back to article Sheep as smart as humans: Official

A Cambridge Uni prof has provocatively suggested that sheep aren't actually as thick as a Fair Isle woollen sweater, and can match humans in the tricky task of identifying food amid a confusion of buckets. Neuroboffin Jenny Morton herded a flock of Welsh mountain sheep and presented them with variously-coloured buckets, only …


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  1. Sabine Miehlbradt

    May I be the first to say:


    Anyone seen Flossie?

    1. Don S.
      Thumb Up

      "They've hit on the idea of escape"

      Monty Python has known this for 40 years.

  2. Robert Ramsay

    In other news...

    ...humans proved to be as stupid as sheep...

    1. Dr. Mouse


      That's insulting to the sheep!

  3. JeffUK

    Reg headline in 'draws it's own conclusions' shocker...

    Just because they score equally well as humans on one particular test, no-one (except the vulture) is suggesting this makes them 'as smart as humans'...

  4. Fluffykins Silver badge

    Can you also please ask

    What is the speed of a sheep in a vacuum?

  5. Chris Miller
    Thumb Up

    It must have been Harold

    "He's that most dangerous of animals, a clever sheep."

  6. Carol Orlowski

    Speaking as an actual shepherd

    Yes, some of us have laptops. And I think that it depends on the breed of sheep in question. Some sheep are as thick as two short planks. Others show surprising cunning. The closer they are to wild type, frequently the more clever they are. Shetlands, Soay and so on are positively bright, whereas in my experience some of the more overbred varieties like some merino are very dull.

    Of course, one factor in their apparent intelligence might be the strength of their flocking instinct, which varies markedly between breeds too. You can't easily use dogs trained on tight flock sheep, on a breed which will scatter when pressed.

    1. Trygve

      More wild->smarter. More domesticated->More dumb.

      Well, that sounds reasonably plausible. After all, the smarter they are, the less likely they are to hang around with humans who want to eat/shear/skin/molest them.

      It would also offer a temptingly comprehensive explanation for reality TV, FarceTwatTube, the obesity epidemic, "'elf'n'safety gorn maaaad"* and all the rest of the wall-to-wall stupidity explosion.

      The Powers That Be are working for Lord Crumb, and the human race is being domesticated in preparation for a major galaxy-wide expansion of Crumb’s Crunchy Delights.

      * (c) 1993, Daily Heil Newspaper

      Badgers - because you wouldn't catch them queuing up to be eaten

    2. asiaseen

      The more overbred varieties

      The Hooray Henries of the sheep world.

    3. JimC

      probably also fair to say that Sheep intelligence...

      is pretty tightly focussed on food. When it comes to things like staying alive they are less able...

    4. LaeMing

      We love to make fun of sheep's "follow the flock" mentality

      While ignoring the fact that we are the ones that spent thousands of years selectively breeding them for exactly that behaviour.


      As a girl, my mum had a pet sheep that was raised with the farm dogs. It thought it was a dog and behaved just like a working-dog. Came when called, and tried to round up the flock. The other sheep were not so convinced of its doggedness.

    5. Eddy Ito

      About the same

      Sounds just like people I've met over the years; flockers, plankers and the occasional bright spark.

  7. Anonymous Coward


    Sheep can find the bucket with food in? No way. And they can respond to their name? Far out man.

    Sheep is smart! Who'da thunk it?

  8. Anonymous Coward

    Are sheep really as smart as humans...

    ...or are some humans as dumb as sheep?

  9. Blubster

    @May I be the first to say:

    Or even. What a load of baaaallocks

  10. Anonymous Coward

    It's not what it looks like officer.

    Flossie invited me in for a coffee, and well one thing led to another.

  11. Anonymous Coward

    May I be the first... welcome our intellectual ovian overlords.

  12. Anonymous Coward

    Must be true

    Sheep don't use Facebook - QED

    1. Thomas 4

      I beg to differ

      I thought Facebook was populated by nothing *BUT* sheep.

      1. json


        meeee in...

  13. Ammaross Danan


    "they seem to be able to recognise people and even respond when you call their name."

    Perhaps that's why shepherds have named their sheep and have been followed by their flocks since the dawn of time (well, at least 2,500 years ago, give or take). Of course, it could be due to "knowing" them "personally" too, as Sabine seems to imply... :P

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    sheeps is just folks

    "...they seem to be able to recognise people and even respond when you call their name"...

    Yes I named my favorite sheep Pretty Polly.

  15. Anonymous Coward

    For control purposes

    Which human had you planned to sit in front of a Sudoko and suggest that if it solves the puzzle in less than 20 minutes it won't end up the oven?

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Gordon RAM-sey

    If they're so smart, why aren't the angry Scottish ones cooking up a leg of man on a Sunday whilst shouting profanities at the lambs who've been tasked with pulling up and preparing some carrots?

    It all smells fishy to me.

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    I look forward

    to working with our new wooly masters

  18. alwarming

    first deep blue...

    now "deep sheep"... ?

    1. hplasm
      Thumb Up

      'Sheep Blue'


      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Sheeper Blue

        'Sheep Blue' sounds OK. 'Deep Sheep' sounds.... wrong. And I didn't make any Celtic references, so no one have a pop at me for that!

        Actually, I've already seen 'Sheep Blue' on the heads of elderly ladies, though they're not as common as they used to be.

  19. Graham Marsden

    There's a very interesting documentary...

    ... showing extremely intelligent sheep who can drive tractors, build mechanical devices, perform group calisthenics and much more besides.

    It can be seen on CBBC channel or there's more information here

  20. Someone Else Silver badge


    "Neuroboffin Jenny Morton herded a flock of Welsh mountain sheep..."

    First read this as, "Neuroboffin Jenny Mutton..."

