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How Smart is a Dog


How smart is a dog? This is a question that humans have been asking since dogs were domesticated.  The answer may surprise you, as there is much more to canines that what you see on the surface.  In fact, our pets are clever dogs.  This page will explain dog intelligence and the ways in which pets are actually very smart dogs.

Most pets, when adults, are as intelligent as a 2 to 3 year old human child.  As you will read in a moment, much of this depends on the environment in which they were born…and their daily lives afterward.

Canines are intelligent, relaying on association, scent, instinct and memory.  They also display characteristics of guarding, loyalty and playfulness which are typical of the wolf pack (their descendants) and they have a keen sense of human.

It is known that puppies untouched by human hands for the duration of the first weeks of life never become wholly domesticated….This is a huge element to keep in mind and it is just one of the reasons why Puppy Mills are such horrible places that produce animals that will never be of sound body and mind.

Correspondingly, the dog that is kenneled, fed, groomed and exercised, but otherwise given very little attention by humans is unlikely to reach the same potential as those who are members of the household, loving pets who are spoken to regularly, played with and introduced to any number of outside influences and experiences.

Extensive testing has shown that the average dog can understand the meaning of 165 different words, in addition to signals and gestures.  The top 20% of canines were able to understand 250 words.

Teaching and Learning

clever dogSmart dog training must be interpreted by the dog as an extension of play in order for a dog to be eager to learn and to remember the commands to the best of his or her ability.  Some dogs, just like humans, are more intelligent than others.  With this being said, there are a few that given time and having recognized the keywords, will not react to sentience spoken from human to human such as: “Shall we go for a WALK, Amber?”.  “Oh, my, it is time for BED, Russell” 

The list is endless and this shows that some dogs know when a keyword that they have learned is not being spoken to them…they can understand the context of the sentence and have the intelligence to know that even though a command word is spoken that it is not directed to them and they are not expected to react to it.


It is not just the spoken word that brings about association in the canine mind.  How smart is a dog? Well, actions can speak as loudly as words.  The mere fact of a dog’s owner walking into the hall or kitchen with a coat on may be enough for the dog to jump up from his or her resting place in anticipation of doing for a walk.  Alternatively, the sound of a car engine in the driveway may be sufficient to send a dog running to the door, expecting the arrival of its owner after being home alone all day. 

Undoubtedly, the more time that one spends with a dog, the more it learns…and the more it learns, the more it endears itself to us.


Intelligent Dogs Understand Simple Math!

It is quite amazing when you think about it… scientists have adjusted tests for dogs that were originally developed to measure skills in children.

Here is one that will help you understand just how smart a dog can be:  In a mathematics test, dogs watch as one treat and then another treat are lowered down behind a screen. When the screen gets raised, the dogs, if they understand math (1+1=2), will anticipate seeing 2 treats. (For toddlers, toys would be used.)

But say the scientist swipes one of the treats, or adds another so the end result is one, or three treats, respectively. "Now we're giving him the wrong equation which is 1+1=1, or 1+1=3," one scientist states. Sure enough, studies show the dogs know that the math is wrong. The dog acts stunned and stares at it for a longer period of time, just like a human child would.
These studies suggest dogs have a basic understanding of arithmetic, and they can count to four or five.

Smart Dogs can Solve Problems that Arise

Intricate studies have proved that dogs show three-dimensional problem-solving skills. For example, they can locate valued items, such as treats when they are hidden and the dog has enthusiasm to find them. They can locate better routes to walk as they move about in their environment, such as the fastest way to a favorite chair.  Amazingly, many smart dogs can actually figure out how to operate latches and simple machines.

intelligent dogsThe Intelligence Behind Leader of the Pack Behavior

It has been explained in the History of Dogs how humans became substitute pack leaders, whom our domesticated wolf knows he must respect.  Where, however, there are a number of dogs, the biggest, strongest male will generally emerge as the canine pack leader.  He will marshal his troops, standing aside, for instance, until all have been accounted for when going outside.  He will guard the food bowls, sometimes literally forbidding another dog to eat until he allows him or her to do so - even, on some occasions, giving an un-liked  subordinate what amounts to the evil eye until the unfortunate animal creeps away into a corner.

