Say I want to make wolves intelligent like people, to create a Canis Sapiens of sorts.

What sorts of tests should I conduct to develop human-like intelligence?

If it helps, the sort of traits I'm looking for is stuff measured by IQ tests such as short-term memory, analytical thinking, mathematical ability and spatial recognition.


I'm not sure how well we could test analytical thinking if the dog hasn't developed the ability to enunciate properly but if you can figure out how to get that done, please do.

I chose wolves because I figured the presence of a social structure might allow for the creation of societies and more complex thinking. Also not being turned into a certain breed of dogs probably leaves more adaptive flexibility but if you disagree let me know.

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    $\begingroup$ Are your smart wolves sharing the world with modern day humans? Are they perhaps the product of human genetic tinkering; or are you building a separate world where these four legged philosophers might evolve naturally? $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 9, 2018 at 1:45
  • $\begingroup$ @HenryTaylor I'm talking about a world much like our own where humand are specifically breeding smart wolves. Thats why I asked about tests for trait selection. $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 9, 2018 at 1:59
  • $\begingroup$ Got it! Your humans are pursuing canine intelligence enhancement through selective breeding, so you need tests which they can perform on their subjects to detect higher intelligence when selecting breeding pairs. Now I understand what you are looking for. $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 9, 2018 at 2:21
  • $\begingroup$ Analytical Thinking is generally linked to problem solving. That's how you test and develop it. $\endgroup$
    – Lee Leon
    Commented Jan 9, 2018 at 7:28

3 Answers 3


You've already got a start on it. They're called dogs. They can and do breed true with wolves, so they aren't far off.

Differences & Similarities in Wild Canids vs. Dogs

First and foremost, let's address one of the coolest things about the genes of wolves and dogs which may help somewhat.

Gene plasticity aka phenotypic plasticity. Gene plasticity basically means is that their genes respond fairly quickly to the environment. And that means it can be easier (compared to other species) to breed for specific characteristics. And further, because of this gene plasticity, dogs developed something that separates them from wolves, something else called excitatory synaptic plasticity. This means that dogs are better, not necessarily at problem solving, but with better memory than wolves:

Here, we demonstrate that genes involved in glutamate metabolism, which account partially for fear response, indeed show the greatest population differentiation by whole-genome comparison of dogs and wolves. However, the changing direction of their expression supports a role in increasing excitatory synaptic plasticity in dogs rather than reducing fear response. Because synaptic plasticity are widely believed to be cellular correlates of learning and memory, this change may alter the learning and memory abilities of ancient scavenging wolves, weaken the fear reaction toward humans, and prompt the initial interspecific contact.

Getting to dogs from wolves actually took way less time than we previously thought. The Russian Fox experiment selected for tameness and responsiveness to humans, and that only took 25 years. These foxes began getting spots on their coats, floppy ears and a much wider variation in color than the foxes they started with.

Wolves aren't necessarily less smart than dogs, they're just way less interested in getting human approval. Dogs' dependance on humans, actually make them less smart than, say a dingo, when given a problem to solve WITHOUT a social component. An intermix of dogs and wild canids such as wolves and dingos might serve you well at the start of the program, just to breed out a little of the dependence.

Types of tests

But the kinds of tests you are talking about, dogs tend to pass more than wolves at least (but not more than dingos!) They are more capable of learning than wolves are because according to brain mapping, dogs are better at recalling things and people in general. There's one lab at Duke University testing the way dogs think. To test them they take dogs through a series of tests that you might take children through to learn how smart they are.

Run a breeding group through those sorts of tests, then select for the smartest. Keep testing and selecting over several generations. The ones that don't pass, move them on.

Math for Dogs, Beginning level

Dogs CAN do simple math:

In the canine version of this test the dog was shown a single large treat and a low screen was put in front of it. Then the dog watched as the experimenter obviously placed another treat behind the screen. If the dog can do the math he knows that 1 + 1 = 2 and he should expect that when the screen was raised there should be two dog treats. However, just like in the case of the babies, sometimes the experimenters surreptitiously removed the second treat so that when the screen was raised the dog saw only one. As in the case of the babies, the dogs stared at this unexpected outcome for a longer time than they did when the arithmetic came out correctly, apparently "surprised" at what they saw. Similarly, if an extra treat was secretly added so that the dogs saw three instead of the expected two, the dogs appear to be equally surprised. This suggests that dogs can not only count, but can also do simple addition and subtraction. SOURCE

So you would look for surprise, as you see in infants as one of the "first step" tests, and gradually ramp things up as you go.

Short term Memory & Dogs and Test that's been used in the past

As to short term memory, dogs, like most animals are terrible at it but they are actually surprisingly better than chimps.

They are better at long term memory, and frankly if it doesn't have to do directly with survival or food, there's really not a reason to. They chose untrained animals for this who had not seen the test before.

Dogs forget an event within two minutes. Chimpanzees, at around 20 seconds, are worse than rats at remembering things, while the memory spans of three other primates—baboons, pig-tailed macaques, and squirrel monkeys—exceeded only bees (the sole study participant that wasn't either a mammal or a bird). [SOURCE see link above]

It turns out that chimps, our closest relatives are actually WORSE than dogs at this particular test. Here's the test they used:

In this test, an animal is typically shown a visual stimulus such as a red circle. The red circle disappears, then, after a delay, it's shown again with another sample stimulus—a blue square, say. The animal, usually with the incentive of a food reward, has to select the original sample it saw.

