Intelligence and curiosity seem to go together, really. Stimulating a puppy’s curiosity helps them develop their memory, problem solving skills, and the capacity to learn. Just by checkin’ things out, and messing with them.
Puppies learn best during play, or what they think is play. Like in the last post that discussed “labeling”, attaching a word to an object or sound tends to stick better when they are mouthing it, swatting it, or carrying it around. Or watching you do what you do with it. Especially if there’s a “your turn” at the end of you doing what you do with that!
Stimulating a new puppy’s intelligence isn’t hard; it’s about time, exposure to different environments, a variety of activities, and attention.
Not to be too scholarly here, but dog intelligence is generally split into three “types” of smarts: adaptive intelligence, instinctive intelligence, and working/obedience intelligence. I’m working on a page about Doggie IQ, based on a book by Stanley Coren called “The Intelligence of Dogs“, but it may not be up by the time I post this.
Since I’m focused for now on a brand new little tots, I’m going to start with “adaptive” intelligence, which I personally believe lays the foundation for a working intelligence to develop. Here are Dr. Coren’s categories of adaptive intelligence:
- learning ability-how fast a dog learns something new
- observational learning—how well a dog learns by watching
- environmental learning—awareness of their environment, what’s normal and what isn’t
- social learning—how quickly a dog learns how to behave with other dogs and people
- language comprehension—ability to learn and distinguish human words
- short term memory—how long a new association remains in the dog’s memory
- long term memory—the ability to recall something learned awhile ago
- problem solving—understanding a situation, and ability to transfer past learned solutions to a new situation
- task learning–ability to learn specific tasks for assistance, police or other jobs.
If your new pup is paying attention, it won’t take long before they associate the sound of your keys with going for a ride. If a curious pup watches you “hide” a treat under a box, they will likely start investigating that box, quickly discovering if they turn it over they can get the treat. Hide a treat then under a pillow, and they will do the same thing because it worked last time!
Puppies learn also by “social mimicry”, ie monkey see-monkey do. So they copy the other creatures around them, whether on 2 legs or 4. The more they pay attention and watch, the more they learn. Like I said how many times: “attentiveness is my #1 priority” followed by encouraging curiosity?
The more you interact with your new puppy, and make them a part of what you’re doing, the smarter they will get. That sheer brain power transfers into task learning, into figuring out how to go about things and problem solving. And it’s not really “training”, so much as playing with them and taking them places (socializing is another post).
Thinking about my day, there are countless opportunities for building on attentiveness, curiosity, and natural intelligence. I get up in the morning and let them out to relieve themselves–rewarding for “going” outside, have a short little play time with them, maybe “find” their ball, and go inside.
Then tell them “I’m taking my medicine” while they watch, and they learn the phrase means messing with the bottles and swallowing something. “Are you hungry?” gets associated with food comes next.
But they have to “wait” for it, maybe I want them to down on a mat while I get it ready and they build their self control waiting. That’s a learned behavior I need to teach them, or they learn from say, another dog in the house. I put the food down, then say “okay” as a release word.
In just 15 minutes or so there’s been where to pee, remember what a ball is, find it, play with me, recall where the door is, learning what I do with medicine, associating a verbal phrase with breakfast, a “wait” practice, a “targeting” practice with the mat, learning the steps involved in getting food ready from watching, and a release word. Wow!
Building a short term memory is as simple as introducing say 2-3 new toys or new people, and getting them to go to the right one. Teach them the name by repeatedly offering the toy with its name, then offering another with its name. Then encourage them to find a particular toy by its name. Reward is an integral part of the game too!
That verbal recognition is often called “labeling” by the way, and they do it with things like doors, beds, and other items in their environment. The more you offer new things or places or people etc with names, the more they label, and this builds the short term memory. Short term memory turns into long term memory through repetition.
Problem solving comes naturally to curious puppies. They want that lovely stinky new bully stick, so they will go to some trouble to figure out how to get it! Hiding it 3/4 of the way under the kitchen mat means they will see it, and figure out how to either pull it out or move the mat to get to it.
In the process, they’ve not only stimulated their problem solving abilities, they’ve mouthed or used their feet to move that mat which can later turn into picking it up to help me mop or run the sweeper so I don’t have to bend over for it. (Having balance problems means a bend over can turn into a headstand!)
Once they can move the mat for their bully, “hide” the bully under say, their bed. They will remember being able to move something, and soon be moving the bed too just like the kitchen mat. That knowledge transfers to a new situation!
All the topics I’ve discussed the last few posts all go together to build a new puppy’s intelligence, and later their trainability. The next few posts will be about socializing, and beginning to teach the basic obedience commands.