How smart are dogs? or: how are dogs smart?

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How smart are dogs

How smart are dogs? This is probably one of the most controversial topics among dog owners and no dog owners alike.

Most dog owners naturally think their dog is the smartest 😉 And while most dog people know that some breeds are more intelligent than others, their dog might just as well be the exception to the rule, right?

Some of the no dog owners, on the other hand, are wondering if dogs are that smart at all. The underlying question is: how are dogs smart? Does smart mean that a dog is good at obedience? That he’s very trainable? Or does it maybe mean the opposite; the smarter the dog, the more reluctant he’s to blindly follow orders?

I think this is a very interesting topic, which is why I want to look at it in detail.

The short answer to the question “how smart are dogs” is: dogs are about as intelligent as a 2 year old child. They can learn about 200 words, count to 5 and do basic calculations. However, it’s very important to note that dogs will only be able to show their full potential if they’re properly guided. And the key to this is mental stimulation.

Let’s look at all of that in a little more detail.

How smart are dogs?

According to science, dogs are about as smart as a 2-yo child. This means that they can learn about 200 to 250 words, count to 5 and do some basic calculations.

This is just an average, there were dogs who managed to learn much more, as you’ll see below.

Can your dog do that? I think this would take a whole lot of training for my Miniature Poodle Baloo. But it would be very interesting to find out!

Are some dogs more intelligent than others?

Definitely. It’s just as with people: some are super brains while other are more simple-minded.

The good thing is that even the most stupid dog can learn some basic obedience. And with some mental stimulation, he might even be able to improve his thinking skills. We’ll get to that in a minute.

What can the most intelligent dog do?

The most intelligent dog in the world was Chaser, according to AKC. Chaser was a Border Collie who became famous for knowing more than 1’000 words. Even more impressive is the fact that she understood the meaning of “this is”. This meant that Chaser was able to learn new words with enormous speed.

But what makes her that intelligent?

Well, to start, not all breeds are equally intelligent and Border Collies count as the most intelligent dog breed (see below). But what’s much more important is the way she got taught. Her owner Dr. Pilley started teaching her words at 2 months old. Later he discovered that Chaser was actually able to understand concepts. This was a tremendous scientific breakthrough because this means that the dog can actually use his brain to figure things out. This is exactly how children learn!

Another interesting fact is that she wasn’t very obedient. She could probably have been trained to do that as well, but her owner wanted to give her as much freedom as possible.

You can read the whole story here.

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Which are the most intelligent dog breeds?

According to canine psychologist Stanley Coren, the 10 most intelligent dogs breeds are the following:

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

To measure the dogs’ intelligence, he only considered the “working intelligence” by how many repetitions the dogs needed to learn a new command and by how often they obeyed.

The top 10 only needed 5 repetitions to learn a new command and obeyed 95% of the time. So again, this doesn’t consider the whole spectrum of intelligence, but it’s the only part we have data about by now.

Click here to see the whole list.

How smart are dogs compared do other animals?

While dogs are clever, they aren’t exceptional. As research has shown, some animals, such as dolphins, chimps and pigeons are significantly better at certain tasks than dogs.

Now let’s look at dogs’ intelligence in comparison to 3 other species who count as quite intelligent as well: cats, pigs and horses.

Are dogs smarter than cats?

That’s a difficult comparison since dogs are cats have one major difference: dogs love to perform tasks and make their owners happy, while cats are known to be more of a stubborn kind of animal who generally doesn’t care about performing tricks or learning commands.

However, there’s evidence that dogs are indeed smarter than cats. “Researchers at Vanderbilt University found that a dog’s cerebral cortex contains more than twice the neurons of a cat’s brain.” says USAtoday. The researcher Herculano-Houzel also said that it makes total sense that dogs have that much more neurons, which are required for thinking, planning and complex behaviors. According to him dogs can perform much more complex and flexible things.

Do we have any feline lovers who’d like to share their opinion? =)

Are dogs smarter than pigs?

This might surprise a lot of people but pigs are actually really smart! The main reason why we don’t know that is because pigs rarely get a chance to display their intelligence.

When given the opportunity, though, they excel at puzzles and other thinking games. Apparently, researchers aren’t clear on how intelligent they are exactly. Some say pigs are more intelligent than dogs and others say, they’re about the same. But there is very little research done on this topic.

So, let’s just say that dogs and pigs are equally smart.

Are dogs smarter than horses?

Horses’ intelligence is another field where very little research has been done, so far.

They seem to have about the same qualities of learning, recognizing our emotions and memorizing commands. From what I’ve found their intelligence is also about equal to dogs.

How are dogs smart?

Let’s get to the next question “how are dogs smart”.

