“My dog is smarter than your honor student,” according to a popular bumper sticker. While that's not likely, some dogs are smarter than other dogs. In particular, some breeds are known to have higher intelligence based on their abilities in certain areas.
Types of Canine Smarts
Neuropsychologist Stanley Coren, well-known for his research on dog behavior, divides canine smarts into three distinct areas: instinctive intelligence, adaptive intelligence, and working and obedience intelligence. Instinctive intelligence refers to a dog’s innate abilities based on being bred for certain jobs, such as herding or hunting. Adaptive intelligence is about a dog’s ability to learn to do things on his own to solve problems he may encounter in his environment; this area of intelligence can vary among dogs of the same breed. According to Coren, ranking the intelligence of dog breeds is best based on working and obedience intelligence.
Working and Obedience Intelligence
Working and obedience intelligence are tied specifically to the ability to learn commands in a timely fashion. Coren's intelligence rankings comprise the average number of exposures it takes for a breed to gain understanding of a command, the average number of repetitions during practice it takes a breed to respond reliably to the command, how long after giving the command it takes a dog to respond, and how far away the master can be from the dog while getting a reliable response to the command.
The most intelligent dogs are able to understand and execute new routines with five exposures or less and no practice. They respond immediately to commands and will obey commands when their owners are quite far away. Coren asserts the 10 most intelligent breeds are, in this order, the border collie, the poodle, the German shepherd, the golden retriever, the Doberman pinscher, the Shetland sheepdog, the Labrador retriever, the papillon, the Rottweiler and the Australian cattle dog
The least intelligent dogs need 40 or more exposures just to understand what is being asked of them. It can also take more than 100 practice repetitions to get reliable responses from these dogs. They are slow to respond to commands even when they have learned them, and they only respond when their owners are close by. The breeds Coren considers the least intelligent are the Afghan hound, the Basenji, the bulldog, the chow chow, the borzoi, the bloodhound, the Pekingese, the beagle, the mastiff and the basset hound. :
Intelligence Isn't Everything
While the idea of having an intelligent dog sounds cool, drawbacks exist. Smart dogs learn things you don’t want them to learn. They may view your reactions to bad behavior as positive reinforcement and use this knowledge to manipulate you when you don’t want them to, say, during a dinner party. Smart dogs are quick to make associations. For example, if you chuckle at a random behavior that you think is cute one time but don’t necessarily want to see repeated, they may have already made the association and will repeat the behavior in the future attempting to please you. In the end, it is important to consider what you want from a dog. According to Coren, most people in today’s society want dogs as companions. Consider the beagle: He's one of the most loving and sociable dog breeds. He's also among the least intelligent dogs.
Laura Payne has been freelance writing for several online publications in her free time since 2006. She holds a Master of Arts in linguistics from Wayne State University and a Bachelor of Arts in journalism from Oakland University. Payne teaches linguistics classes at both universities on an adjunct basis.