Is there any running experiment to selectively breed non-human smart animals? I saw some scientists made overly tame and friendly foxes using fust selective breeding. Could it be possible to add the trait of intelligence to say giant rats? Could it be possible to do so using gene modification?

Were there any attempts to breed such an animal.

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    $\begingroup$ There are a couple of interesting genetic candidates towards higher cognitive function. Here they produced transgenic monkeys to test this. I am not sure about any 'breeding' experiments. Depends on how you measure/define being "smart" in an animal model. $\endgroup$ Feb 4, 2023 at 1:55
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    $\begingroup$ @MaximilianPress - The OP is familiar with the fox farm experiment; it was referred to in his question. Re. dogs, I think you're correct. OP: I used to breed Border Collies, considered by many to be the most intelligent dogs in the world (I'm a bit skeptical, but...). The majority of good BC breeders breed to improve the breed, not for confirmation (that's the AKC route). Intelligence is part of that. I have had some scary-smart BC's, including one who understood syntax. Look up Chaser, who had the largest recorded animal vocabulary and also understood syntax and concepts... wow! $\endgroup$ Feb 5, 2023 at 0:34
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    $\begingroup$ @anongoodnurse fair enough, reading comprehension is always a challenge. deleting. $\endgroup$ Feb 5, 2023 at 5:22

2 Answers 2


The question is rather hard to answer as the measure of intelligence can be defined within many different aspects. I am not aware of specific 'breeding' approaches in this context.

Moreover, it also differs depending on the animal models. What I basically want to say is that intelligence is an emergent phenomenon from vastly complex molecular and environmental factors.

One example of a 'measure' is the cogntivie factor (g) both in humans and animals.

Could it be possible to do so using gene modification?

Nevertheless, there are genotypes related to cognitive function. Famously FOXP2 was coined the "language gene". (Spoiler: it's not that simple). In humans, this article summarizes such aspects from a genetic basis.

To give another example – as I commented before – researchers looked at transgenic monkeys to study brain development. In this study, the transgenic monkeys showed better short-term memory and shorter reaction time compared to the wildtype.


I think you will have to take an answer here that is not the answer you wanted. I truly believe that there is no secret base making an army of intelligent dingo soldiers. We are currently at the point where we have a bunch of different approaches to even answering what intelligence is. Each different theory of intelligence have created a different effort, each with its own flavor.

Here are some examples:

Domesticated Foxes. Socializing with human beings is not exactly intelligence but Russian biologist Dmitry Belyayev wanted to show that evolution of new traits could happen with selective breeding. Starting with some wild type foxes , he would test foxes for their calmness or interest in people. Animals who were did not score well in tameness were put in an anti-social group (this is social to people) animals who were tame were put in a social group. After 10 generations the animals were showing significant signs of social acceptance of human beings, seeking their company.

A lot of work assumes that some animals are intelligent and try to ask them about that.

Talking Chimpanzees. Early efforts to get an ape to talk were successful but limited by the physiology of the vocal chords in primates. Studies with primates focused on teaching them sign language. The champion to date is Koko who had 1000 signs in her vocabulary and could talk about what happens after life. it was estimated her IQ was 70-95. Kanzi, a bonobo used a symbolic keyboard and was able to use 400 symbols.

Conversant Parrots. Alex, a grey parrot was the subject of a 30 year study where he was able to communicate with researchers and passed cognitive tests such as identifying objects on command.

Talking to Dogs There is a lot of research on how humans interact with dogs and cats. They can hear and understand language. They watch humans for social cues. A lot of the researchers think they are capable of cognition. More recently many pet owners are using panels of buttons (like used with primates) to get the animals to try talking. its eerie.


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