As I’ve said before, this is a highly controversial topic. It’s generally very difficult to determine an animal’s or even a person’s intelligence. Even using IQ tests only taps into a few topics. It neglects emotional intelligence completely, for instance.

And one more important thing: all dogs are different, just as humans are different. So, while we’re speaking of the average, there will always be exceptions.

Since there are no IQ tests for dogs and there isn’t a clear way to test a dog’s intelligence, I’ll just give you my opinion: I think it makes most sense to measure a dog’s intelligence by how much he can learn and put into practice and by his problem-solving skills. This will become clearer once we’re looking at dogs that are generally viewed as being very smart.

Is obedience the same as intelligence?

No, I wouldn’t say so.

Blindly following orders isn’t too difficult for a thinking being. Some need a bit longer than others but with the right techniques, every dog can learn basic obedience while being stupid for all the rest.

The speed by which a dog learns a new command can say something about their intelligence, though. It’s generally assumed that the faster a dog learns, the smarter he is.

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Does smart mean trainable?

In a way, yes.

A smart dog is one that can remember a lot of different words or meanings and solve problems by himself. This can be very well observed in dog games for mental stimulation, such as puzzles.

What it doesn’t necessarily mean is that an intelligent dog will be better at learning basic obedience. Learning a new command is only challenging as long as your dog doesn’t know it, yet. Once he understands it, it becomes boring. So, even the dumbest dog will be able to consistently follow your commands, as long as you teach him properly.

Can intelligence be trained?

Yes, it can!

Or well, let’s put it that way: you can unlock a dog’s intelligence with training. Most of our domestic dogs don’t seem very smart because they just never get a chance to use it. They don’t really have any problems that they could solve, apart from maybe learning a new command.

Improving intelligence

Did you know that intelligence can actually be stimulated and improved? By teaching thinking beings certain thinking concepts, they become able to solve other similar problems.

This is exactly how children learn. Naturally, children become more intelligent, the older they get. And even as an adult, there are ways to grow your intelligence. Even if you only measure it with an IQ test, you’d be able to score higher, simply by learning more complex problem solving concepts or by improving your logic thinking skills.

Improve your dog’s intelligence by using mental stimulation

The best way to make your dog’s intelligence improve is by using mental stimulation.

Not only does it help your dog to finally use his brain power, but it’s also really exhausting for him. This means that he will be more than happy to take a good long snooze after a training session. Doesn’t that sound amazing?

And there’s another benefit: You can actually use your dog’s intelligence to make him solve his own behavioral issues!

Let me make an example: your dog is jumping up on you every time you come home. Now wouldn’t it be amazing if you could just teach your dog a thinking system, that helps him understand that not jumping up on you is the far better solution?

I think this sounds like the perfect way to train a dog. If you want to learn more, make sure to check out CPDT-KA certified dog trainer Adrienne Farricelli’s training style for a well-behaved dog.

Do smart dogs get bored easily?

In our urban world, smart dogs can get bored pretty easily. Actually, all dogs will probably get bored. But some simply won’t show any signs and just relax for a little longer.

The smart, eager to learn kinds, will definitely show signs of boredom pretty quickly, if they don’t get enough to do.

And what’s the best boredom buster for dogs? Mental exercise!

How much mental exercise do dogs need?

If you want a very even-tempered, relaxed dog, then I’d do a couple of minutes every day. Mental exercise is more tiring than physical exercise. So, you don’t need to make super long sessions. It’s better to make them short but frequent.

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How can I mentally stimulate my dog?

The best way to mentally stimulate your dog is to play thinking games with him where he has to solve a problem. Another great way is to teach him tricks or play scent games. Here are 21 fun ideas to help your imagination.

And here’s a more in-depth guide on how to mentally stimulate your dog.

How to use your dog’s intelligence in training

If you want to take it one step further, there is even a way to use your dog’s intelligence in training. This is particularly useful for unwanted behavior, such as excessive barking, jumping on people, leash aggression and so on.

CPDT-KA certified dog trainer Adrienne Farricelli has figured out a way to make a dog correct himself!

This is amazing for several reasons:

  1. It’s a very gentle way to correct your dog
  2. It’s the most efficient way of training
  3. Your dog will be so happy that he figured it out himself
  4. Your dog will be super relaxed after a training session.

If you’re facing problems training your dog, check out here training program.


In this article you learned that the question “how smart are dogs” isn’t that easy to answer.

While there is proof that dogs are capable of learning a whole lot of words and even do some calculations, other parts, such as emotional intelligence, are neglected.

However, what’s far more important in my opinion is the fact that all dogs can improve their intellectual skills. By using mental stimulation you can sort of unlock his inner genius. This is not only very rewarding and tiring for your dog, it can also be used in training, as Adrienne Farricelli shows.

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