How Smart is Your Dog?

In the last few years, we have seen several dog intelligence tests introduced as a fun way to measure how smart your dog is. Most of these tests employ simple games designed to measure your dog’s intelligence, and some even claim to assess their personalities!

Dog intelligence can be thought of as the ability of your dog to think, understand, learn, and remember. According to the experts, those that study dog cognition, dog’s intelligence varies greatly from breed to breed and even within a breed.

It is commonly accepted that the Border Collie is the most intelligent breed, and indeed some of them are very smart, developing a vocabulary of 800 words (measured by their ability to identify toys with a specific name). One theory is that breeds like the Border Collie and other “intelligent” breeds like the Poodle, Retrievers, German Shepherd, are perceived to be more intelligent because their interaction with humans is driven by their ability to expertly read human cues and signals.


Dogs on the other end of the intelligence scale, such as the Boxer, Chow or Afghan Hound are much older breeds who have interacted with humans for centuries more and have developed more independence from humans and do not rely on reading their signals to do their work. Interesting hypothesis, and since dogs can’t really tell us whether it’s true or not, we don’t know if it is fact.

Stanley Coren, a well-known professor of psychology, has studied dog intelligence for years and published a book entitled The Intelligence of Dogs. Within the book, Coren claims that 51% of a dog’s intelligence comes from their genes and the remaining, from their environment. He also published a list ranking dog breeds by their intelligence.

Researchers like Coren, who study this aspect of dog behavior, typically utilize simple tests that are designed to:

  • Measure the ability of the dog to figure things out, to solve problems. This may involve finding hidden treats or figuring out treat-dispensing toys.
  • Assess the ability to observe humans and communicate with them. Can your dog interpret your gestures, do they follow where you are pointing or where your eyes travel?
  • Judge the ability to learn new behaviors. How many repetitions of a behavior does it take before your dog has mastered the sit or down commands? This is a key indicator according to Coren with the most intelligent breeds learning new behaviors with just 5 repetitions!

Interested in testing your dog? Here’s a few simple examples you can try at home:

Problem solving: In full view of your pup, place three paper cups spaced about 12” apart in front of them. Hide a treat under one of the cups, walk away and release your pet to find the treat. If they go right for the cup with the treat than they are pretty good problem solvers. If they sit and stare at you, well, they may need some extra homework.

Communication skills: Similar to the above test, place two paper cups about 18” apart. Without allowing your pet to see, place some treats under one of the cups, step back and then point to the cup with the treat. Does he go directly to the cup you point to or does he sniff around trying to smell the treats first?

Learning new behaviors: If you’ve already taught your dog sit, or stay, then you probably have an idea of the effort that went into that exercise. Try a new behavior like high-five or roll-over and see how long it takes them to master the behavior.

As mentioned above, there are lots of dog intelligence test kits on the market. In addition to being a really fun bonding activity with your pet, it can also help you understand them and their behavior a little better. Try one and let us know how it goes!



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