How Intelligent are Dogs?

Canine Intelligence

There are many theories about the intelligence of the dog. The majority of dog owners know that their dogs are very bright: these owners can tell any number of stories that demonstrate the animal’s high intelligence. In addition to the clever ways in which dogs outwit their owners, canine intelligence shines when dogs are asked to perform the tasks for which they were bred. For instance, the Border Collie is exceptionally quick to learn how to herd a flock of sheep, and only risk appearing stupid when you ask him to scent out a bird. The bird dog who finds the bird naturally, without training, is labeled extremely intelligent. Yet this same genius will look dumb, and probably get trampled, if allowed to mingle with a flock of sheep.

Motivation is a big part of intelligence. One dog owner scheduled an appointment to have her dog evaluated after a discussion with her friend. The dog owner and her friend were convinced that the dog had a learning disability because the friend’s Labrador Retriever could open doors with his nose and paw, whereas the other dog would just sit in front of the door and wait for someone to open it. The idea never occurred to this person that the dog didn’t want to go through the door all that badly or that he was smart enough to wait for her to open it instead of expending energy.

Another client who owned and trained Border Collies labeled one of her dogs retarded because the dog did not appear to grasp the concept of retrieving as quickly as her other Border Collies. Once the training method was adapted for the dog’s particular temperament, which was different from that of the typical Border Collie, she learned and enjoyed retrieving. This same dog would display aggression toward other dogs by growling and curling her lips to show her teeth. The trainers thought the owner was quite effective and consistent in correcting the lip curl until one of the trainers observed that when this “retarded” dog approached another canine, she quietly curled only one side of her mouth, the side the owner could not see.

Frequently, people believe that  females are smarter than males. However, there is no evidence to date to support the theory of a significant difference in intelligence between the sexes. Those who claim there is a difference may be tainted by their prejudice toward or preference for one sex or the other. Intelligence is more apt to vary individually rather than by the sex of the animal.