Is your dog a canine Einstein? Chances are, all dog owners have some anecdotal evidence as to why we think our pups are at the top of the class. From their incredible adaptability to have joined human communities an estimated 15,000 years ago to their ability to learn, it’s understandable why we view dogs as one of the smartest species around.

But what makes a dog smart, exactly? The team at AIMSS sets out to explore intelligent dog breeds and why they make the grade.

The Science of Intelligence

For decades, biologists, behaviorists, and trainers have studied intelligence in dogs. From Chaser, the Border collie who learned over 1,000 objects and their names to Rico, who helped define the concept of “fast-mapping” (memorizing an object from a single exposure), dogs have the ability to learn and apply this knowledge.

Dog behaviorist and author, Stanley Coren, was one of the pioneers in helping to define canine intelligence. Cohen labeled intelligence into three distinct categories:

  • Instinctive intelligence–the ability to perform tasks the dog was bred for (herding, fetching, etc.)
  • Adaptive intelligence–the ability to problem-solve and adapt to his or her environment
  • Obedience–the ability of a dog to learn from humans, such as with any form of obedience training

In most cases, a dog that excels in one area of intelligence will excel in all of them. More recently, other aspects of intelligence in canines are being explored, such as how dogs interact and form bonds and social grouping (“packs”) in order to thrive.

The Most Intelligent Dog Breeds

Among those breeds that have been studied and championed by such organizations as the American Kennel Club, the following reign as the smartest:

  • Border Collie
  • Poodle
  • German Shepherd
  • Golden Retriever
  • Shetland Sheepdog
  • Doberman Pinscher
  • Labrador Retriever
  • Papillion
  • Rottweiler
  • Australian Cattle Dog

The Importance of Mental Enrichment

If your beloved dog didn’t make the list or is a mixed breed pup, don’t worry. One of the great things about adopting a loveable mutt is that you can often find a good mix of traits. Mutts also tend to have longer, healthier lives with fewer behavioral challenges than their purebred pals.

However, if you’re determined to improve your dog’s cognition, a perfect way to do this is by providing enriching activities to challenge him or her.

Try some new forms of training, like trick training. You can also work on increasing your dog’s vocabulary by applying all the positive reinforcement techniques you employ to teach basic obedience.

If you love to get out and socialize, exposing your dog to new walking routes, hiking trails, and other people and animals (when appropriate) can encourage learning. If you work long hours, don’t forget that there are many challenging food puzzles and games that your pet can enjoy while you’re away (good for kitty cognition, too!).

At AIMSS, we believe every dog is amazing and deserving of the best care around. Here’s to all of our inquisitive canines!