Dog Smarts - What does it mean and tell us how smart your pooch is

I saw some websites that list the breeds in order of intelligence, and some question the definition of “dog intelligence.” Ability to perform commands quickly may simply indicate a stronger desire to please to owner.

German shepherds are oft cited as “intelligent” due to their ability to obey commands quickly, but this might mean they’re really dumb because they simply obey commands without question. Someone told me shepherds make great police dogs not because they are smart, but because they are dumb and will charge headlong into trouble based upon rote obedience of a command without thought of harm to themselves. This person also told me Dobermans are too smart to be effective police dogs because they are reluctant to simply dash into trouble without thinking about their own safety and considering attack alternatives, such as trying to come at a perpetrator from behind.

The list I saw had basset hounds near the bottom of the list, but that could simply reflect the stubbornness and laziness of the breed rather than a lack of understanding of commands.

I own a whippet, and he seems bright in that he can learn commands and also try to figure out how to get reward treats from me while avoiding performance of the commands.

Share your thoughts and pooch stories please.

We have had two guide dog puppies, Labs, who were obedient but dumb as dirt. Our Golden breeder is a bit smarter. We puppy sat one of her puppies, who had figured out how to tap on the glass to ask to go out at 8 weeks. That is pretty smart.

Our pet dog is a border collie/cocker mix, Ki, and he’s a genius. We have a little treat machine where the dog needs to hit a lever with his paw to get a treat. Ki figured this out in two seconds. When one of the Labs was career changed we put the machine in front of him. He never got it, even though Ki tried to show him.
When Ki was young we made him sit at corners before crossing. He figured out to sit in the middle of a block to tell us he wanted to cross to the other side to pee on a nice hydrant. He has learned to recognize both words and the spelling of words, so W-A-L-K doesn’t work anymore. And he has outsmarted me. One day he wanted to get some food in the park. I leashed him, and dragged him into a field. When I unleashed him he trotted away from the food, and when I relaxed my guard, he doubled back.
He has also quickly learned tons of tricks.

So there is a difference, and we’ve seen it in guide dog puppies who have had exactly the same training.

I have three dogs and none of them have much smarts. I mean they are good dogs. They are house trained. They don’t get in the garbage. They don’t bother the cats and they sleep on their doggie beds but they have no problem solving skills.

Cassie, some type of pointer/retriever mix, is dumber than a box of rocks. She is also deaf now so that does not help. Food and sleep are her life.

Hanna, some type of collie mix, is a nervous Nellie and always looks like something is going to happen. We are not sure if it is good or bad but something is going to happen. Any minute now…

If I had to pick one with the most intelligence it would have to be Queenie, a Dalmatian mix. She is the smartest of the three. She is also the sneaky one. She likes to sleep with my shoes or slippers. If I can’t find one I can make a sure bet it is laying with her in her dog bed. I rarely catch her taking them. They will be both sitting were I took them off and I can walk out of the room for a couple seconds and when I return she has one of my shoes. She will take the other one as well as soon as the opportunity arises.

I had a husky/shepherd mix who was pretty smart. She did not bark when people knocked on the door. She would just stand there and stare at the knob as if to say “You don’t know I am here but try and open that door and you will know more about me than you ever wanted to”.

I have a golden and I think she’s very smart. I also think she’s “too smart” sometimes…the antithesis to the german shepards from the OP. I think she can be a stubborn bitch, which is much “smarter” than obedient doggy.

She did great in obedience school, but I had an awful time getting her to come on command. She actually does know how to come on command, but during class she figured out that when she was let go it was much more fun and rewarding to be chased than to come for a stinky old treat.

She’s also in the habit of bringing people shoes when they come in the door because she knows she’s not supposed to have a shoe and someone will come pay attention to her in order to get the shoe back from her.

She’ll retrieve like a champ, but she also knows that if she is too tired to chase a ball, she can just stand there and the ball will magically “come” to her - via the stupid human who threw it and will go retrieve it for her.

She doesn’t bark to go outside. She stands and stares at the door for a few minutes. If no one passes by to open the door, she’ll growl softly until someone hears her. To come in, at my parents’ house where there’s a big sliding glass door, she stares at the door until someone sees her and the door opens.

If she wants to jump on the couch and there’s the tiniest bit of anything in her way, she’ll rest her head on the couch and stare until someone comes to move the item out of her way.