Much however depends on the breed and on the temperament of a particular dog.

Often, there is a second in command, and even a third in the pecking order, while some dogs do not aspire to leadership at all and are just fine with being follower dogs.  Disagreements are rare except where 3 important factors raise their head: mating, food and jealousy.

The Top Contenders

One must remember that there are over 200 different dog breeds, purebreds and crossbreeds…also each dog’s intelligence will depend on many factors including the environment that he or she was raised in from birth…and the level of attention and the degree that an owner actively teaches a dog.   With this being said, the dogs that are rated on the top of the scale of intelligence, in order of 1 through 60, are:
  1. Border Collie
  2. Poodle
  3. German Shepherd
  4. Golden Retriever
  5. Doberman Pinscher
  6. Shetland Sheepdog
  7. Labrador Retriever
  8. Papillon
  9. Rottweiler
  10. Australian Cattle Dog
  11. Pembroke Welsh Corgi
  12. Miniature Schnauzer
  13. English Springer Spaniel
  14. Belgian Shepherd Tervuren
  15. Schipperke
  16. Belgian Sheepdog
  17. Collie
  18. Keeshond
  19. German Shorthaired Pointer
  20. Flat-Coated Retriever
  21. English Cocker Spaniel
  22. Standard Schnauzer
  23. Brittany
  24. Cocker Spaniel
  25. Weimaraner
  26. Belgian Malinois
  27. Bernese Mountain Dog
  28. Pomeranian
  29. Irish Water Spaniel
  30. Vizsla
  31. Cardigan Welsh Corgi
  32. Chesapeake Bay Retriever
  33. Puli
  34. Yorkshire Terrier
  35. Giant Schnauzer
  36. Airedale Terrier
  37. Bouvier des Flandres
  38. Border Terrier
  39. Briard
  40. Welsh Springer Spaniel
  41. Manchester Terrier
  42. Samoyed
  43. Field Spaniel
  44. Newfoundland
  45. Australian Terrier
  46. American Staffordshire Terrier
  47. Gordon Setter
  48. Bearded Collie
  49. Cairn Terrier
  50. Kerry Blue Terrier
  51. Irish Setter
  52. Norwegian Elkhound
  53. Affenpinscher
  54. Australian Silky Terrier
  55. Miniature Pinscher
  56. English Setter
  57. Pharaoh Hound
  58. Clumber Spaniel
  59. Norwich Terrier
  60. Dalmatian
One must keep in mind that this is general…. A Pomeranian can be smarter than a Retriever….a Chihuahua can be smarter than a Doberman….All dogs have the capacity to be highly clever and we are so very lucky that they also have the ability to love us back as much as we love them!


Facts by Breed:
Akita Facts  |  Alaskan Malamute FactsAustralian Shepherd FactsBasset Hound Facts  |  Beagle  Facts | Bloodhound Facts  |  Boston Terrier Facts  |  Boxer Facts  |  Bull Dog Facts  |  Chihuahua Facts  |  Chow Chow Facts  |  Cocker Spaniel Facts  |  Collie Facts  |  Corgi Facts  |  Dachshund Facts  |  Dalmatian Facts  |  Doberman Pinscher Facts  |  French Bull Dog Facts  |  German Shepherd Facts  |  Golden Retriever Facts  |  Great Dane Facts  |  Greyhound Facts  |  Havanese Facts   |  Labrador Retriever Facts  |  Maltese Facts  |  Mastiffs Facts  |  Miniature Schnauzer Facts  |  Pitbull Facts  |  Pomeranian Facts  |  Poodle Facts  |  Pug Facts  |  Rottweiler Facts  |  Shetland Sheepdog Facts  |  Shih Tzu Facts  |  Siberian Husky Facts  |  St. Bernard Facts Yorkshire Terrier Facts  |

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