13 February 2023
Dogs are perhaps the most inherently intelligent domesticated animals in human history. Their high intelligence has allowed them to perform a range of tasks including providing simple companionship to herding livestock, guarding, and supporting the disabled with everyday life tasks. Intelligence is subjective and can be hard to define, but there are a number of ways that dogs’ cognitive abilities have been quantified or demonstrated.
In 1994, Stanley Coren published his landmark book, “The Intelligence of Dogs”. Using surveys conducted with obedience competition judges, Coren examines what he refers to as “working and obedience intelligence”, namely a dog’s ability to learn and retain new commands. Coren’s metric for identifying the most intelligent breeds was whether or not they could learn a command after fewer than five repetitions. The Border Collie, Poodle, and German Shepherd were the highest three ranking breeds with the Afghan Hound ranking worst at taking over 80 repetitions to learn a command.
While an impressive starting point, Coren’s ranking fails to account for just how diverse dogs can be, even within an individual breed. A working or show line German Shepherd will drastically vary in how intelligent they are, and it is unlikely that a lower ranked working Irish Terrier will be less intelligent than a show line German Shepherd, for example. Broadly speaking, we believe the most intelligent dogs are those who have been developed to work in intellectually demanding roles such as herding, hunting, and protection.
It is also important to note that canine intelligence is more complex than just the ability to learn commands with fewer repetitions. Although Coren recognises intelligence as being instinctive and adaptive too (the ability to perform tasks a dog was bred for as well as solve problems), his ranking was strictly based on ability to learn from humans. In our view, the greatest measure of intelligence will be balanced between these elements, making a holistic assessment of a dog’s capability as well as it what it has achieved.