Is Your Dog Smarter Than a Five-Year-Old?

New research shows many people consider man's best friend to be more intelligent than human children.

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Photo by Stan Fellerman/Getty Images

The closer we are to our dogs, the more intelligent we think they are, according to a recent paper published in the Journal of Veterinary Behavior. But that perception isn't exactly reality.

The paper, written by researchers at Monash University surveyed more than 550 dog owners. In general, they believed their dogs were socially intelligent and capable of learning social and general cognitive skills. The research found one-quarter of dog owners believe their dog to be smarter than most other people. Nearly half of them believe their dog's mental ability is equal to that of three-to-five-year-old human children, and of those polled, 73 percent consider themselves knowledgeable about dogs.

It turns out, those beliefs aren't quite accurate. While some dogs may rival two-year-olds in terms of intelligence, that's about as high as researchers have seen learning levels go. A typical two-year-old toddler knows 300 words, but Chaser, "The Smartest Dog in the World," who appeared on 60 Minutes in early October, knows the names of 800 cloth toys and more than 200 plastic toys and balls. Impressive, but not anywhere near the intelligence of a four-year-old, who typically has a 1,000-word vocabulary and can easily put together sentences of four or five words.

But just because dogs aren't as intelligent as humans doesn't mean that they don't offer their own unique benefits. Research suggests, for instance, that dog owners may get more exercise than those without canine companions. And walking dogs may lead to more conversation, and therefore more friends in addition to a workout, according to the NIH. Animals are also used for therapy in an effort to relieve pain and stress. And those furry friends can worm their way into our hearts... and cardiovascular health. One study, funded by the NIH, found that people who suffered a heart attack lived longer on average if they owned a dog.