The Belgian Shepherd, also known as Malinois or Mechelse Scheper in Belgium, has been revealed to understand humans better than other dog breeds. During the smartDOG cognition test which consists of ten different exercises carried out by scientists from the University of Helsinki, the well-known breed performed better than twelve other dog breeds when it comes to understanding humans.
In total, the scientists based their results on the performances of 1,002 different dogs, from 13 different breeds. Ten tests, from which seven focus on cognitive traits and three on behavioural traits, made up the so-called smartDOG cognition test. “The results suggest that different cognitive traits may have been favoured in different breeds”, says doctoral researcher and study author Saara Junttila.
How do breeds differ?
“The results provide interesting information concerning the kinds of traits that may have been favoured in different breeds”, says Junttila. “For example, the most common and important role of the modern Golden Retriever seems to be that of a pet dog and family member. This means that high inhibitory control and dependence on humans may be valuable traits, whereas problem-solving ability may not be as important. Other characteristics and traits may be valuable in other roles instead”, Junttila continues. “The test battery included many tests where the results could not be evaluated as “good” or “bad”. For example, low performance in the inhibitory control test may mean that the dog has a high motivation for rewards, is easily aroused in training, and reacts quickly, all of which can be advantageous in training for working roles and dog sports. This may be why breeds such as the Malinois and German Shepherd received such low scores in the inhibitory control test”.
Why is the Belgian Malinois special?
The results showed, for example, that the Hovawart was one of the most independent breeds, attempting to solve the unsolvable task by themselves rather than turning to a human for help. In contrast, the Golden Retriever was one of the most human-oriented breeds, spending a lot of time seemingly asking the human for help. The Malinois was the most successful breed at understanding human gestures, with the Labrador retriever not far behind. The Malinois and Border Collie were the fastest at spatial problem-solving, whereas the Border Collie excelled at inhibitory control.
The study also revealed that the Malinois has a high sense of smell and a wide range of positive character traits such as intelligence, attentiveness, courage, willingness to work, tenacity, vigilance and loyalty.
The Malinois breed originated in the 19th century and gets is name from the Belgian city of Mechelen, also known as Malines in French. Farmers set the base for the breed when trying to develop a strong herding dog. In 1898, when the Malinois Club for the Improvement of the Shorthaired Sheepdog was founded, breeders started to carry out even thorougher selections focusing on specific traits. Even though nowadays most Malinois are short-haired and light-brown-coloured, this was not necessarily required at the time. However, a strong appearance and character were essential from the start.
Due to these traits, it shouldn’t be a surprise that the breed is being used as a police dog all over the world. “Their cognitive qualities make them easy to train. And in addition, they have a well-developed sense of smell, better than that of Border Collies”, veterinarian Bart Stegen told the Brussels Times. “Both breeds were originally active on farms to guide herds. This requires self-control. Decades of natural selection have only strengthened that self-control.”