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Dognition Review - Dog Intelligence Tests

Do you ever wonder how smart your dog really is? The Dognition Assessment promises to “find the genius in your dog" so with a never-ending succession of rainy days, we thought it was time to put this dog test through its paces to alleviate (our) cabin fever and discover if our Malinois Aramis was a contender for Doggy Mensa! 


Dognition has been featured on TV shows like 60 MinutesDateline and The Today Show both here and in the US where it was founded. The test was developed by some of the world’s leading experts on dog cognition, often quoted as source experts on dog behaviour and intelligence.

The Dognition Assessment is a series of 20 interactive games that will test five dimensions of your dog’s cognition: your dog’s communicationmemory, and reasoning skills, plus how cunning or empathetic he/she is. The results are analysed in your personal Dognition Profile Report.

Even better, the website explains that all the results will be aggregated and used as an example of “citizen science.” It says: “By gathering this data we can begin to understand more about all dogs, much more quickly and on a broader scale than if scientists had to conduct this research themselves.”


There are nine Dognition profiles in total:
  • Ace (Top Dog): 10% of all dogs -'Aces' are problem-solvers, socially elite, bond well and are good at almost everything. 
  • Charmer: 16% of all dogs - Charmers have exceptional social skills, meaning they can read human body language like a book.
  • Socialite: 22% of all dogs Although they rely less on independent problem solving skills than other dogs, don't jump to any conclusions about the Socialite's intelligence. They rely on a very specific strategy - using the humans in their pack to get what they want. 
  • Expert (Problem Solver): 7% of all dogs - Dogs with this profile have all of the cognitive tools they need to solve most of their daily problems on their own. They have a relatively strong memory along with the ability to solve many types of problems they've never seen before.

  • Renaissance Dog (Dog of All Trades): 12% of all dogs. These are the canine embodiment of reliability. Rather than being completely dependent on individual cognitive strategies, Renaissance Dogs show impressive flexibility across all 5 cognitive dimensions.
  • Protodog (Pioneer): 15% of all dogs - A Protodog is a spontaneous pooch that bonds easily and can solve problems on its own or with people.
  • Einstein: 3% of all dogs - 'Einsteins' are the brainiacs. They can solve new problems by looking at the facts in front of them, a key attribute of a genius. However, like brilliant people, Einstein dogs can be socially awkward.
  • Maverick (Lone Wolf): 7% of all dogs - With cognitive characteristics closer to their wolf ancestors than most other dogs, Mavericks are relatively unique in the dog world. These dogs definitely prefer to tackle problems independently. 
  • Stargazer (Free Spirit): 8% of all dogs - Usually considered to be aloof by their owners, Stargazers have their own often misunderstood type of genius. Generally their cognition is geared towards self-reliant and present-minded strategies, rather than being overly concerned with past events and human collaboration. They have a wild, wolf-like side which can be a great compliment to the lifestyle of a rugged individual. 
The initial test will set you back US$19 per dog and a couple hours of time conducting the tests. We advise you break it down over a few sessions (4 or 5) as you can't expect your dog to concentrate for that long! The Dognition website is well designed to allow you to pause, and wisely encourages you to do so.

We found it was simple to order online and you’ll immediately be sent an email link on how to begin. But are the results accurate and how much is left to our interpretation?

#1. Empathy

The first set of games tests your dog’s empathy: basically her reading and responding to the emotions of others. We played two games: the yawn game and the eye-contact game.

One major reason dogs have been so successful as a species is their ability to read our emotions and connect with us as people. They comfort us when we’re sad, and wag when we’re happy. 
While some dogs pay close attention to how their owners are feeling, others have different ways of connecting.

The eye-contact game is one of the tests we thought might be biased towards her natural tendencies, since Aramis needed to only maintain eye contact whilst I was holding a treat - and she just loves food!

There are two great loves in her life: food and mum. So we weren’t at all surprised at the results saying how bonded she is but my personal feeling on these results is that she'd actually maintain longer eye contact with me without any treats being involved... She thrives on praise but once she worked out she was rewarded immediately after breaking eye contact, the next round only lasted a few seconds! She would display her "adaptive thinking" in tests to follow as well...

#2. Communication

Next up was communication and Aramis scored towards the higher end of collaboration.

