Search the web for the smartest dog breeds in the world, and you’ll find plenty of resources that map back to Stanley Coren, author of “The Intelligence of Dogs: A Guide to the Thoughts, Emotions, and Inner lives of Our Canine Companions.” In the book, Coren answers questions like: Do dogs have feelings? Do dogs think like humans? Are dogs intelligent? We highly recommend this book for further details regarding your dog’s IQ.
Coren’s List of Smartest Dogs
- Border collie
- German shepherd
- Golden retriever
- Doberman pinscher
- Shetland sheepdog
- Labrador retriever
- Australian cattle dog
How do dog experts define canine intelligence? They look at how easy the breed is to train, how well they listen to commands, how effectively they communicate with humans, and how quickly they solve problems.
The latter trait — problem-solving — can get intelligent dogs into trouble. Take, for example, “Rufus,” a mixed-breed small dog that shares a home with his family and a cat. Rufus knows the difference between his food bowl and the cat’s food bowl. In fact, he would never dream of eating the cat’s food … as long as his owners are around. But as soon as they are distracted — on the phone, taking a shower, or entertaining guests — Rufus heads for the cat bowl (he also loves to snack from the cat’s litter box). His owners have never caught him in the act, but the evidence is clear: The cat bowl has been licked clean … and Rufus has cat-food breath.
Intelligent dog breeds can be frustrating! They are savvy problem solvers that can get themselves into a lot of trouble. Some research tells us that trainability has nothing to do with a dog’s intelligence. In fact, intelligent dogs can be frustrating to train because they test their owners’ commands and they “problem-solve” ways to get around their commands. An intelligent dog takes patience to train.
3 Things Intelligent Dogs Have in Common
Intelligent dogs have three traits in common. They’re problem-solvers, they communicate well, and they get themselves into trouble.
Problem-solving skills in dogs
Some trainers use puzzle toys or hide-and-seek games to test and evaluate their dogs’ problem-solving skills. How quickly can your dog find a hidden treat? How good is your dog at remembering where you stashed a favorite toy?
Communication skills in dogs
How does your dog let you know when he’s hungry or needs to go out? If you’ve got a dog who slams an empty dish on the ground, congratulations! You’ve got a smart canine.
Dogs use different sounds to communicate, as we explain in one of our best-read blog posts, “7 Reasons Dogs Bark.”
Here’s a great communication story from one of our customers: Ralph, a black Lab, and his buddy Ricky, a mixed small breed, were outside playing in the yard. When Ralph’s owner heard an unusual “woof” from Ralph, he looked outside and saw that Ricky had escaped. Ralph knew he needed to make a different sound to get his owner’s attention in order to rat out his little buddy. Ralph got a reward for his smarts and Ricky got a naughty dog time out (for his smarts).
Smart dogs get themselves into trouble
Smart dogs can put their problem-solving skills to use in ways that get them into a lot of trouble. They figure out when their humans aren’t watching, as Rufus the dog demonstrated. Smart dogs test their owners. Sure, they might respond to training techniques like our train, treat, repeat approach to dog training, but they will push your limits. Smart dogs can actually be harder to train and be more frustrating.
Do you want a smart dog? Maybe not so much!
Ways to Test Your Dog’s IQ
If you’d like to test your dog’s intelligence, you can visit Dognition, a fee-based website that has 20 tests you give your dog. You enter the results from the tests into the assessment, and the site gives you a profile of your dog’s “unique genius.” Furtropolis offers a five-part free version of a dog IQ test.
For the first test, you’ll need three plastic bowls or cups, a treat, and a stopwatch. Place the three containers on the ground, upside down. Show your dog the treat, and tell him to sit and stay. Put the treat under one of the containers. Wait a few seconds before giving the “ok” command to find the treat and start the stopwatch. How long does it take your dog to remember which container has the treat?
Try the test again, putting the treat under a different container while he watches. Do it again, and this time let him watch you move the container.
By the way, these “intelligence” tests aren’t necessarily a sign that your dog is smart or not. It’s more of a signal of your dog’s trainability and ability to solve problems. All dogs are trainable, and while breeds tend to share some traits, there are a lot of factors that affect a dog’s ability to learn stuff. We cover this topic and more in the dog training section of our website, which includes helpful articles to answer questions about tools and techniques for training dogs.