist changes the animal’s appearance (perhaps by dying a patch of fur on its head). If the animal realizes the image is his own reflection, he may respond by touching the dyed patch on his head or otherwise acknowledging that his appearance has been altered. Problem-solving tests vary by species. As you would expect, the bigger the brain, the smarter the animal. 

2. E. Based on the measurements listed in No. 1, dolphins, whales, elephants, chimpanzees and gorillas — large, complex animals that are genetically similar to humans — are almost as intelligent as people. Pigs are also on the top 10 list of most intelligent animals. 

3. C. A 2006 study of an elephant named Happy — who touched the mark on her head repeatedly while looking at herself in the mirror — suggests that elephants recognize themselves. Humans, apes and dolphins are the only other creatures that are known to have this level of self-awareness. 

4. D. Crows. In addition to solving puzzles, the New Caledonian crow (considered the most intelligent of all birds) can make tools — without having seen or used them previously. 

New Caledonian crows turn twigs into spears and hooks to eat grubs. These clever birds can create tools by combining two or more otherwise non-functional elements — an ability once thought of as being limited exclusively to humans.

5. True. Presented with the numbers one through nine flashing randomly around a computer screen, chimps can instantly repeat the exact placement and sequence after the numbers disappear. 

In tests that pitted their performance against humans (including people known for their impressive memories), chimps still come out way ahead.

Want to see how smart your dog or cat is? 

Assess your dog’s problem-solving ability with a few simple tests, such as placing a towel over his head and timing how long it takes him to free himself. Visit today.com/style/how-smart-your-dog-give-him-iq-test-2d80555204 for more canine problem-solving tests.

To test your cat, place his favorite toy behind a box while he watches. If your cat searches for the toy, he’s showing a solid grasp of object permanence, a concept that humans grasp at one to two years of age. If your cat passes the test, he’s at least as smart as a toddler. 

Let us know if your cat or dog really is smarter than your honor student!