Because of the subtleties involved, dog intelligence can be divided into two general categories: general intelligence and breed intelligence.
General intelligence involves mental agility. How quick a dog learns is typically a key component in his or her rated intelligence. The final aspect of intelligence is how often a dog obeys. Of course, as with humans, some dogs are more stubborn than others and refuse to obey. An experienced dog trainer in North London will tell you an obstinate dog can be misinterpreted as one that lacks intelligence. However, stubbornness often reflects high intelligence that requires more skilled handling. Basically, just because humans delight in compliance does not mean intelligent dogs do.
Two additional aspects of general intelligence include successful problem solving and ability to retain information.
Breed intelligence has to do with genetic traits, such as fetching, hunting, or guarding. For instance, some dogs are simply better guard dogs, and this genetic predisposition gives rise to breed intelligence. Because breed intelligence involves genetic predispositions, only two dogs of the same breed should be compared against one another when it comes to determining differences in intelligence.
In terms of tiers, the top tier is considered most intelligent, and the sixth tier is considered least intelligent. However, the official definition of intelligence mixes a formula of ability to learn tricks or commands mixed with a frequency of obedience. Again, obedience is a desirable trait, but it has nothing to do with the brain’s ability to process incoming information. Instead, it reflects a dogs willingness to comply. Due to their unwillingness to comply, many breeds, regardless of their tier, will require professional training at some point in their lives.
1. Golden Retriever
For their general intelligence and breed intelligence, retrievers are known as one of the best dogs for human companionship as they are both willing to please and quick witted. As service dogs, they learn new skills easily and can master an amazing repertoire of words. Moreover, they are vigilant and can learn silent cues and pick up on signals of distress.
In terms of breed intelligence, their name stems from their hunting ability. They can track prey in open territory and retrieve it without succumbing to their instinctual desire to shred or eat game. Finally, when it comes to training, they can learn quickly within up to 10 repetitions. With minimal training, they adapt well in homes with small or large families. Because they are good with children, they work well as family dogs.
2. Doberman Pinscher
Of all the dogs, Dobermans are good abstract thinkers and can remember a certain number of people in a group and identify or indicate if a person is missing from the group. As a top-tier breed, they can learn new commands within as few as six to eight repetitions.
As a breed, they are excellent alert dogs. Their individuality, however, can display as a tendency toward being stubborn. This rare streak, however, should in no way be thought of as a reflection of the breed’s overall intelligence, which is high. They thrive in an outdoor environment, but their breed traits make them equally suitable as an indoor dog for families.
Generally considered the most intelligent breed, Collies are notorious herd dogs and are capable of accepting a wide variety of verbal, audible, or non-verbal cues. In terms of general intelligence, they can learn new commands in as few as six to eight repetitions. Because they are eager to please, they are quick to obey and show few indications of stubbornness or so-called forgetfulness.
In terms of breed intelligence, they are tireless herd dogs, making them perfect for farms. That said, in terms of training collies to accomplish complex commands, it is often best accomplished in the presence of a pre-trained pack member that can model the desired skills. For instance, although dog modeling, known as allelomimetic behaviors, has only been recently acknowledged as a training method, Collies learn especially well when one pack member is given a command and the dog being trained is then rewarded for mimicking the appropriate behavior.
Because of their demeanor, these dogs are beloved among families. That said, they require a lot of activity, so they are happiest if they have access to large yards or daily work in a field.
Poodles offer owners one of the best mixes between ability to learn new commands and actually obeying the commands. Additionally, in terms of pack instinct, poodles offer some of the best breed intelligence when it comes to knowing the members of a pack and serving as an alert dog against interlopers. Poodles can sometimes be aggressive. As such, they might not be fit for families with small children. That said, they work well as service dogs in homes with adults.
5. Rhodesian Ridgeback
In terms of obedience, Ridgebacks, unfortunately, fall into the fourth tier for obedience as they can be willful. That said, with incentive, such as bacon, and plenty of activity, they learn as quick as a top-tier dog within 15 repetitions and obey 90 percent of the time.
Moreover, they are excellent alert dogs, reflecting one of the highest degrees of breed intelligence against strangers. In terms of guard dogs, it is not that they overgeneralize threat. Instead, they have an unwavering pack intelligence and are strict about who is allowed into the pack and who must be identified as a stranger. Strangers are acted upon immediately, and it takes between 10 and 12 different interactions before a stranger is considered part of the herd.
In terms of family dogs, they are best introduced to the family at a young age. Because of their temperament, they are not ideal dogs to be around children.
6. American Pit Bull Terrier
Another breed with high breed intelligence, the American Pit Bull Terrier has an uncanny ability to discern between benign behavior and bona fide aggression. That said, they have their own definition of what constitutes aggression, so they require a lot of socialization. Without the proper training, they will become aggressive toward humans who do not manage their behavior or tempers. In terms of intelligence as defined by obedience, they can learn new commands within 20 repetitions.
These dogs thrive in situations where they can observe the pack and maintain order. They are naturally friendly, making them poor guard dogs. However, if properly trained, they will protect a family to the death.
7. Labrador Retriever
In terms of breed intelligence and general intelligence, Labradors are among the most reliable and consistent performers on the planet. This overall intelligence flourishes when it is applied in conjunction with their naturally friendly demeanor, making them one of the best support dogs an owner could adopt. In terms of working intelligence, they can learn new commands with fewer than 10 repetitions, and they obey 95 percent of the time.
Labradors work well in group settings as service dogs, and they work well on farms as hunting dogs. In terms of family companions, they are excellent with adults as well as children. Because of their loyalty and intelligence, they are excellent guard dogs.
Among the smaller dogs, the Papillon is intelligent enough to not bark excessively against unwarranted threats. With the right reinforcement, they learn quickly, assimilating new commands within fewer than 10 repetitions. Moreover, they behave consistently and are either able or willing to comply up to 95 percent of the time on the first command. Because of their friendly nature, they make excellent service dogs. In terms of breed intelligence, they are exceptionally gifted trackers.
These dogs flourish in families that can provide them consistent physical affection. That said, they are independent enough that they do not cling or often display separation anxiety. As such, they integrate well with continuously present care providers or in homes where the owners work and are not home during the day.