So start selecting/breeding for this trait. Dogs do have a head start vs. other animals.

Spatial Recognition

As to spatial recognition--there are lots of dog breeds that are already very, very good at this. Herding breeds especially so compared to others. You might be talking about something specific, like object permanence, but you can look at for something specific and search for that as far as children's cognitive tests (toddlers and babies to start). Generally there's a dog version out there.

Selecting for Language Understanding & Analytical abilities

Dogs do understand a lot of language, and if you want to select for that, chose dogs to breed who have a large vocabulary. Rico the dog not only understood 200 words, he also USED logic. If you told him to fetch something and you used a word he had not learned, he would fetch the new and unfamiliar thing in a massive pile of toys. That shows analytical thinking, or enough intelligence to be able to infer. Which is amazing! Other dogs, generally border collies have learned up to 1,000 different words.

How to search for your tests

You can use the examples above, but we have plenty of tests geared for people who can't talk (babies and toddlers) as well as animals in the annals of scientific intelligence test, which test the very things you are talking about. Research those and apply them for first steps. Then look at cognitive tests at a higher level, and so on and so on.

Bottom line, there are plenty of intelligence tests you can give that in no way involve talking. There's a whole world out there of animal intelligence tests and tests for babies and toddlers.

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    $\begingroup$ I have a few editorial complaints with this answer. Can you break this up into sections with headings? There are three different trains of though here, one about the genetic relationship between dogs and wolves, one related to why dogs could be considered smarter than wolves, and one related to various test of this relationship. I think that these three sections are kind of jumbled together, making this sort of hard to read. Headings would also make it easier to find the actual answer to the question. What the last line is in bold, the evidence is above it and not as obvious. $\endgroup$
    – kingledion
    Commented Jan 9, 2018 at 13:56
  • $\begingroup$ I went ahead and added headings for each section. $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 9, 2018 at 18:41

Researchers often test the intelligence of animals in terms of mirror recognition with the animal being placed in front of their reflection, if they show signs of touching their own face or twisting their own body to admire different angles of themselves then they recognize that it is themselves that they are looking at and exhibit self-awareness. Other tests include tool using (manipulating an object in your environment for your personal desires, elephants are known for breaking sticks to have a jagged edge in order to scratch themselves), evidence of forward-thinking and planning (a monkey in a zoo gathering piles of stones to throw at tourists that would visit later that day), along with long-term memory such as recognizing old friends after being separated or an octopus memorizing the routines of the watchmen in order to sneak out of its tank to eat the fish in the neighboring exhibit, all collected for evidence of the ability to learn. Tests that look for these traits would be a good way to measure an animal's intelligence. (note: all examples are from actual studies and observations


Wolves already exhibit language. So your challenge is to adapt your human breeders' behavior and vocal utterances to conform to the existing behavior of the wolves. The humans won't initially understand or be able to accurately imitate the canine communications, but they must limit themselves to postures and vocalizations which the wolves could imitate. Then through extended exposure, a bridge may form between the breeders and the pack.

In the same way that the wolves have an internal social order, your breeders should also live within a hierarchy composed exclusively of their human peers. One breeder should be dominant and equipped with the skills and weapons needed to compete with the wolf alphas in one-on-one combat. Other members of your breeder team should be more submissive, even to the point of accepting minor wounds without protest from their own human alpha and from their superiors in the adjacent canine pack.

The breeder team must strive to demonstrate their social and authoritative structure to the wolves in a manner that the wolves can understand. Only then is there hope that the human and wolf packs will merge when motivated by a mutual enemy or elusive prey.

If the packs merge, then you have finally reached the starting point where intelligence testing can begin.

Wolf language is mostly emotive, expressing emotional rather than intellectual content. Your initial tests will involve adding representative "words" to their canine vocabulary. Within the human side of the merged pack, a particular growl will come to represent food. Another will represent danger. By using these "words" consistently and in the presence of the real world objects the words represent ( provided by humans outside the testing environment ) hopefully this vocabulary and the whole idea of sounds representing objects will be picked up by the wolves.

Once this process begins, the humans should accelerate the vocabulary learning until distinctions among the student wolves begin to appear. Some of the wolves will be better at picking up and using the new vocabulary than others. It is these successful students who should be chosen for your selective breeding process.

Integrating into a wolf pack will not come cheap. Some of your breeders will be killed along the way. But if you want to select for the kind of smartness that might someday rival our own, that is the first installment on the price which must be paid.

  • $\begingroup$ I don't agree about the alpha beta thing as a basis for this sort of training. Take a look at this: io9.gizmodo.com/… Yes, these wolves will be captivity but the alpha hiearchy is deeply flawed as a way to understand wolves. $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 9, 2018 at 18:53
  • $\begingroup$ Cesar Milan for example, used this as a basis for dog training, with rules such as "don't ever let your dog go out the door before you" and "alphas always go first" In reality, what you might call the leader of the pack actually often stays in the center of the group while the lower tier male or female scouts ahead. If you notice, off leash on trails, dogs will range ahead, but they will check to see that you are with them, and if you change direction, they will too. $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 9, 2018 at 18:58

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