Jackie is a dog trainer and animal rescue advocate that is passionate about working with the difficult cases. She shares her life with her rescued street dog Django and her rescued ball python, Pip. Follow their adventures on their blog!
Everyone likes to think that their dog is the smartest on the block. But, as it turns out, no two dogs are created equal, and according to this canine psychologist, there are certain breeds that may be a little bit more gifted when it comes to their intelligence.
What Makes a Dog “Trainable”
Throughout history, dogs have been companions and working partners for humans. Dog breeding, in the sense that we know it today, only really started to take off in the 1800’s, when people began to breed dogs together in order to achieve certain desired qualities. As the number of dog breeds grew, so did the need for classification, and so the seven dog groups were born.
Every breed is placed into one of these categories, depending on what they were originally bred to accomplish, and many people believe that the intelligence of a dog is dependant on the job that they were bred for, and therefore the group that they are placed in. Those groups are:
Sporting – Bred to assist hunters with feathered game. Retrievers specialize in waterfowl and setters, spaniels, and pointing breeds focus on grasslands.
Non-Sporting – This group is a mish-mash of dogs whose job descriptions defy characteristics of the other groups.
Hounds – Bred to track and pursue prey during a hunt.
Working – Bred to perform jobs such as guarding, pulling sleds, or performing water rescues
Herding – Bred to work closely with humans to move livestock. Many people believe that their close working relationship with humans is what makes this group so smart.
Toys – Bred to fit on the laps of humans as a constant companion.
Terriers – Bred to go underground in pursuit of rodents. Long-legged terriers tend to be used to dig out vermin instead of going into the tunnel to chase them out, as their short-legged counterparts do.
However, most dogs today live with us as companion animals and don’t have jobs in the same way that they used to. So, these categories should be taken with a grain of salt, and more attention should be given to your dog’s unique personality rather than the group they happen to fall into.
How to Judge if Your Dog is Intelligent
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Currently, there is no easy way to rate a dog’s intelligence. Canine psychologist Stanley Coren writes that there’s adaptive intelligence (figuring things out), working intelligence (following orders), and instinctive intelligence (natural talent).
Coren, in his book The Intelligence of Dogs, made the following list based on a survey of 199 dog obedience judges. While many of the judges stated that there are exceptions to every rule and that much of it comes down to training, they were still remarkably consistent with their judging.
Without further ado, here are the smartest dogs:
The dogs in this group tend to learn a new command after being exposed to it only 5 times and they obey the command at least 95% of the time.
- Border collie
- German shepherd
- Golden retriever
- Doberman pinscher
- Shetland sheepdog
- Labrador retriever
- Australian cattle dog
This group encompasses dogs who tend to learn a new command in 5 to 15 exposures and obey at least 85% of the time.
- Pembroke Welsh corgi
- Miniature schnauzer
- English springer spaniel
- Belgian Tervuren
- Schipperke, Belgian sheepdog
- Collie Keeshond
- German short-haired pointer
- Flat-coated retriever, English cocker spaniel, Standard schnauzer
- Brittany spaniel
- Cocker spaniel, Nova Scotia duck tolling retriever
The dogs in the third tier learn a new trick after 15-25 repetitions and obey at least 70% of the time.
- Chesapeake Bay retriever, Puli, Yorkshire terrier
- Giant schnauzer, Portuguese water dog
- Airedale, Bouv Flandres
- Border terrier, Briard
- Welsh springer spaniel
- Manchester terrier
- Field spaniel, Newfoundland, Australian terrier, American Staffordshire terrier, Gordon setter, Bearded Collie
- American Eskimo dog, Cairn terrier, Kerry blue terrier, Irish setter
- Norwegian elkhound
Working dogs who tend to learn a trick in 25-40 repetitions and obey at least 50% of the time.
- Soft-coated wheaten terrier, Bedlington terrier, Smooth-haired fox terrier
- Curly-coated retriever, Irish wolfhound
- Kuvasz, Australian shepherd
- Saluki, Finnish Spitz, Pointer
- Cavalier King Charles spaniel, German wirehaired pointer, Black-and-tan coonhound, American water spaniel
- Siberian husky, Bichon Frise, English toy spaniel
- Tibetan spaniel, English foxhound, Otterhound, American foxhound, Greyhound, Harrier, Parson Russel Terrier, Wirehaired pointing griffon
- West Highland white terrier, Havanese, Scottish deerhound
- Boxer, Great Dane
- Dachshund, Staffordshire bull terrier, Shiba Inu
The dogs in this tier learn a new trick after 40-80 repetitions and obey only 40% of the time.
- Skye terrier
- Norfolk terrier, Sealyham terrier
- French bulldog
- Brussels griffon, Maltese terrier
- Italian greyhound
- Chinese Crested
- Dandie Dinmont terrier, Vendeen, Tibetan terrier, Japanese chin, Lakeland terrier
- Old English sheepdog
- Great Pyrenees
The last on the tier list, these dogs tend to learn tricks after more than 100 repetitions and obey around 30% of the time.
- Shih Tzu
- Basset hound
- Mastiff, beagle
- Chow chow
- Afghan hound
Is My Dog Untrainable If It’s In The Last Tier?
There are always exceptions to every rule, and just because your dog may not be in the top tier does not make it incapable of learning. Personality is a key factor in any dog training success, and learning how to work with your own dog is crucial in raising a well-rounded and well-behaved dog.
How to Train Any Dog, Top Tier or Bottom
Remember that old saying “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks”? You can throw that right out the window. Every dog is trainable, no matter the age, size, personality, or breed group. It all comes down to understanding your dog and working with the skills that they have.
Figure Out Your Dog’s Breed Group
Though many dogs don’t currently have the jobs that they were originally created for, they often carry some of those tendencies. For example, a dog who belongs to the herding group, such as a border collie, may still enjoy running around in circles while in the dog park.
Rewards are crucial in dog training, and knowing which dog breed group that your dog belongs to will help you to understand how to reward him. For example, a golden retriever may work harder during training if a ball is offered as a reward rather than food.
To find out which group your dog belongs to click here.
Have Patience With Your Dog
No two dogs are the same, and while all dogs are smart in their own way we can’t expect them to perform at the same level. Some dogs may take longer learning something new but that doesn’t mean that they will never learn it. Getting frustrated with your dog will only make the matter worse because your dog will be able to sense that frustration. If your dog needs a few more repetitions to understand something, then give it to them! It is not a competition, and a positive relationship is more important than one “shake a paw” or “roll over”.
We love our dogs regardless of if they’re at the top of the training class or not. For most of us, our dogs act as our companions, and we love them no matter what. At the end of the day, that love is more important than where they fit on a tiered list. Wherever your dog is in this grouping, offer them love and support and they will give it back tenfold, and that’s all that really matters.
 Stanley Coren. (2006). The Intelligence of Dogs: A Guide to the Thoughts, Emotions, and Inner Lives of Our Canine Companions.
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