There is no question that man’s best friend is a highly intelligent being. However, when it comes to acquiring and practicing new skills, some dog breeds seem better equipped to learn. Some dog breeds are well renowned for their high I.Q., readily displaying evidence of their cleverness at every opportunity. Other breeds seem to be a little slower on the uptake. What makes one breed “smarter” than another?
How Do We Measure Canine Intelligence?
When it comes to learning new skills, intelligence is often measured not in the dog’s ability to learn but by its willingness. Most terrier breeds measure high on the intelligence spectrum but lack the desire to comply with the requests of their owners. This is often because most terriers were bred to be independent thinkers, a skill for which they were highly prized. So, while the terrier that intuitively knows what to do in a field is considered incredibly savvy, it may score low marks in the obedience ring. However, this has nothing to do with the dog’s level of intelligence. It is a reflection of the dog’s nature and its natural propensity towards working as a solo operator.
By comparison, dog breeds that are well known for their desire to please and obedience skills would be considered highly intelligent. In truth, these dog breeds possess greater biddability, an innate need to participate in team events and bond with their owners. Breeds such as Australian Shepherds, Border Collies, Golden Retrievers, and Labrador Retrievers would all rank quite highly on an I.Q. test. But are they actually any more intelligent than the terrier who has the smarts but a different attitude towards teamwork?
It is very difficult to measure intelligence in humans and in animals. There are many different components to intellect. Some of the most innovative thinkers in our world today might not be considered very smart if a checklist were to be compiled of necessary qualities to be quantified as a person of great intelligence.
For human beings, a number of variables come into play to determine where a person might rest on the intelligence quotient spectrum. These include such things as:
- Verbal communication skills
- Common season
- Logical reasoning
- Memory strength
- Numerical capability
Though the scale for measuring intelligence in dogs is equally diverse when it comes to requisite skill sets, the characteristics are vastly different and can be far more difficult to identify since dogs are non-verbal.
When measuring canine intelligence, there are three different categories that can be assessed. These are what are known as:
- Instinctive intelligence
- Adaptive intelligence
- Working and obedience intelligence
Instinctive intelligence measures the dog’s ability to fulfill the role that it was intended to do. For a go to ground terrier, this would be measured in the dog’s desire and natural affinity for driving quarry from the earth to above the ground. In a herding dog, it would be evidenced through the herding of livestock or sheep. What is required for a dog to be considered instinctively intelligent is not specific to a breed, but rather to each individual dog within that breed and its willingness and ability to do the job for which it was bred. In this sense, every dog possesses instinctive intelligence to some degree. But some dogs within each breed will display a greater propensity for it than others. This has more to do with in-bred drive than actual smarts.
Adaptive intelligence is a means by which to measure a dog’s ability and willingness to learn new skills. This too is largely shaped by genetics. Some dogs are hardwired to eschew teamwork, instead relying on years of in-bred instinct. These breeds were valued for their ability to work independently, and as a result, may score poorly on a test which assesses adaptive intelligence. However, this is not indicative of a dog’s ability to learn; it is often a measure of the dog’s disinterest in applying itself within that particular context.
Even within breeds known for a naturally high adaptive intelligence, there will be varying degrees of this skill. Golden Retrievers are natural born people pleasers that love to learn. Yet some Golden Retrievers will show a stronger level of adaptive intelligence than others. Though the differences are more dramatic when measured between different breeds, this can also be seen within two dogs of the same type.
Working and obedience intelligence is measured entirely differently. Though most people assume dog intelligence is measured in how quickly a dog learns a new skill and his compliance when asked to offer it, this is not entirely true. The ability to understand what is being asked of the dog is one element that displays the innate intellect of the canine in question. After all, dogs don’t speak our language. It takes great skill to be able to interpret the desires of a verbal species since dogs do not communicate or receive information through words.
It is primarily through recorded statistics from events measuring working and obedience intelligence that we are able to determine which breeds rate the highest on this particular scale. This does not mean that the breeds that do not rank high on the list are not intelligent. It is important to note that in any kennel club event; participation is voluntary. Therefore, many breeds who simply are not as interested in learning, may not be entered, skewing the statistics in favor of breeds whose nature is to happily comply with any command that is issued to them.
However, an assessment of scores from breed to breed can reveal a pattern from dog to dog, and at times, from breed to breed. Many judges conferred to compile a list of the breeds they felt possessed the most intelligence based on working and obedience intelligence alone. They then were able to combine their years of performance sports evaluations to determine a list of the top ten breeds with the least intelligence when measured by their ability to learn new skills and to apply them when asked to do so.That list is as follows:
- Basset Hound
- Chow Chow
- Afghan Hound
Does this mean that if you happen to own a dog in the top 10 “dumbest” breeds that you should invest in a dunce cap and teach your dog to sit in the corner? Not at all. It is important to bear in mind that these dogs are not actually “dumb” at all. Their instinctive intelligence and their adaptive intelligence may be far higher than many dog breeds that made the top ten in working and obedience intelligence. There are no “dumb” dogs. The scales just measure intelligence in different ways.
