How Do I Know If My Dog is Smart?
Have you ever wondered just how smart your dog is? Does your four-legged companion seem to get themselves into all kinds of trouble, or do they seem intelligent enough to avoid catastrophe to begin with?
In this guide, we’re going to look at the whole topic of dog intelligence, and if you’ve ever thought that you might own one of the world's dumbest dogs you might be surprised by the results!
Stanley Coran’s Intelligence of Dogs
Stanley Coran carried out what is probably the best-known piece of research into dog intelligence. He surveyed over 200 dog obedience judges to determine which types of dogs they classified as the most intelligent. The judges assessed this by considering how quickly each of the 120 breeds could learn a new behavior.
The results for the top ten most intelligent breeds were:
1. Border Collie
Bred for hundreds of years for their working ability and high intelligence, it’s no surprise that these herding professionals found their way to the top of the table. Not only does the Border Collie make an excellent herding dog, but they also top the leagues within dog sports such as agility and obedience.
Some people might be surprised to see the Poodle in second place, but you shouldn’t let that fancy grooming doubt this breeds intelligence. Originally bred as working dogs, the Poodles' role was to retrieve ducks from the water. Now they’re known for their amazing problem-solving abilities and for being a great entertainer who loves to be the center of attention.
3. German Shepherd
A true working dog, the German Shepherd Dog (GSD) is well known for being a top choice for service in the military and police. Whether it’s sniffing out explosives or chasing criminals, this is a breed that’s as courageous as they are loyal. The GSD is also known for being great assistance and therapy dogs.
4. Golden Retriever
One of the most popular breeds, and it gets into the top ten intelligence list as well! With a long history working history from a gundog through to guide dog and search and rescue, the Golden Retriever can turn their paw to just about anything! Intelligent and affectionate, it’s no wonder they make such brilliant companions.
Bred as a guardian to the tax collector, the Doberman is well known for their protective nature, but they’re also incredibly smart. With speed and stamina, this is a true canine athlete who makes an excellent working companion.
6. Shetland Sheepdog
Another herding breed, the Shetland Sheepdog has many of the same attributes as the Border Collie, just in a more petite body! Highly intelligent and agile, they make great pets for active families. However, do expect to share the sofa with them at the end of the day; this is a very affectionate breed that loves to be with their owners.
7. Labrador Retriever
Back to the hunting breeds, the Labrador Retriever has been the most popular dog breed in the US for decades. This is another breed well known for their working abilities, especially as sniffer dogs and assistance dogs. Their gentle nature combined with intelligence makes them a fantastic all-round breed.
Smart and agile, the Papillion excels in agility, where their speed and intelligence often see them achieving top podium placings. Despite growing to no more than 11 inches, this is a breed that will enjoy a full day on the trails and be up for a game when you get home! Proving that size is no barrier to intelligence, the Papillion gets into the top ten list at number eight.
With a strong desire to work, the Rottweiler can take on a huge range of roles from herding to guard dog and service in the police force. However, this breed does also have a gentler side to their nature. That means that they also make excellent therapy and assistance dogs as well as being a loving companion.
10. Australian Cattle Dog
The last of our top ten, the Australian Cattle Dog is a true workaholic. Bred to work in harsh conditions and to herd cattle, this breed is both courageous and highly protective of its family and home. Be warned that the Australian Cattle Dog needs an outlet for that energy, so dog sports and training are an absolute minimum.
Breeds that found themselves at the bottom of the list were:
- Chow Chow
- Afghan Hound
But is there a difference between intelligence and trainability?
Many owners assess how smart their dog is by how many tricks they know or how obedient they are. But is this really an accurate way of determining your dog’s IQ? Because intelligence and trainability are two very different things.
Trainability is how quickly your dog learns a new behavior. That might be how quickly they learned to sit every time you asked or how many repetitions they needed to do before connecting the word ‘sit’ with going into a sitting position.
If your dog was suddenly in the wild by themselves, would they survive? Would they be able to find somewhere to shelter out of the cold? Could they hunt to feed themselves and could then follow a scent trail to find their way home?
Many would argue that these are the real indications of intelligence rather than a dog just doing as they’re told!
Which is the easier dog to own, high trainability or high intelligence?
For most homes, a dog with high levels of trainability is easier to live with than a dog with high intelligence but low trainability.
High intelligence but low trainability
These are the dogs who are very much driven by instincts. They include the hounds who are driven by their noses and the sighthounds who can spot a rabbit or a squirrel a mile away. Both of these are amazing skills, but they can be challenging to overcome when teaching a reliable recall.
High intelligence and high trainability
These would seem to be the dogs who would make perfect companions in any home. But there can be a downside to that high level of intelligence. That’s because these types of dogs need owners who commit to training or dog sports; otherwise, those active minds are heading towards trouble.
Breeds that fit into this category include the Border Collie, the Belgian Malinois, and the Australian Cattle Dog. These are not dogs for the faint-hearted and need owners to carry out lots of research into the breed before taking on that lifelong commitment.