She’s a pretty girl and everyone fawns over her and she knows it. She reminds me of the stereotypical “I am too pretty to have to do anything for myself” person. She’s actually got us all trained - more like a cat than a dog.

She’s definitely smarter than us.

We have a Labby Mix and she is pretty bright, but nothing exceptional. She was the top dog in both her classes. She understands simple commands and is getting the concept of looking where I point.

I taught her to wipe her feet along with all the basics.
We had a Border Collie and he was brilliant. He taught himself more than we taught him. He was a problem solver and had unlimited energy. He could also be stubborn.

On his own, he kept my very young daughter from falling in the pool by gently bumping her away until I grabbed her.

I have seen many working Border Collies that blew him away for smarts and learning. A top Border Collie doesn’t just understand Ball or Stick, but will understand green ball versus red ball.

They are rated at the top of every list of Dog’s intelligence and to me appear to be way ahead. I heard a quote that Border Collies are the only breed that has been bred for Intelligence.


If you want to see how smart your dog is, try this: Lay a towel on the floor. Grab a piece of dry food, show it to them, and then put it under the towel. The more quickly your dog removes the towel, the smarter they are.

We tried this with a couple of my mom’s dogs a few years ago. The one we thought was smart got it pretty quickly, and the other didn’t.

Boomer is also dumb as a box of rocks. He needs doors opened for him. I don’t mean he needs someone to turn a knob – the door can be ajar but if it’s not fully open, he’ll just stand there waiting for someone (like the cat) to push it all the way open so he can go inside.

But he’s lovable, even tempered, easy going, undemanding, patient, and he does respond to the basic dog commands.

I have had a lot of dogs in my life. Most were just doggy smart ,nothing special. I have 2 beagles now. Nordberg is as dumb as a dog can get. She is the sweetest and loving animal I ever rescued.
Quincy is different. He plots and plans . He was licking out a dog food can as it rolled on the slanted basement floor. He picked the can up and jammed it into the dry food bowl. Then he could lick it clean.
Then one night he made the rumbling growl that said I gotta go out and pee. My wife got up and walked him to the door. He ran past her jumped up into bed and put his head on her pillow to sleep. When she came back he growled. So he had an idea. Came up with a plan and carried it out. There are many Quincy examples like that.

Our shepard-shar-pei mix Sienna is a doggie genius. She has a huge vocabulary of words she knows, and can follow sequential commands. The unfortunate part of this is that she bores easily with tricks and requires escalating rewards to perform them. She used to go to the fridge and get me a beer, but now will only do this if i’m going to reward her with a chicken drummy or better. Most tricks only last about two weeks to a month before she’ll quit them. On the other hand, It is really quite nice to have such an intelligent companion animal. When she looks at you, there is someone in there looking back,thinking more than just “cookie, cookie, cookie,…”

The March issue of National Geographic has an article on animal intelligence. On the cover – to no surprise – is a border collie. The article said that she had a vocabulary of some seven hundred words.

Even within a breed, individuals vary. We have three salukis. One is pretty bright and learned right away how to hook an ajar door that swings toward him to get it open. #2 took much longer and still occasionally jumps on the door, pushing it latched instead. #3 is somewhere in the middle.

My whippet sees the cats using the pet door all the time, but he hasn’t figured out he could get through there, too. He chases the cats until they get through the pet door, and he stops. This is good because we don’t want him using it.

My last dog Emmy was the polar opposite of smart, she was a hybrid of boxer and pit bull. God the dumbest dog on the planet but also the most loving and sweetest dog you could want.

I swear all she wanted to do was to please us. If I yelled at her she would pout for hours until I finally broke down and made things right for her again.

Rest in peace Emmy.

Poor, poor, whippet, head too narrow, no room for extraneous brains and thoughts. ‘Eat, Run, Sit and Eat good enough for happy whippet.’ :wink:

I jest but with a touch of truth, Whippets rank 51 of 79 on the The Intelligence of Dogs list on wiki.

**The bottom of the list: **
Shih Tzu
Basset Hound
Chow Chow
Afghan Hound

I was surprised by the Beagles and Bloodhounds, but Afghan’s in my limited experience are nearly as dumb as rocks.

**Top of the List: **

  1. Border Collie
  2. Poodle
  3. German Shepherd
  4. Golden Retriever
  5. Doberman Pinscher
  6. Shetland Sheepdog
  7. Labrador Retriever
  8. Papillon
  9. Rottweiler
  10. Australian Cattle Dog

The only surprise for me was the Papillon, but I don’t know much about them other then they sometimes look like cute gremlins.