The Top Ten List of “Dumb” Dog Breeds
Here is a closer look at the top ten breeds considered to be the “dumbest” according to the measurement of working and obedience intelligence:
Though the Basset Hound found his way onto the list of the top 10 dumbest dog breeds, he isn’t dumb. He’s just misunderstood.
His lazy lumber may lead people to think this dog doesn’t have much on the ball, but nothing could be further from the truth. The Basset Hound is a scent hound that is highly prized for its ability to track even the faintest of scents on a hunt. This incredible sensory awareness makes the Basset Hound singular of focus, driven only by his nose to the exclusion of all else going on around him. Far from lacking in intelligence, the Basset Hound is merely one dog that is very focused on the task at hand, and nothing else.
An impressively sized dog best known for his brawn, many mistake the Mastiff as a breed with little going on in the intelligence department. This gentle giant is a working breed that has long been employed protecting the estates and farmland of his master from harm.
What makes the Mastiff measure so low on the working and obedience intelligence scale is the breed’s natural propensity towards refusing to submit to what they deem weak leadership. This is not a measure of the dog’s ability to fulfill a role but rather its stubborn refusal to submit to authority the dog considers unworthy.
If trained by an authoritative leader and backed by positive reinforcement, this breed can be motivated to learn.
The cute, happy go lucky Beagle finds himself in good company on this list. A breed known for their adorable appearance and sweet nature, many consider the Beagle to be a bit of a doggy airhead. However, the Beagle, much like the Basset Hound, is a scent hound who is driven by his nose.
Unfortunately, the Beagle’s total reliance on his nose can land him in some precarious situations; many of which would appear to be rather dumb. It is for this reason that the Beagle makes this list though he actually is a rather intelligent fellow when it comes to true working ability.
The Pekingese, a dog highly prized by Chinese royalty, is a bit of a pampered pooch. The Pekingese, or Peke as its owners often refer to the breed, is one dog with a mind of its own. This breed can be prone to stubbornness and rather full of themselves, making them far less likely to indulge the whims of mere mortals asking for a “sit” or a “down.”
The Pekingese also tends to view himself as the leader of its home, attempting usurp authority over its master. Though the Peke can learn, he is often unwilling to, a characteristic that lands him squarely on this list.
The Bloodhound, another scent hound like the Beagle and the Basset, is also a pooch that is driven by his sense of smell. However, to call the Bloodhound “dumb” is to do the breed a great disservice. The Bloodhound possesses the greatest sense of smell of any of the scent hounds, with the capability to track virtually any scent, no matter how faint, and over very long distances.
However, the Bloodhound is not a fan of learning new skills and can be very challenging to train. This unwillingness is the characteristic that left him classified as one of the top ten “dumbest’ breeds.
The Borzoi is often compared to a cat for its clean, elegant ways. Borzoi do not readily accept leadership, expecting their owners to earn their respect. The Borzoi is loyal to himself alone and carries himself with a stately air.
The breed is intelligent; however, his independent spirit makes him prone to resist any attempt to teach him new skills. The Borzoi is exceptionally difficult to train; not because of lack of ability, but because of total lack of cooperation.
The Chow Chow’s distinctive lion-like appearance is only one way this breed resembles the jungle cat. The Chow Chow has an attitude to match his immense mane.
Chows take themselves very seriously and are not interested in learning anything that wasn’t their idea in the first place. The breed can be prone to strong-willed behavior and will not respect a weak leader.
If given the opportunity to rule its home, the Chow will take it.
The Bulldog is one of the world’s most beloved breeds. Known for their comical ways, the Bulldog is an absolute delight to be around.
However, the Bulldog is truly a dog breed that is lacking in the brains department. He is willing to learn; he just doesn’t pick up new skills as quickly as other dog breeds. But that’s okay. What he lacks in brains, he makes up for in sweetness, affection, loyalty, and love.
The Basenji is a hunting breed which originated in Africa. This dog makes the list of “dumbest” dogs for two reasons. The first reason is that the Basenji is one of the only dog breeds in the world which does not bark, making him quite literally dumb as in mute. However, the Basenji is not entirely silent. He possesses a unique sound that is distinctive to the breed. Some say it closely resembles a yodel.
The other reason the Basenji finds himself on this list is his natural tendency towards independence and stubbornness. They are very, very difficult to train to do anything that wasn’t their idea in the first place.
The Afghan Hound is an ancient breed that is best recognized for its immensely beautiful, flowing coat. The Afghan Hound is a sighthound with an independent nature. The Afghan is a very soft breed, making them difficult to successfully train.
Many consider the Afghan to be very low on the intelligence scale, but in reality, the dog is simply designed for a different purpose.
Is there such a thing as a dumb dog? With so many ways to measure intelligence, the truth is that no dog can truly be called dumb. After all, there are no dumb students, only dumb teachers. If you own one of these breeds, you are blessed to have the opportunity to learn to become a better trainer to help your dog be his very best self…whether he wants to or not!