Many pet parents wonder how intelligent their dogs are. Some dogs are capable of search and rescue, while others would rather relax and sit on the couch with their owner. Both dogs are intelligent in their own way, but certain qualities can be measured to test a dog’s smarts. Here are four that I’ve encountered in my work as a Canine Behaviorist; one is much longer than the others—but also my favorite.
There are many different ways to define intelligence. Dr. Brian Hare of Duke University, author of The Genius of Dogs and host of the DogSmarts podcast, has developed an interactive, fun way to test a dog’s intelligence. It’s also quite involved! Known as Dognition, Dr. Hare’s method incorporates 20 tests that can be performed at home with general household items. Following the completion of the Dognition evaluation, you’re provided with a full report of your dog’s results. You can read a full review of the test here.
In this testing, a dog’s intelligence is based on several factors, including:
Understanding each aspect allows you to fully understand your dog. Some dogs have an excellent memory but low empathy, for instance, and vice versa.
Dr. Hare and his team have developed 9 intelligence profiles for dogs, which are:
- Ace: Ace accounts for 10% of all dogs. Aces are excellent problem-solvers with top-notch communication skills.
- Charmer: The Charmer profile accounts for approximately 16% of all dogs. Charmers have excellent social skills and are able to read your body language effectively.
- Socialite: Socialites are social butterflies with excellent communication skills and account for 22% of all dogs. Socialites may not possess excellent problem-solving skills but they do know how to get what they want.
- Expert: An expert dog has a strong memory with sharp problem-solving skills and accounts for approximately 7% of all dogs. Expert dogs tend to be more independent and rely less on humans.
- Renaissance Dog: Renaissance dogs are extremely attentive; they account for approximately 12% of all dogs. Renaissance dogs are reliable and possess traits from all of the other categories.
- Protodog: Flexible and spontaneous, proto-dogs account for approximately 15% of all dogs.
- Einstein: This accounts for approximately 3% of all dogs. Einsteins have an incredible memory and excellent problem-solving skills. Einsteins are essentially the ‘rocket scientists’ of the dog world, but they may struggle socially.
- Maverick: Approximately 7% of all dogs are considered “maverick,” or very independent problem solvers.
- Stargazer: Accounts for approximately 8% of all dogs. They are commonly seen as aloof and often struggle both socially and with training.
For more, check out Dr. Hare’s website resources, which include a free online class on dog behavior.
There are other, shorter methods that also give you insight into your dog’s intelligence. Behaviorists like myself often rely on one of these three approaches, known simply as “getting into trouble,” “number of corrections” and “hide-and-seek,” all of which provide clues as to a dog’s relative level of smarts.
Getting Into Trouble
This one isn’t so much a test as it is a common sign. Does your dog get into trouble? If so, this indicates intelligence! Smart dogs aren’t satisfied with just sleeping all day. They want a job, and they will find “jobs” of their own if left to their own devices. These can include raiding the trash can, pestering the cat, chewing up your shoes, and cracking the baby gate code.
If your dog is getting into trouble when he’s alone, he’s bored and looking for something to keep him mentally stimulated. Read up on enrichment for dogs, and be sure to give your pet plenty of exercise. At least two walks a day will help—the longer, the better. Enlist a dog walker if your schedule makes this difficult!
This game tests memory, which is closely related to intelligence. It’s very easy to play, and most dogs love it because there are treats involved. Using a pungent, high-value treat increases their motivation.
Start with three opaque cups. Then, follow these simple steps.
- Show the dog a treat
- Hide the treat under one of the cups
- Walk around the cups to distract the dog
- Let the dog find the treat.
If the dog finds the treat immediately, his memory is above average.
Number of Corrections
On average, how many times do you have to correct your dog before he understands what you are asking him to do? The average dog requires approximately six corrections to understand.
A dog with a higher level of intelligence will understand after two to three corrections.
As a behaviorist, I regularly assess various aspects of dog behavior and intelligence. Of the tests mentioned, the most effective and comprehensive method for testing canine intelligence is Dognition. It allows you to fully understand your dog and determine how to best communicate with each other. However, it’s not for everyone. It’s quite involved, and the average pet parent doesn’t necessarily need that level of information about their dog’s cognitive abilities. If you’re seeking ways to deepen your bond or enrich your dog’s daily life, then intelligence testing can help. But so can other activities like standard training, advanced training, agility, and simply playing together.
Every dog is unique and intelligent in her own way. If your dog doesn’t have an excellent memory, she still may possess excellent communication skills. In my years of practice, I’ve seen that overall intelligence doesn’t necessarily indicate a more successful outcome or bond for a dog, and in fact, that very smart dogs have more behavior issues because of their greater stimulation needs.
If you do have a very bright canine on your hands, plenty of training is in order!