Different breeds, as we know, were created with different skill sets. You wouldn’t want a Dachshund to pull a sled, and you might not count on a Siberian Husky to burrow underground and catch a badger. And though we all want to think of our pup as the prized honor student, doesn’t it seem that some breeds are, dare I say, more intelligent than others?
Stanley Coren, PhD, a psychologist and the leading canine researcher at the University of British Columbia sought to answer this question. Throughout his career, Coren has led breakthrough studies about canine research and behavior. One of Coren’s most popular books,The Intelligence of Dogs, details three distinct areas in which a dog learns: instinctive intelligence, adaptive intelligence, and obedience intelligence.
Instinctive intelligence refers to a dog’s ability to perform a task it has been bred to do, like herding, hunting, or protection work.
Adaptive intelligence refers to a dog’s ability to learn from it’s environment, as well as it’s ability to solve problems on it’s own. Coren examined adaptative intelligence in four different studies and found that dogs are capable of learning through observation, i.e. remembering where the treats are kept, or learning how to operate basic mechanics (like latches.)
Obedience intelligence refers to a dog’s ability to learn from humans. For example, Coren found that dogs are capable of understanding basic language, with the average dog having the capability of learning around 165 words. Some “super dogs” have even been documented learning 250 words or more. One of these “super dogs,” a Border Collie named Rico, knows 200 words and has demonstrated ’fast-track learning,’ a learning method scientists believed only to be found in humans and apes.
Overall, Coren says a dog’s mental abilities are comparable to a 2-2.5 year old toddler. He also found that breed does, in fact, play an important role in a dog’s intelligence.
To prove the important role breed plays in canine intelligence, Coren had 208 dog obedience judges from the United States and Canada assess 131 different breeds on obedience intelligence.
The study resulted in 80 ranks with 52 ties among different breeds. Ranks 1-10 were reserved for the smartest dog breeds, i.e. breeds that could learn a new command in 5 repetitions or less, and obey on the first command 95% of the time or more.
The top 10 Obedience Intelligence breeds, according to Coren’s research:
1. Border Collie
3. German Shepherd
4. Golden Retriever
5. Doberman Pinscher
6. Shetland Sheepdog
7. Labrador Retriever
10. Australian Cattle Dog
Ranks 70-80 were reserved for breeds that displayed the lowest degree of obedience intelligence, i.e. breeds that needed 80-100 repetitions or more to learn a new command, while only obeying on the first command 25% of the time or less.
The bottom 10 Obedience Intelligence breeds, according to Coren’s research:
70. Shih Tzu
71. Basset Hound
77. Chow Chow
80. Afghan Hound
While the list has helped many people understand and predict a breed’s overall, general trainability, it’s important to remember that his test doesn’t take into account a breeds instinctual or adaptive intelligence. Take the Beagle, for example, who is #73 on Coren’s list.
The Beagle’s fantastic nose makes it one of the most popular detection dogs for illegal agricultural imports and exports around the world. So don’t despair if you find that your dog falls low on Coren’s list, take it as an opportunity to train and play towards your dog’s strengths. After all, there’s more than one way to be brilliant.