If you are a dog owner (or if you have observed people who own dogs), then you’re probably aware of how special the interaction is between a human and his canine best friend. So special in fact that it does not sound ridiculous at all when a dog owner talks to his furry friend and gives out the usual verbal commands “sit” or “rollover” and other similar orders.

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It also is not quite surprising when you see a dog run and rush in recognition of the arrival of his owner. Or when a pup wags its tail when it sees you bring out its dog collar as it anticipates your scheduled walk. And of course, there is nothing like the usually uttered phrase “good dog” to signify that you acknowledge a dog’s positive behavior much like how you send out a compliment to a friend who has done well.

Clearly, dogs are regarded not just as cute and cuddly companions but also as beings capable of processing information. The brain of your family pet [1] and favorite pooch may be smaller than the human brain, but it is just as capable as other animals when it comes to cognitive functions. In other words, you can go ahead and say that you just might have an intelligent dog right there.

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Intelligence in animals

But stories about intelligent animals is not entirely astonishing news. Many have researched about advances in animal cognition [2] in the hopes of gathering more reliable information as to what makes these species capable of exhibiting interesting intellectual functions. Elephants have been studied closely because they have the most neurons [3]. Some have even noted [4] that a fish is smarter than a monkey. There are many other similar studies, because, after all, it’s not just you who gets curious about which animals are the smartest or asks questions like what makes parrots so intelligent[5] .


Intelligent dogs ranked

Dog intelligence (also called dog cognition) is the process that takes place inside your dog’s brain[6]. Basically, this enables your dog to mentally acquire and store information as well as use it accordingly in certain situations. So when you say intelligence in dogs, this basically means any form of intellectual activity done by and which influences the behavior of your canine companion. Like when they learn new words and consequently perform new actions based on your words and commands.

Take for example how a dog responds to your verbal instruction and sits on your command. Or the times when it gazes to the direction you are pointing at.  How about a dog that has learned to take its cue from the sound of its feeding bowl clanging and knows when it is time to feed. And then there is that adorable pooch that knows you have arrived simply by hearing the sound of your voice or your vehicle’s handbrake. All these may be simple and typically observed dog behaviors, but they are considered to be actions that invoke intelligence.

Of course, unlike humans, the intelligence of dogs is not purely measured by means of standardized and written tests. After all, you cannot simply ask a dog to sit down and fill out a questionnaire. Signs of intelligence in different dog breeds and ranking their level of cognition is often based on several criteria and standards. There are those who assume that big dogs are smarter than small dogs[7] , thinking perhaps how body mass correlates to brain size and function. And then there are those who rate dog intelligence based on their social interaction and expression of empathy. While others evaluate instinct, obedience, and ability to adapt to the environment or situation to tell how intelligent a dog is.

Based on these last three aspects, Stanley Coren’s book ranked dog breeds according to intelligence[6]. And according to the book’s cited data, some of the most intelligent dog breeds include:

The Intelligence of Dogs border collieBorder Collie. Specifically bred for obedience, this breed of working and herding dogs is the top contender when it comes to canine intelligence ranking. Also called the Scottish Sheepdog, they are trained to herd livestock and compete in dog sports and other sheepdog trials.


The Intelligence of Dogs poodle

Poodle. Known for their coats of curl and for being hypoallergenic, these adorable poodles are considered to be the second most intelligent breed of dogs. Agile and obedient, this breed of dogs also come up as favorites when it comes to dog shows and dog sports.


The Intelligence of Dogs german shepherd

German Shepherd. Coming from a breed of medium to large sized working dogs, the German Shepherd takes the third place when it comes dog intelligence. They are a smart, obedient, and strong breed which is why you might often see them as canine companions of police and other authorities (such as those involved in search and rescue operations).


The Intelligence of Dogs golder retrieverGolden Retriever. Coming in fourth place when it comes to intelligence ranking is the Golden Retriever. Originally known for retrieving shot game (such as ducks and upland game birds), this playful breed with golden fur is a family favorite when it comes to domesticated canines.


The Intelligence of Dog doberman

Doberman Pinscher. Ranking fifth is the fierce breed of Doberman Pinschers or simply called the Dobermann. Known for their long muzzles, cropped ears, and graceful gait, owners of this breed of smart dogs take pride in their being tenacious guard dogs.


