You might think your beagle is the smartest canine on the block, but he’s got the dubious honor of being among the least trainable of dog breeds. The snarling Doberman next door? He’s a quick study.
Dog intelligence, like human intelligence, comes in various forms. And although the best in any breed can be nurtured by owners willing to put in the time and effort, there are fixed realities when it comes to your animal’s inherent qualities.
If it’s bred to hunt, herd, or retrieve, the dog is more likely to be quick on its feet, eager to work, to move, and to please you. It will learn faster. If it’s bred to be a livestock guard dog or a scent hound, it may seem distracted and just a bit dense.
Yet, even if some breeds are more nimble, trainers say any dog can learn the basics like sitting and staying. It just might take them longer to catch on.
The key is knowing what your pooch is built for and how to motivate him.
But keep in mind that the smartest dogs often don’t make the best pets. Your job is to find a breed that suits your lifestyle and to focus on bringing out the best in your dog.\
In his bestselling book, The Intelligence of Dogs, neuropsychologist Stanley Coren, PhD, focuses on trainability as a marker of intelligence.
The University of British Columbia psychology professor relied on the assessments of 110 breeds by more than 200 professional dog obedience judges who scored breeds based on working/obedience tests.
The top dogs absorbed commands in less than five repetitions and obeyed them 95% of the time or better. Here’s the list along with a breed description by the American Kennel Club:
1. Border Collie: A workaholic, this breed is the world’s premier sheep herder, prized for its intelligence, extraordinary instinct, and working ability.
2. Poodle: Exceptionally smart and active. Bred to retrieve things from the water. The miniature variety may have been used for truffle hunting.
3. German Shepherd: The world’s leading police, guard, and military dog — and a loving family companion and herder.
4. Golden Retriever: Intelligent and eager to please. Bred as a hunting companion; ideal as a guide and as assistance with search-and-rescue operations.
5. Doberman Pinscher: Known for its stamina and speed. Bred to be a guardian and in demand as a police and war dog.
6. Shetland Sheepdog: The “Sheltie” is essentially a miniature working Collie. A rough-coated, longhaired working breed that is keenly intelligent. Excels in herding.
7. Labrador Retriever: An ideal sporting and family dog. Gentle and intelligent.
8. Papillon: A happy, alert breed that isn’t shy or aggressive. Known as Dwarf Spaniels in the 16th and 17th centuries, they reach 8-11 inches high.
9. Rottweiler: Robust and powerful, the breed is happiest with a job. Suitable as a police dog, herder, service dog, therapy dog, obedience competitor, and devoted companion.
10. Australian Cattle Dog: Happiest doing a job like herding, obedience, or agility. Energetic and intelligent.