Do the Smartest Dog Breeds Make Better Pets?

October 9, 2013

By Linda Cole

The Border Collie sits at the top of the “smartest dog breeds” list, and the Australian Cattle Dog rounds out the list at number 10. The top ten breeds are quick to pick up things because they are intelligent, but there’s plenty of other breeds farther down the list that can also learn quickly – with the right motivation. The list is compiled by the American Kennel Club by looking at each breed to determine how many repetitions it takes for a member of a specific breed to learn new commands. For those at the top, it was five or less repetitions, and some learned a new command on the first try 95% of the time. But does that mean the smartest dog breeds are better pets?

Canine intelligence for the average dog is equal to that of a 2 year old child, and dogs that take longer to learn new things can master 165 words, signals and gestures. The smartest dogs are capable of learning even more words, which puts them at the learning capability of a 2½ year old child. You might think smarter dogs are easier to train and make better pets, but their IQ can be a double-edged sword when they use their smarts to manipulate us.

Even breeds with average intelligence are smarter than they are given credit for. Canines lower on the list of smartest dogs may take more repetitions to learn, but that doesn’t mean they can’t problem solve to figure how to escape from a fence, or “smooth bark” us into giving them a handful of CANIDAE Pure Heaven dog treats. Hounds, like the Beagle, place at the bottom on intelligence, but these breeds have no problem finding creative ways of escaping their enclosures.

Border Collies can be hard to train because they notice everything you do, and if you change your tone of voice or gesture in a different way when you give a command they already know, they think you’re trying to teach something new. A hound, on the other hand, needs multiple repetitions before he picks up what you want. He’s smart enough to learn, but you have to take that extra step to find out what motivates him, and deal with his more independent nature and stubborn streak. A bored dog looks for something to do, and the smartest dogs have no trouble finding an outlet for their boredom.

Researchers have discovered some interesting things about dogs over the years. Canines have an understanding of our emotions, and can read when we’re upset, happy, sad or angry. They can read our body language and can count to five. If you show your dog three treats and only give him one, he knows you’re holding out on him. Dogs know when they aren’t being treated fairly. All dogs are smart, and can train most humans.

Intelligence isn’t what makes a better pet. I’ve had some of the smartest breeds, and some of the supposed lower IQ breeds. It’s how you treat a dog that creates a better pet. It’s having respect for who he is as an individual, patience when he does something wrong and understanding when you come home to a torn up couch or scattered trash. It’s a commitment to developing a strong bond, and the courage to be a good and fair leader. Most dogs, whether they are purebred or mixed breed, are willing to do what we ask and be as good of a pet as they can be.

Over the years, I’ve had purebreds and mixed breeds: a Redbone Hound who would bay her disgust when she had to give up her chair; Siberian Huskies who kept me on my toes trying to keep them inside their fence; American Eskimo Dogs who never got into trouble; a Labrador Retriever who hates going outside in the rain, and a Border Collie/Lab mix who is intelligent, has a desire to herd, and is always trying to outsmart me.

Most of my dogs were rescued off the street or from a less-than-loving home. Some of them had been abused, and had little incentive to give their trust to another human, but each one did. Dogs don’t live in the past, and can understand when someone treats them with respect. The bond of trust goes both ways, as does unconditional love.

Whether your dog is one of the smartest breeds or lower down the IQ list, as long as you commit to training him with positive reinforcement, and remain patient, consistent,and calm, any dog can learn what you expect from him. When you help a dog discover his full potential, you are changing his life and yours, and learning just how smart your dog is while creating a better pet.

Photos, top to bottom:

Border Collie by Nine LaMaitre

Beagle by Don Burkett

American Eskimo by liday

Read more articles by Linda Cole

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