Other breeds that made it to the top twelve intelligent dogs include the Shetland Sheepdog, Labrador Retriever, Papillon, Rottweiler, Australian Cattle Dog, Pembroke Welsh Corgi and the Miniature Schnauzer. While the breeds at the bottom of the dog intelligence list are the Borzoi, Chow Chow, Bull dog, Basenji, and the Afghan Hound.


Showing intelligence

More and more studies turn up in support of the intelligence of dogs. Some of them state how dogs are capable of learning language like a two year old[8]. While others also note how some dogs are capable of solving mathematical equations (i.e. can count up to four or five and understand addition). In fact, there are many other ways by which your dog may demonstrate its own expression of intelligence. Some of which are:

  • Learning new tricks. Perhaps this is one of the hallmarks of what makes a smart dog. That is when you train your dog to do something (often called a trick), it can quickly follow the instruction or command. One good is example is how Professor John Pilley trained his Border Collie to identify almost a thousand toys which led it to earn the title of being the smartest dog in the world[9].
  • Keen use of senses. While the current trends in canine problem-solving and cognition reflect that there is still a long way to go when it comes to completely gauging dog intelligence and behavior, some trials have noted how dogs intelligently use their strong olfactory sense to sniff out certain scents[10]. This is particularly useful if you own a guard dog or you train one for law enforcement operations. More than that, however, the existence of these numerous neuron network also empowers your dog to aide in medically-related concerns such as those that detect very low blood sugar levels and even cancer.
  • Expression of feelings. You’ve probably seen a dog establish eye contact with a human, or observed one become assume a more alert stance. It turns out that these two acts possibly reflect your dog’s expression of empathy. Some studies have noted an increase in oxytocin (happy hormone) levels when dogs make eye contact with people. While others reported a phenomenon called emotional contagion where dogs mimic human physiological response (rise in stress hormones) based on certain stimuli[11] .


Training and dog intelligence

If your dog’s breed does not fall into the smartest dogs category, the next logical question might be on how to possibly make your dog smarter[12]. You may actually train your dog by relying on interactive toys, rewarding with dog treats, or playing in mentally-stimulating obstacles.

While it may not transform your furry friend into the most intelligent canine, training develops what is called a “learning to learn” skill in dogs. This means that as you practice new tricks with your dog, you help teach it to rely more on its neurons and tap on its cognitive function. Aside from that, training also helps improve focus and perseverance in your dog, which may improve its chances of obedience and cooperation.

For the longest time, animal cognition, particularly in dogs, has been a subject of discussion and research. And while studies have a long way to go to uncover exact factors that determine the intelligence of dogs, experience and observation alone can give you a clue as to how smart your dog is. Your dog may show its unique form intelligence by means of excellent obedience, great social interaction, or expression of emotion. Or it can simply assist you in your daily needs and show fierce loyalty. Regardless of how your canine companion scores on the dog cognition level, your strong bond and relationship can help transform your dog not just mentally but also in every aspect of its growth and development.



[1] https://www.dogmount.com/blog/14/6-reasons-to-treat-pets-as-members-of-the-family
[2] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5197940/
[3] https://www.forbes.com/sites/quora/2018/09/12/elephants-have-the-most-neurons-why-arent-they-the-smartest-animals/#52048b5f6afb
[4] https://www.forbes.com/sites/emilywillingham/2019/02/28/this-fish-is-smarter-than-a-monkey-maybe/#1ca5be3f35aa
[5] https://www.forbes.com/sites/grrlscientist/2018/07/12/what-makes-parrots-so-intelligent/#58bcb1f734e6
[6] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dog_intelligence
[7] https://www.psychologytoday.com/ca/blog/canine-corner/201901/are-big-dogs-smarter-small-dogs
[8] https://www.livescience.com/5613-dogs-smart-2-year-kids.html
[9] https://www.cbsnews.com/news/the-smartest-dog-in-the-world/
[10] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5424068/
[11] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25452080
[12] https://www.psychologytoday.com/intl/blog/canine-corner/201504/does-training-make-your-dog-smarter