Dogs are well known for their intelligence and that’s why they’ve been so successful as a species. Humans have used dogs to perform useful roles such as herding, guarding and retrieving for hundreds of years. That said, some breeds have proven that they’re smarter than others when it comes to some measures of intelligence.
Just as intelligence varies in people it also varies amongst dogs, even dogs of the same breed.
How is intelligence measured in dogs?
According to Professor Stanley Coren PhD, a neuropsychologist and canine researcher, dog intelligence should be evaluated in terms of three different aspects. These include:
- Instinctive intelligence – the purpose for which a dog was bred
- Adaptive intelligence – what a dog can learn by itself
- Working and obedience intelligence - what people can teach a dog to do
Professor Coren wrote a book called The Intelligence of Dogs, which ranks over 100 different dog breeds according to their working and obedience intelligence. His research, described in the book, found that the working and obedience intelligence in dogs – their ability to be trained – can vary quite considerably.
It's important to remember that when measuring intelligence in dogs, just like all children, every dog is unique, and intelligence will vary from dog to dog.
Indeed, Professor Coren believes that about half a dog’s intelligence is determined by genes and the remaining half by environmental circumstances, such as how the dog was raised, trained and socialised.
Which dogs are considered the smartest?
As discussed, intelligence can be measured in different ways. But when it comes to a dog’s ability to be trained (obedience intelligence), some breeds are more intelligent than others.
According to Professor Coren, the top 5 smartest dog breeds are:
- Border Collie – Prized for their ability to work all day, herd and problem solve. Border Collies are very loyal and develop a strong bond with their owner.
- Poodle – Originally bred as water retrievers, poodles are known to be clever.
- German Shepherd – Valued as working dogs for police and military, German Shepherds are smart and fiercely loyal companions.
- Golden Retriever – One of the most popular pet dogs in the world, Golden Retrievers are smart, affectionate, goofy and have wonderful temperaments, making them ideal pets for families with children.
- Doberman Pinscher – Originally bred to guard, Dobermans are known for their assertive, brave and loyal temperaments.
You can read more about the top scoring dog breeds for intelligence and the lowest scoring breeds here.
How to identify how smart your dog or puppy is
Besides seeing where your dog’s breed sits on the dog intelligence ranking, there are a couple of ways that you can test your pup’s intelligence.
The Towel Test
For this test you’ll need a towel that’s large enough to cover your dog. Allow your pup to smell the towel and gently throw it over them. Now, time how long it takes your dog to get out from under the towel.
The quicker your dog frees themselves from the towel the more intelligent they are said to be.
If your pup escapes the towel easily in less than 10 seconds they’re likely very clever!
If it takes them over a minute or they give up and stop trying, this may suggest your pup is not at the top of the intelligence scale – which of course is absolutely fine!
The Treat Test
For this assessment of intelligence, you’ll need three opaque glasses and a yummy treat. Let you pup see you place the treat under one of the cups which should be spaced apart. Next, take your dog away for a few seconds. Bring your dog back to the cups and see if they remember which cup is hiding the treat.
If you dog quickly guesses the correct cup the first time, pawing or nuzzling or knocking it, praise your dog and let them eat the treat.
This means they remembered where it was – clever! If they guess incorrectly, that is ok too, but it’s likely your pup isn't at the top of the intelligence scale.
All dogs are smart in their own unique ways and whether or not your pup scores highly on intelligence tests has no effect on their ability to make a wonderful companion.