But are those really the smartest breeds? Is there a valid canine IQ test? And can it actually help you understand how smart your dog is?
To answer these questions we talked to Julie Hecht, who studies dog behaviour and psychology as a PhD candidate at City University of New York. She also writes for Dog Spies, her blog at Scientific American.
When we asked her about the dog intelligence rankings and if they hold any merit her answer was pretty clear.
“The smartest dog breed doesn’t exist,” Hecht told Tech Insider.
People have bred dogs to excel at different tasks, often over hundreds or thousands of years. Some breeds learn specific tasks more quickly, like retrieving objects. Others take better to general training — sitting, rolling over, standing on two legs, etc.
Still others are bred for looks. “We aren’t necessarily breeding them for ‘intelligence.’ The [breed] standards are often based on physical characteristics and behaviour,” says Hecht. She uses dog shows as an example. The judges and kennel clubs screen for dogs with specific physical characteristics and temperaments to determine a winner, not a certain IQ.
Hect says trainabililty is the characteristic most dog intelligence rankings use. But, as she reiterated, not all dogs are bred for that. So how can trainability be a fair measure of intelligence?
Even dogs bred to perform specific tasks can’t be lumped into a general category. “If we look at all retrievers, they might all be shifted one direction for wanting to retrieve, but there might be outliers” who don’t want or know how to retrieve.
In other words, says Hecht, there’s as wide a variety of abilities and behaviours between dogs within a breed as there is between breeds themselves.
In that vein, Hecht says that the best way to approach dog intelligence is on the level of the individual, not the breed.
“When I think about it, in any species, I never say to myself, ‘Is this species intelligent?'” she says. “We should just say, ‘Who is this individual? What are they equipped with? What are they supposed to do? Are they doing it?'”
Hecht says that labelling certain breeds as “intelligent” or not sidetracks us from fairly assessing individual dogs — and blinds us to the full spectrum of their abilities.
Julie Hecht is a canine behavioural researcher and science writer in NYC.
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