There’s no easy way to rate dog intelligence.
As canine psychologist Stanley Coren wrote back 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.
Indeed, as 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, Duke, and around the world are studying this question, for now we do at least have data on one metric: working intelligence.
Coren, in his book, “The Intelligence of Dogs,” 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 pointed out 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.
1. Border collie
3. German shepherd
4. Golden retriever
5. Doberman pinscher
6. Shetland sheepdog
7. Labrador retriever
10. Australian cattle dog
SECOND TIER — excellent working dogs, who tend to learn a new command in 5 — 15 exposures and obey at least 85% of the time.
11. Pembroke Welsh corgi
12. Miniature schnauzer
13. English springer spaniel
14. Belgian Tervuren
15. Schipperke, Belgian sheepdog
16. Collie Keeshond
17. German short-haired pointer
18. Flat-coated retriever, English cocker spaniel, Standard schnauzer
19. Brittany spaniel
20. Cocker spaniel, Nova Scotia duck tolling retriever
22. Belgian Malinois, Bernese mountain dog
24. Irish water spaniel
26. Cardigan Welsh corgi
THIRD TIER — above-average working dogs, who tend to learn a new trick in 15 — 25 repetitions and obey at least 70% of the time.
27. Chesapeake Bay retriever, Puli, Yorkshire terrier
28. Giant schnauzer, Portuguese water dog
29. Airedale, Bouvier des FLandres
30. Border terrier, Briard
31. Welsh springer spaniel
32. Manchester terrier
34. Field spaniel, Newfoundland, Australian terrier, American Staffordshire terrier, Gordon setter, Bearded collie
35. American Eskimo dog, Cairn terrier, Kerry blue terrier, Irish setter
36. Norwegian elkhound
37. Affenpinscher, Silky terrier, Miniature pinscher, English setter, Pharaoh hound, Clumber spaniel
38. Norwich terrier
FOURTH TIER — average working dogs, who tend to learn a new trick in 25 — 40 repetitions and obey at least 50% of the time.
40. Soft-coated wheaten terrier, Bedlington terrier, Smooth-haired fox terrier
41. Curly-coated retriever, Irish wolfhound
42. Kuvasz, Australian shepherd
43. Saluki, Finnish Spitz, Pointer
44. Cavalier King Charles spaniel, German wirehaired pointer, Black-and-tan coonhound, American water spaniel
45. Siberian husky, Bichon frise, English toy spaniel
46. Tibetan spaniel, English foxhound, Otterhound, American foxhound, Greyhound, Harrier, Parson Russel terrier, Wirehaired pointing griffon
47. West Highland white terrier, Havanese, Scottish deerhound
48. Boxer, Great Dane
49. Dachschund, Staffordshire bull terrier, Shiba Inu
51. Whippet, Chinese shar-pei, Wirehaired fox terrier
52. Rhodesian ridgeback
53. Ibizan hound, Welsh terrier, Irish terrier
54. Boston terrier, Akita
FIFTH TIER — fair working dogs, who tend to learn a new trick in 40 — 80 repetitions and respond about 40% of the time.
55. Skye terrier
56. Norfolk terrier, Sealyham terrier
58. French bulldog
59. Brussels griffon, Maltese terrier
60. Italian greyhound
61. Chinese crested
62. Dandie Dinmont terrier, Vendeen, Tibetan terrier, Japanese chin, Lakeland terrier
63. Old English sheepdog
64. Great Pyrenees
65. Scottish terrier, Saint Bernard
66. Bull terrier, Petite Basset Griffon, Vendeen
68. Lhasa apso
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.
70. Shuh Tzu
71. Basset hound
72. Mastiff, beagle
76. Chow chow
79. Afghan hound
There are, again, exceptions. Coren talks in his book about a trainer who managed to win obedience competitions with multiple Staffordshire bull terriers (#49).
There are also, again, other ways of measuring intelligence.
Coren tells us about a Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever (#20) 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 writes by 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?” spoke in defence of the Afghan hound (#79), noting 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.”