up arrow Doggy Intelligence


When it comes to finding creative ways to extract treats from us, Pom is probably the smartest animal on earth. He’ll go outside to fake a pee because we’ll probably reward him. He’ll use an arsenal of cute faces in order to get a empathy treat. And he’ll do unprovoked training tricks because we gave him treats in class. His creativity knows no bounds yet, according to the Internets, Bulldogs are the 8th dumbest dog on earth.

If you google smartest dogs and dumbest dogs, you’ll find a variety of sites that reproduce a similar list. These lists are widely reproduced but rarely attributed. I traced the source to Professor Stanley Coren from this article in the Telegraph. While Coren was widely featured in the article it wasn’t clear if the smartest and dumbest lists were produced by him.  I was able to track him down through his university page and he directed me to this article in Psychology Today.

In the article, Coren distinguishes different types of intelligence. There is instinctive intelligence, which refers to the execution of tasks for which a dog was bred, i.e., herding, hunting, etc. There is adaptive intelligence which describes a dog’s ability to solve problems and adapt to his environment. Finally, we have working and obedience intelligence which Coren describes as the closest thing we have to school learning. It was from this measure that Coren constructed his lists. The rankings were based on results from judged obedience tests. You can find them after the jump.

Dr. Coren’s “most intelligent”:

  1. Border Collie
  2. Poodle
  3. German Shepherd Dog
  4. Golden Retriever
  5. Doberman Pinscher
  6. Shetland Sheepdog
  7. Labrador Retriever
  8. Papillon
  9. Rottweiler
  10. Australian Cattle Dog

Dr. Coren’s “least intelligent”:

  1. Shih Tzu
  2. Basset Hound
  3. Mastiff
  4. Beagle (tied)
  5. Pekingese
  6. Bloodhound
  7. Borzoi
  8. Chow Chow
  9. Bulldog
  10. Basenji
  11. Afghan Hound

Personally, I don’t agree with Coren’s definition of intelligence, especially when it’s the sole criteria for intelligence rankings. The smart dogs are mostly herders and retrievers while the dumb ones are fighters and hunters. The former are more attuned to their human handlers so naturally they excel at applied obedience.

Coren’s least intelligent dog is the Afghan Hound. Genetic testing shows the breed among those with the least divergence from the wolf. No wonder it takes more effort to get one to learn parlor tricks but which breed would you bet on in an episode of Doggy Survivor, an Afghan Hound or a Border Collie? Personally, my money’s on the Afghan.

We’ve only conducted this experiment in canine selection for about 15,000 years. I suspect differences between the breeds are mostly superficial and there really isn’t much difference in overall intelligence. In order to properly measure comprehensive intelligence we need to develop tests that can be applied without bias across all breeds. If we can do that, I suspect we’ll find as much divergence inside breeds as we do among all dogs.