  21. FozzyBear
    Thumb Up

    Wow Man

    Snorting a lungful of medical grade cocaine and basing your research after watching a couple episodes of "shaun the sheep'. Excellant!

  22. Anonymous Coward

    How will you be taking your sheep sir?

    With or without wellies?

  23. RobE

    Intelligent Beings

    It is my opinion that the more research we carry out the more we will begin to realise that any animal capable of higher thought can be educated to be "intelligent". Reprogramming the brain to respond a certain way is purely a matter of using the correct training method.

    Personally I suspect where we are leading in a few more decades/centuries is for humans to be communicating with some animals directly.

  24. Lars Silver badge

    Oh dear

    "and even respond when you call their name", That professor is dumber than a sheep.

    And people who pay him for his "research" are even more dumb.

    Cats, dogs, horses, cows, pigs even parrots respond.

    1. moonface

      Responding animals

      I shouted a warning at a spider today and it responded by running away from me.

      Smart Spider!

      I suggest the professor should research this Araneae cognitive phenomenona.

  25. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    sheeple power

    sheeple power, long live the sheeple.

    but one for the Americans here , didn't the recent Nova Sciencenow S05E04 prove EU bred border collie dogs where smarter! remembering 1000 teddy's by name and retrieving them for astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson

    1. Your Retarded

      A thousand bears

      Hmm. My teddies do not have bynames.

    2. John 62

      smart collie

      Collies in general are pretty smart, but I think that was one particular savant-dog that could remember 1000 names. I think they said most dogs could only remember about 7 names.

      1. Sarah Bee (Written by Reg staff)

        Re: smart collie

        Border collies are the most intelligent dogs full stop, apparently. There's one that can identify objects from pictures of them.

  26. mantavani


    @RobE who says that's not possible already, not to say has been for centuires? Not in the Doolittle sense. Language is a different thing from communication.

    For any human to work effectively with an animal (working dogs, horses etc) the two have got to be able to communicate pretty effectively. Sure, it's possible to - say - beat a horse into submission; but the truly good riders can tell you exactly what their horses are thinking, and work with them in partnership rather than dominance. Man has been doing this kind of thing since the first days of domestication.

    And it's not just one way; dogs are remarkably - perhaps uniquely - adept at reading emotion in human faces. Remember how much of our communication is non-verbal. Google 'left-gaze bias in dogs' for more.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Clever Hans

      Many people were convinced that a particular horse named Hans could count, until someone had the idea of masking the questioner's face from the horse's view.

      Google "Clever Hans effect" for details.

  27. Irony Deficient

    Re: Intelligent Beings

    RobE, to learn about one result of such research, have a listen to Act Two of the MP3 available at .

  28. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    I'm shocked and disappointed...

    Not a single person has drawn a comparison between sheep and iPhone owners...

  29. Nick Galloway

    This is science?

    I don't know what form of hand rolled cigarettes these guys are smoking but the test is more to do with their fascination for Welsh Sheep (honestly guv, they wanted me to...) than to demonstrate the mental capacity of our ovine friends. If these sheep are so clever why do they stand around in the hope they will be spared while they watch their mates being dismembered by a butcher!?

    These good folk need to get out more and stop playing with buckets and sheep.

    1. Sarah Bee (Written by Reg staff)

      Re: This is science?

      Sheep more agreeable, less smelly than Reg commentards: Official

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Jobs Horns

        Go Sarah Go - Your my hero.....

        Sarah Bee.

        Sheep more agreeable, less smelly than Reg commentards: Official

        She says muching on a wasp....

  30. John Tserkezis

    @Can you also please ask

    "What is the speed of a sheep in a vacuum?"

    It doesn't matter, the results will be invalid because a sheep is not spherical.

    Boom boom.

  31. D. M
    Thumb Up

    Don't insult sheep

    Just looking around, sheep are far smarter than many people (eg. iDiot).

  32. This post has been deleted by its author

  33. Snake Plissken

    So if a sheep goes to University

    Does it study for a BAA?

  34. John Smith 19 Gold badge

    Sheep not dumb

    Just too damm tasty for their own good.

  35. Anonymous Coward

    Ahhh Wales.

    The only place you can get a fuck, a meal and a coat out of one animal.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Not necessarily...

      Had you said 'dumb animal', you'd have left things open to plenty of gold digger jokes!

      Or Peter Stringfellow girlfriend jokes...

  36. James Pickett

    What's that you say, Lassie?

    "Border collies are the most intelligent dogs"

    They must be, if they know where Scotland begins...

  37. Graham Bartlett

    @Sarah and collies

    Collies do have a natural ability to learn stuff. However they're basically the Rain Men of the dog world - neurotic, obsessive, fixated on routine and usually fixated on individuals too. A collie's idea of play is to be told (by a human, ideally their owner) to do something. Perfect for a working dog, but not ideal for a pet.

    From one point of view, this could be an example of David Brin's "uplift". In practise it's a bit more like the mental equivalent of a bulldog's snout - it's a bred characteristic that's within the genetic range of the species, but you only get there by trading off other aspects of the species with a result that isn't entirely positive for the dog.

    Yes, there are pawprints on my doormat.

    1. Anonymous Coward

      Re: Rain Dog

      Sounds like the perfect dog for a feminist...

  38. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    I do not care how smart they are they are still liars... especially the one that is wanting alimony!

  39. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Any animal

    I could pretty much teach any animal to do this... people have already done it with the likes of goldfish. Stupid "2 second memory" bollocks, people that spout it probably have less.

    (any fish owner will know that fish know when its feeding time anyway)

    Anyway, day to day sheep are pretty dim still :p

  40. Dog Faced Boy

    the sheep.....

    ....are on the rise

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