The “Social Intelligence” of Dogs

We learned a new phrase this week: “social intelligence.” 

Since we never took psychology or sociology in school, our ignorance is understandable – except that it now applies to dogs. We thought we were up on just about everything dog-related.

It turns out that “social intelligence” is kind of a catch-all phrase that describes functioning as part of a group. We knew how to do it – we just didn’t know the term. We used to call it “manners.”

Dogs are instinctively aware

In the course of our research, we found out there are six aspects of social intelligence. And dogs excel at all of them.

The first is “verbal and non-verbal fluency.” Obviously dogs are better at the non-verbal part – when ours get verbal you can’t even hear yourself think. 

Most of dog training involves teaching dogs the vocabulary they need to understand us. And they are capable of learning hundreds of words. 

But more than that – dogs are incredibly skilled at reading our body language. If you need proof, try this little experiment. From a few feet away, call your dog to you. As he/she approaches, lean back. Try it again, this time leaning forward. You dog came closer when you leaned back, didn’t they? 

Knowing the pecking order

Two dogs practicing Social Intelligence

The second facet of social intelligence is knowing how to interact with each member of the group. Dogs have this one down pat. They know who the soft touch is. Who succumbs to the puppy dog eyes, and who looks at the clock, says “It’s not supper time yet, dog,” and turns away.

Dogs also know how to interact with other dog-members of the group. And who’s ultimately in charge. Teddy (left) always knew that Roc was “large and in charge,” even though he was the smallest dog in the house.

Paying attention

Last week we talked about how dogs are always listening, and that’s the third listed aspect of social intelligence. Looking into listening is actually what led us down this path, so just check out last week’s post.

Pushing your buttons

Being aware of people’s emotions is another factor in the social intelligence equation. And dogs are so much more empathetic than most people, that we probably don’t even need to talk about it.

There aren’t many of us who have someone in our lives that understand us better than our dogs do. Their harmony with our emotional life is probably why dog people experience less loneliness and social isolation than others. We really do feel badly for people who have never loved a dog. They truly don’t understand how much they’re missing.

Adapting to their environment

This fifth part of social intelligence is exactly what truly “socializing” dogs means, It’s up to us as dog owners to make sure our dogs are comfortable and confident in various settings. 

“Having a clear idea of what’s expected of us in a variety of different settings reduces stress in any situation and enables more constructive interactions.” 

Toughest for friendly dogs

This one’s difficult – especially through the last couple years when socializing has been so limited. It’s connecting to new people politely, while being true to yourself.

This is the one that’s super hard for Hope’s French Bulldog, Torque. He’s so thrilled to meet new people that he just wiggles himself into a tizzy. It’s adorable, but a bit much. Most people don’t quite know what to do with a  bulldog who wants to hug everyone!

Social intelligence of dogs

If these six things are the pillars of social intelligence, we think dogs have more social smarts than many people. No wonder we like spending our time with them. And we’re incredibly grateful that they’ve chosen to share their lives with humans. 

How do your socially-intelligent dogs made your life better? Do you agree they’re more “street smart” than some people?

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