There is always tremendous controversy whenever anyone brings up the subject of the intelligence of dogs. With over 160 breeds and varieties recognized by the American Kennel Club, someone will always be at the bottom of the list.
In a book called The Intelligence of Dogs, author Dr. Stanley Coren asked over 200 professional dog obedience judges to rank 110 breeds based on their “intelligence.”
The first 12 breeds ranked as follows:
- Border Collies
- German Shepherd
- Golden Retriever
- Doberman Pincher
- Shetland Sheepdog
- Labrador Retriever
- Australian Cattle Dog
- Pembroke Welsh Corgi
- Miniature Schnauzer
At the bottom end of the scale, the judges ranked the following breeds:
- Chow Chow
- Bull dog
- Afghan Hound
Predictably, Border Collie people said that they knew it all along…and sighthound people were outraged.
In the years since the book was published the results have been exhaustively debated. A consensus has emerged that the “intelligence” measured in these results most likely consists of how easily and quickly a breed is to train. Dr. Coren concedes that there are different types of dog intelligence and that not all dogs are eager to please. Some dogs may be quite intelligent but they may be more independent. Sighthound owners maintain that their dogs must do more independent thinking when they hunt so they are less likely to look to humans to find instruction. (Or course, one problem with that theory is that Border Collies must also work independently a great deal of the time and they rate at the top of the list.)
Other research has also shown that the Border Collie is exceptionally smart. One Border Collie in Germany, Rico, was shown to know over 200 words. Most of the words he knows are the names of his toys, but the words are less important than the way he learns.
Rico came to public attention when he appeared on a game show on television in Germany. He caught the eye of researchers at the Max Planck Institute who were curious about the way that Rico managed to learn so many different words. In a series of tests designed for the dog, Rico showed that he had learning capabilities similar to a 2-3 year-old toddler. Not only was his comprehension about the same, but he learned in a similar way.
If Rico was asked to get a toy that he didn’t know by a word that he didn’t know, he could look at all of his toys and pick out the unknown toy. He was able to show a degree of reasoning that scientists had never imagined that dogs were capable of before. And, if he was asked to get the same toy a month later, Rico remembered the name of the new toy.
Scientists say that they had believed these were learning skills that only primates had. Yet, here was a dog, a Border Collie, making it look easy.
Rico’s abilities raised the question of whether or not he was the Einstein of dogs or whether these were abilities that all dogs had. Since the tests with Rico scientists have concluded that dogs, in general, are able to do similar reasoning.
Recently scientists have been using tests designed for toddlers to measure dog intelligence. Dr. Coren recently made a presentation that showed the results of numerous studies. In his presentation he said that dogs think more like humans than previously thought. They have the mental abilities of a human child between 2 and 2 1/2 years old. They can learn about 165 words, including signals. He said that they can count up to four or five and have a basic understanding of math. And, he said that dogs can intentionally deceive other dogs — and people — in order to get treats and other things they want.
All of these findings suggest that dogs are probably smarter than we ever realized.
Much of what we call “intelligence” in dogs probably still depends on how motivated a dog is to please us. A dog may be very intelligent but if he has no desire to do what we want him to do, then we can’t tell that he’s intelligent.
Perhaps it’s more important to find a breed that’s very compatible with you instead of finding the most intelligent breed. Afterall, if a dog is smarter than you are, you may find yourself in trouble. Very smart dogs can also get bored if they don’t have enough to occupy them. Very smart dogs usually demand some training so they can have a job, or at least be involved in activities that give them an outlet.
If you have a very intelligent dog you should try to find things that you can do together. Don’t let your dog’s intelligence go to waste.