Signs of intelligence

I met a woman yesterday while out on a walk with my dogs.  She stopped me to talk and admire the dogs; turned out that she too had a standard poodle at home so of course we chatted a bit.  Her dog was a little more than 10 years and so was considering adding another; she was very interested in Elsa and Luke's relationship.  During our conversation she asked about their intelligence and the difference between them.  All dogs are intelligent; that said some are more so than others, just like in people.  Who is the most intelligent?  Not an easy answer.

Having had standard poodles for 30 years; high intelligence is a given.  Each dog has been extremely different; they have all had very individual personalities and learning capabilities.  My boy Clyde who was the canine man in my life before Luke was probably my least driven.  He was intelligent but in his own way; he was what I categorize as a "porch dog."  He was mellow and wonderful but without much agenda.  Does that mean that his intelligence was lower on the smarts scale?  No.  Just different.

When they do intelligence tests with dogs it is often to see what a dog can figure out.   A dog with a chill type  personality may display no drive to figure out a test put before them; this shows no less intelligence.  Perhaps they are more intelligent by waiting until the humans figure it out.  Intelligence is such a huge topic, complicated by questions leading to more questions.  In my own dogs over the years I have seen such a variance in learning and display.  To be a good trainer you must adapt to each dog as an individual and not look at dog as just that; a dog like any other.

I have worked with tiny little mixed breeds who amazed me by their intelligence.  Some of the most intelligent dogs I have met have been breeds who are not the "obedience" type.  Intelligence and willingness to do repetitive work for humans are two completely different things.  Most of the higher intelligence dogs have a problem with repetition from my experience.  Once they have figured out and completed a desired behavior; repeating it over and over again seems monotonous and mundane.  That said there are amazing dogs who thrive with repetition; take the Border Collie, highly intelligent with drive that shoots off the charts.  It is the drive that keeps them in perpetual motion; continuing to repeat a job over and over again.

To truly understand a dogs intelligence; one must watch and be most highly aware of a  dogs individual behavior.  We  lowly humans often miss many canine behaviors so the degree of their intelligence recognition is absent.   My two now, Luke and Elsa are both extremely intelligent; perhaps two of the smartest dogs I have lived with.  I know them inside and out and watch daily as their intelligence plays out.  Luke is a reactive dog and because of this is an easy read; if you know what you are seeing that is.  He has taught me the most of any dog I have ever worked with.  He has always been able to learn what I ask of him and more, but.  Recently we moved to a new home, it has a huge two story entrance where the dogs can look over a rail to the front door.  Luke has yet to put the visual range of looking over the rail together with the getting to the front door by going down a set of stairs only 8 feet away.

Elsa on the other hand will run to the rail, look over and then charge down the stairs to greet the visitor while Luke stands looking over the rail crying.  Because our voice comes from over the rail he is having difficultly leaving the close proximity cue; moving away to finally come closer once again.  Elsa got it all in a heart beat.  At almost 7 months old Elsa is what I commonly categorize a dog with her degree of intelligence as scary smart.  Given to someone who has no idea of such a high degree of intelligence; Elsa would soon be running the household.  She is amazingly astute at seeing, taking note and storing in her memory bank.  Elsa is one of those dogs that people talk about being smarter than their owner.  (not than me of course  ;))

Watching her as she thinks and processes information is pretty amazing.  She has outsmarted Luke several times but only for a couple of repetitions and then he figures her out.  Dogs are amazing, they are all so intelligent but we must factor in drive and motivation with it as well to make it all a complete.  No two are alike which is another wonderful thing about dogs.  Watch and learn.


  1. Hi Y'all,

    You have an excellent point. Had a Basenji after years of retrievers. Missed having a dog to play ball with so hubby tosses a ball down the barn shed row. No leads or check cords on her, she just turns, chases it and returns with it. Toss it again. She returns it again. Toss it number 3 and she turns, looks at the ball, looks at hubby as if to say, "I brought it back twice. If you want it this time, go get it yourself."

    BrownDog's Human

  2. I once lived in a house with a Jack Russell terrier with incredible problem solving skills.

    We'd play a game with him where we'd open the back door and an second floor window. We'd throw a tennis ball out the window and he'd run downstairs, out the back door, pick up the ball in the yard, and bring it back to the bedroom. He would play this game for hours.

    That said, we had to be careful because the first time we tossed the ball out the window, he jumped after it...thankfully we caught him before he went out the window. The second time he ran out of the room and went tearing out the back door.

    Smart dog.

  3. I have one of those very smart tiny mixed breeds you refer to (6 lb., yorkie, poodle and mystery). It is true that intelligence and trainability are not the same thing.

    My little guy learns to do anything very quickly, for the sake of novelty and treats. The transition from fun and treats to routine, reliable behavior is a whole other thing, though.

    When the treats stop coming, oh well, mom's not playing the game right any more, so forget it.


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