- Dan Kitwood / Getty
There’s no easy way to rate dog intelligence.
As the psychologist Stanley Coren wrote in the ’90s, there’s adaptive intelligence (i.e., figuring stuff out), working intelligence (i.e., following orders), and instinctive intelligence (i.e., innate talent) – not to mention spatial intelligence, kinesthetic intelligence, interpersonal intelligence, and more.
As the animal behaviorist Frans de Waal has argued, humans tend to judge animal intelligence in limited and unfair terms and often bungle the experiment.
While labs at Yale and Duke, and around the world, are studying this question, for now we have data on at least one metric: working intelligence.
In his book “The Intelligence of Dogs,” Coren featured the results of a lengthy survey of 199 dog-obedience judges. The responses, he said, were remarkably consistent. However, he noted that many judges said that there are exceptions in every breed and that a lot comes down to training.
Here’s what he found:
TOP TIER – the brightest working dogs, who tend to learn a new command in less than five seconds and obey at least 95% of the time.
- Dan Kitwood
1. Border collie 2. Poodle 3. German shepherd 4. Golden retriever 5. Doberman pinscher 6. Shetland sheepdog 7. Labrador retriever 8. Papillon 9. Rottweiler 10. Australian cattle dog
SECOND TIER – excellent working dogs, who tend to learn a new command in five to 15 exposures and obey at least 85% of the time.
11. Pembroke Welsh corgi 12. Miniature schnauzer 13. English springer spaniel 14. Belgian Tervuren T15. Schipperke T15. Belgian sheepdog T17. Collie T17. Keeshond 19. German short-haired pointer T20. Flat-coated retriever T20. English cocker spaniel T20. Standard schnauzer 23. Brittany spaniel T24. Cocker spaniel T24. Nova Scotia duck tolling retriever 26. Weimaraner T27. Belgian Malinois T27. Bernese mountain dog 29. Pomeranian 30. Irish water spaniel 31. Vizsla 32. Cardigan Welsh corgi
THIRD TIER – above-average working dogs, who tend to learn a new trick in 15 to 25 repetitions and obey at least 70% of the time.
- AP Photo/Mary Altaffer
T33. Chesapeake Bay retriever T33. Puli T33. Yorkshire terrier T36. Giant schnauzer T36. Portuguese water dog T36. Airedale T36. Bouvier des Flandres T40. Border terrier T40. Briard 42. Welsh springer spaniel 43. Manchester terrier 44. Samoyed T45. Field spaniel T45. Newfoundland T45. Australian terrier T45. American Staffordshire terrier T45. Gordon setter T45. Bearded collie T51. American Eskimo dog T51. Cairn terrier T51. Kerry blue terrier T51. Irish setter 55. Norwegian elkhound T56. Affenpinscher T56. Silky terrier T56. Miniature pinscher T56. English setter T56. Pharaoh hound T56. Clumber spaniel 62. Norwich terrier 63. Dalmatian
FOURTH TIER – average working dogs, who tend to learn a new trick in 25 to 40 repetitions and obey at least 50% of the time.
T64. Soft-coated wheaten terrier T64. Bedlington terrier T64. Smooth-haired fox terrier T67. Curly-coated retriever T67. Irish wolfhound T69. Kuvasz T69. Australian shepherd T71. Saluki T71. Finnish Spitz T71. Pointer T74. Cavalier King Charles spaniel T74. German wirehaired pointer T74. Black-and-tan coonhound T74. American water spaniel T78. Siberian husky T78. Bichon Frise T78. English toy spaniel T81. Tibetan spaniel T81. English foxhound T81. Otterhound T81. American foxhound T81. Greyhound T81. Harrier T81. Parson Russel terrier T81. Wirehaired pointing griffon T89. West Highland white terrier T89. Havanese T89. Scottish deerhound T92. Boxer T92. Great Dane T94. Dachshund T94. Staffordshire bull terrier T94. Shiba Inu 97. Malamute T98. Whippet T98. Chinese shar-pei T98. Wirehaired fox terrier 101. Rhodesian ridgeback T102. Ibizan hound T102. Welsh terrier T102. Irish terrier T105. Boston terrier T105. Akita
FIFTH TIER – fair working dogs, who tend to learn a new trick in 40 to 80 repetitions and respond about 40% of the time.
- Stephanie Keith / Getty
107. Skye terrier T108. Norfolk terrier T108. Sealyham terrier 110. Pug 111. French bulldog T112. Brussels griffon T112. Maltese terrier 114. Italian greyhound 115. Chinese crested T116. Dandie Dinmont terrier T116. Vendeen T116. Tibetan terrier T116. Japanese chin T116. Lakeland terrier 121. Old English sheepdog 122. Great Pyrenees T123. Scottish terrier T123. Saint Bernard T125. Bull terrier T125. Petite Basset Griffon T125. Vendeen 128. Chihuahua 129. Lhasa apso 130. Bullmastiff
SIXTH TIER – the least-effective working dogs, who may learn a new trick after more than 100 repetitions and obey around 30% of the time.
131. Shih Tzu 132. Basset hound T133. Mastiff T133. Beagle 135. Pekingese 136. Bloodhound 137. Borzoi 138. Chow chow 139. Bulldog 140. Basenji 141. Afghan hound
Again, there are exceptions. Coren talks in his book about a trainer who managed to win obedience competitions with multiple Staffordshire bull terriers (No. 94).
There are also, again, other ways of measuring intelligence.
Coren tells us about a Nova Scotia duck tolling retriever (No. 24) he owned that was in some ways too smart for competitions.
“He was so bright and attentive that he read my every motion, head turn, and even the direction that I was looking with my eyes, as a command,” he wrote in an email. “That made him very difficult to compete with in obedience trials, since, for instance, a glance with my eyes in the direction of the high jump might be interpreted by him as a command and that would send him off, taking the jump beautifully of course, but nonetheless disqualifying us from that round of competition.”
De Waal, in “Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are?” defended the Afghan hound (No. 141), saying that they may not be unintelligent but rather independent-mined, stubborn, and unwilling to follow orders.
“Afghans,” he wrote, “are perhaps more like cats, which are not beholden to anyone.”