Dog intelligence is the ability of a dog to learn, think, and solve problems. Dog trainers, owners, and researchers have as much difficulty agreeing on a method for testing canine intelligence, as they do for human intelligence.

There are three types of dog intelligence:

  • Adaptive Intelligence (learning and problem-solving ability). This is specific to the individual animal and is measured by canine IQ tests.
  • Instinctive Intelligence. This is specific to the individual animal and is measured by canine IQ tests.
  • Working/Obedience Intelligence. This is breed dependent.

Recent research has demonstrated that dogs read human gestures more readily than both chimpanzees and wolves. Even kennel-reared dogs outperformed hand-reared wolves, suggesting the capacity is not a product of experience around people. Part of dogs’ specialization is making the most of their human-rich environment. Another study suggests that dogs gauge their play solicitations to other dogs based on whether the potential playmate is attending or not.

Dogs are pack animals. They understand social structure and obligations, and are capable of interacting with other members of the pack. Adult canines train their young by “correcting” them when they behave in an unacceptable manner (such as biting too hard or eating out of turn) and reward them for acceptable behavior, by playing with them, feeding them, or cleaning them.

They are also den animals. This means that they can easily learn behavior related to keeping the den clean (such as housebreaking) and relaxing in an enclosed area (such as a crate during travel or for training).

Some breeds have been selectively bred for hundreds or thousands of years for the quality of learning quickly. That quality has been downplayed for other breeds in favor of other characteristics like the ability to track or hunt game, or to fight other animals. The capacity to learn basic obedience, however, and complicated behavior is inherent in all dogs. Owners must simply be more patient with some breeds than with others.

Nonetheless, inherited behavior is not necessarily an indicator of intelligence. For example, a sheep herding breed, like a Border Collie, would be expected to learn how to herd sheep very quickly and might even perform the job with little training. The same breed, however, would be a challenge to train how to point and retrieve game. A Pointer often points to game instinctively and naturally retrieves game without damaging it, but most likely could not be taught to herd sheep.

Intelligent dogs are inadvertently taught many unwanted behaviors. Increasing the activity level in a household, and increasing the number of people that are present in it, increases the likelihood that chance associations will be learned. For the intelligent dog this means that there is a greater opportunity to learn things that will be useful in adapting to everyday life, but also provides a greater opportunity for the dog to learn “odd” or annoying associations.

Intelligence is a complex subject. A breed of dog that does not learn very quickly may have other talents.

It is important to remember that intelligence should not be judged only by the willingness to follow obedience commands. The willingness or ability to be obedience trained may reflect a desire to please or a dependence upon humans, as well as intelligence. Many long time livestock guardian breed owners believe that working breeds such as the Great Pyrenees or the Kuvasz are not easily trained because they do not see the point of such commands as “sit” or “down”. Hounds may also suffer from this type of ranking; several rank in the bottom tier of this list (such as Beagles, Bloodhounds, and Basset Hounds). These dogs are bred to have more of a “pack” mentality with other dogs and less reliance on a master’s direct commands. While they truly may not have the same kind of intelligence as a Border Collie, they were not bred to learn and obey commands quickly, but to think for themselves while trailing game.

The Intelligence Ranking

  • Border Collies
  • Poodle
  • German Shepherd
  • Golden Retriever
  • Doberman Pincher
  • Shetland Sheepdog
  • Labrador Retriever
  • Papillon
  • Rottwieler
  • Australian Cattle Dog
  • Pembrook Welsh Corgi
  • Miniature Schnauzer

The less intelligent are:

  • Borzoi
  • Chow Chow
  • Bull dog
  • Basenji
  • Afghan Hound

Sources: Jesphoto, Citizendium

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