Black and white Border Collie
© Pixabay

What is a smart dog?

By Nick Whittle Author

Updated on the

What determines the smartest dog from the less than smart? And how does a smart dog’s intelligence manifest itself?

Despite what we have been led to believe by some of our ‘slower’ canine companions, dogs are quite intelligent creatures. The question though of what ‘intelligence’ really means when applied to a dog is still unanswered, in much the same way as is the meaning of human intelligence.

Some scholars define intelligence as the ability to acquire information, remember, compare and apply learning to different situations. This construct can just as easily apply to the way to a dog’s learning and problem solving.

However, an ability to carry out various tasks and to learn to obey commands does not in itself warrant the gift of the smartest dog award. Some scientists speculate that the particular 'smartness' of some dogs is merely a human title of the animal’s ability to work well and efficiently within her ‘pack’.

If you have observed very young puppies you might have noticed their being berated by the mother; her instinctive correctional behaviour brings her pups back in line with the rest of the litter.

How to check whether your dog is smart

Dog IQ tests do exist.

An interesting study, published by the London School of Economics and the University of Edinburgh used a series of intelligence markers to judge a dog’s ability to perform certain work.

Dr Mark Adams, Research Fellow at the University of Edinburgh said of the trials: ‘Dogs are excellent for this kind of work because they are willing to participate and seem to enjoy taking part.’

Poodles are a smart breed of dog. As such they like lots of training©Pixabay

The Telegraph in 2016 offered readers a chance to actually gauge their dogs’ smartness with a short test. The grading system the journalist came up with is slightly complicated but the gist of the test is as follows:

Observational learning

In this test you (the owner) must get ready to go outside, supposedly to take your dog for a walk. This must not be done at the time of day your dog is used to and before you open the door you come to a halt. If your dog reacts to the prospect of a walk she scores highly.

Problem solving

Hide a piece of food beneath a container placed on the floor. The dog that finds the food the fastest is the one that scores the most.

Short-term memory

Holding your dog’s attention, walk into the corner of a room and place some food on the floor. Take your dog out of the room and wait for a few seconds before letting her back in. The dog that finds the food the fastest will score top points.

Long-term memory

Repeat the test for short-term memory but place the food in a different corner, and instead of removing her for a few seconds take your dog out of the room for five minutes before letting her back in.

Language comprehension

Stand about two metres from your dog and call her in the tone she would normally associate with her name. But instead of using her name you must choose one random word. If she comes first time she scores a low point. After another selection of random words, use her name. If she only comes to a call of her name she will score the highest number of points.

Smartest breed of dog

In vernacular discussions about the smartest dogs it is often said that some breeds don’t ‘look’ as smart as others. In fact, studies have uncovered breed differences when it comes to spatial learning and memory abilities.

Here is a list of the top 10 dog breeds generally considered to be the ‘smartest’.


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Problems associated with smart dogs

Smart dogs (and even the less smart) require a great deal of mental stimulation and physical exercise. Many breeders warn of the dangers of our looking on some of the smartest breeds as lap dogs or couch dogs. And for good reason: limiting a smart dog’s opportunities of adventure and discovery can have a serious debilitating effect on her mental state.

General speaking, the dogs listed above should be exercised in excess of two hours a day, and be kept in a home with plenty of space. Interaction with people and other animals is also a requisite of the smart dog.

A home with a large garden, other dogs and accessible fields would be ideal. The smartest dogs will also feel more comfortable with plenty of training.

Feed your dog's brain or suffer the consequences

If smart breeds of dog do not have their physical and mental needs met they develop serious behavioural disorders, which include anxiety and aggression. You will also find their energies channelled in unsociable and destructive ways. It is important to bear in mind your own living arrangements when choosing a breed.

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