Beagles make the list because they don’t pay attention to you. Their bodies are just a locomotion machine for the nose. We do not share the same world. They smell another animal from a block away. Once they are on a scent nothing else matters.

I’ll buy that, especially as Bloodhound was slightly lower. Even more of a body built to power a nose.

Yeah that list is based on testing for certain parameters some breeds are set up to fail for. Scent hounds will ignore everything in pursuit of a trail, and guardian breeds like the mastiff, are not dumb, they have been bred to be calm, and patient as the tides. They are also lazy dogs. They train quite well, but are stubborn and strong willed making them difficult to train in more complicated behaviours. Shi-Tzu, and Pekinese are not companion dogs, at least not classically. They are WATCHDOGS, and they excel at that job. They were bred to be alert, independent little sirens, and they are quite good at that. Basenji are not as domesticated as the rest of the breeds on that list, they don’t get a fair trial either.

The borzoi, Chow-chow, bulldog, and afghan i’ve got nothing.

I recently read this book - How Dogs Think. A lot of it was about how does perceive and process sensory input - which I found fascinating. Also discussed a lot of testing regarding dog “intelligence.” I strongly recommend it for any dog lover.

One difficulty with assessing animal intelligence is that people tend to anthropomorphize, judging how quickly dogs learn to do what we want them to do, rather than how capable they are at being dogs.

Of course this gets further complicated by the fact that it is hard to separate domesticated dogs from their relationhip to man.

Especially as there are arguments that man not only made dogs, but dogs made man.

I know that sounds weird, but the argument runs roughly along the lines of some gray wolves adopted us as their pack rather then early humans raising wolf pups to work with them. It was the interaction of the earliest “dogs” that first got humans to think of domesticating other animals and sent us down the road that led to agriculture.

The recent experiments with domesticating foxes in Russia has shown the time period of a canine becoming a human companion is much less than had been previously believed.
As to rating a dog by human devised standards, how else? Dogs may have more in common with humans at this point than wolves when it comes to intelligence. Dogs are usually considered to be in an arrested state of adolescence. This is little like a wild wolf.

We know some dogs and other animals are problem solvers. It is not just the ability to train, but the ability to solve problems and understand more complex commands than simple one word, carefully conditioned training that separates out the top dogs.

There are reports from scientific sources of Chimps, Parrots and Dolphins (The Orca is the largest of the Dolphins) being problem solvers that use tools and all have demonstrated some advance communication capabilities in some exceptional individuals.

We know of Border Collies that can handle hundreds of commands.

The intelligence scale for dogs is surely biased against many of the dogs, but it also shows well those that as a breed are much more likely to produce the smarter dogs that can problem solve.


My afghan hound was a smart dog. He used to sleep in my room with me. When my grandmother moved in with us and I had to have a different bedroom, all I had to do was take him to the doorway of my old room, and as he crossed to go in, wave my hand in front of his nose and tell him “No. Get out.” He never went in that room again. He would eat 1/2 a treat on command and climb steep ladders if asked. He knew he wasn’t supposed to eat stuff off the countertops, so he’d take the dish and set it on the floor. Then it was floor food and fair game.

My german shepherd knew if he worked long and hard enough he could unlock my windows, open them up and get out of the house. But if he jumped into the neighbor’s yard, he never seemed to be able to jump back. Silly dog.

I think that guide dogs who are taught “intelligent disobedience” have to be the winners are far as smarts. They figure out not only all the commands a guide dogs needs, but to disobey those commands if they put their person at risk.


I’m just about shocked that the last two on the list weren’t Cocker Spaniels and Irish Setters. We used to have a Cocker Spaniel who, while he was friendly and full of fun, seemed to be somewhat retarded – if you called him, he’d just stand there and look blankly at you, for instance; if his tennis ball rolled out of sight it was gone, and I don’t think he ever learned to walk on a leash properly. And red setters … they’re beautiful to look at, but I’ve never known one that couldn’t get lost at the end of a leash.

The most intelligent dogs I’ve ever had were all mutts; however the brightest one I’ve ever known was a Malinois who belonged to a friend of mine. That dog was so smart it was a little un-nerving, although he was also a total gentleman with people he knew. He had his own friends among the humans he knew, too – he’d be polite and cordial with anyone who came to his humans’ house, but there were a few (amongst whom I was honored to be included) that he obviously considered to be his guests and friends as much as the huimans’ in the house.