There are two types of tests: arm pointing and foot pointing. One arm-pointing test had us place treats at equal distance on both sides of me, point to one, and see which one Aramis chose. When Aramis smells or sees food, she goes for it (apart from raw carrots!) and she doesn’t need me to tell her where it is! However she always made eye contact and then followed my cues mostly.

We did the same exercise with the foot pointing test. Although Dognition said foot pointing is more difficult for a dog to follow because it’s rarely done, it did not appear to phase her at all and she followed the new cue effortlessly which placed her in the highly collaborative category. 

#3. Cunning

I was not surprised by the results on this one because Aramis is not particularly well trained to follow the "Leave It" or "No" command. Our physical presence here—eyes covered or not—was not a real deterrent to her heading straight for the treat put on the floor. As our previous exercises did suggest she was encouraged to come and eat treats placed in front of me, it would be counter-intuitive for her not to go for them now?

When it comes to counter-surfing, she's not the worst offender in our house so I'd be very curious to see how one other dog in particular (let's not mention names...) would perform on that score!

#4. Memory

We agree that our girl's memory is top-notch especially when food is involved. So hiding a treat or two under a cup that she could clearly see was no obstacle! 
It came as no surprise that her memory marks were off the charts. The surprising part was her showing such flexibility in her learning: she trusts me but I only tricked her twice and then she elected to completely disregarded my suggestions. When left to her own devices (she could not see where the treat was placed) she decided to trust her instincts (sense of smell). Good work Aramis!

#5. Reasoning

These tests are definitely the most difficult in the series, even for a well-trained dog. This section gave us the most insight into how Aramis navigates problems.

One game gives your dog some of the information they need to solve a problem, and they have to infer the rest. This test has you place a treat under one of two cups, show your dog the empty cup, and see if she figures out the treat is under the other cup.  Her main strategy was to stick with what works—she developed what Dognition calls a “left or right bias,” meaning she went to the same side (her left) every time, so she scored a treat 50% of the time. Dognition says this is a clever strategy.  I was surprised her sense of smell would not send her straight to the right spot...


As soon as you've completed the Reasoning section, results are automatically tabulated and you will discover your dog's Profile resort and receive a detailed report (you can always access it when you log in). This is also sent to you via email.

It turns out that our Aramis is a "Canis Irresistibilis" or "Charmer" like 16% of all dogs who have taken these tests so she's mainstream and no "Einstein"! It is quite possible that dogs who are better trained or practice a dog sport would perform very differently when presented with these tasks since they learn to rely on their own skills a lot more... 


Just like there are no right or wrong answers in this test, it's important to point out that this is not an IQ test so you don't get an "overall score" telling you how smart (or not) your dog is, this is not the purpose of these cognitive tests. They are designed to assess how your dog operates, i.e. which cognitive strategies they use to make their way into the world.

We found that most of the time the “games” were fun but sometimes they were a little tedious. 
The other point is that some of these games require you NOT to interact with your dog (no speaking, looking or touching) for up to two and a half minutes whilst being in the same room which I found extremely difficult to do. If like us, you're not an experienced dog trainer you really need to apply yourself not to interfere.

You may need to repeat a series of actions 4 to 6 times in a row to record the results. We understand this is how you establish a pattern however it can be a little repetitive (for both human and canine participants) so pick a day and time when both you and your dog are mentally "fresh"!

Most tests are reward-based so if you have a dog who's not motivated by food, our tip is to use a high-value reward (jerky or cheese or whatever gets your dog really excited) to ensure he/she remains motivated as you will have to repeat some of these tests a few times in a row. But adjust their food at meal times as he/she will consume quite a few treats that day!

Keep in mind that you also need to enrol the assistance of a partner or friend to conduct a lot of these tests: one person gives the commands whilst the other records the results and the other party may not be as enthused as you are about the whole process!

I thought this was an insightful read into how Aramis thinks and I was surprised to see her being so collaborative and influenced by my suggestions. It’s good to know what her strengths and weaknesses are and this may inspire me to focus on some particular training exercises with her. You can also continue to gain insight into your dog's thought process with additional tests sent to you with Dognition annual membership. 

For US$19, we think taking this test was worth it: it's a fun and informative way to find out more about your furry friend and a great way to spend a cold, rainy day! I'd love to find out the results for our other dogs too at some stage.


Price: US$19  at

The annual membership (US$79) will give you access to expert tips and tricks, monthly games and 50% off for additional dogs.

Disclaimer: this is not a compensated review: we purchased our own subscription out of interest.

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