(Updated by the Dogster Editors)
The Border Collie is widely considered to be the world’s smartest dog breed (with the Poodle coming in close second). If some are the smartest, it only makes sense that some dog breeds are the dumbest, right?
What makes a dog dumb or smart
So, what is the criteria to determine dog breed intelligence?
A study on canine intelligence was published in 2022 in Scientific Reports by University of Helsinki researchers entitled Breed differences in social cognition, inhibitory control, and spatial problem-solving ability in the domestic dog (Canis familiaris). Between March 2016 and February 2022, a total of 2,352 adult dogs (13 breeds plus mixed breeds) went through cognitive and behavior tests, called the smartDOG test battery. The researchers used the following criteria for the test:
• Greeting behavior
• Activity level behavior
• Exploratory behavior
• Short-term memory
• Inhibitory control
• Problem-solving ability
• Social cognition
• Logical reasoning
• Human-directed gesture
The test concluded that pretty much the breeds performed how they were bred for, but not all. An example was the Kelpie and Malinois scored high in the gesture test, which you’d expect from these herding breeds. However, the Finnish Lapphund, also a herding breed, received the lowest score. The report went on to say, “Similarly, during the unsolvable task, the Australian Shepherd was the least likely breed to abandon the task, whereas the Kelpie was among the breeds most likely to abandon the task. It seems evident that breeds can vary behaviorally from each other even within their breed groups, since different traits may have been (both intentionally and unintentionally) selected for in different breeds, despite the breed group they belong to.”
The test did not cover the effects of training, environment, life experiences or the background of the dogs, which can also contribute to intelligence. The researchers hope to focus on that next.
Of course, the Border Collie scored high in the tests, while it was America’s favorite dog, the Labrador Retriever, that scored the lowest.
In 1994, a psychologist named Stanley Coren, PhD., DSc., FRSC, wrote a book called The Intelligence of Dogs (Atria Books). Dr. Coren ranked more than 100 dog breeds based on three specific types of intelligence:
- Instinctive intelligence (ability to perform tasks it was bred to perform like herding or hunting)
- Adaptive intelligence (ability to independently problem solve and learn from previous experiences)
- Working and obedience intelligence (ability to learn when being taught by humans)
The following lists are pulled from the dog intelligence rankings in The Intelligence of Dogs by Dr. Coren.
10 Smartest Dog Breeds
- Border Collie
- German Shepherd Dog
- Golden Retriever
- Doberman Pinscher
- Shetland Sheepdog
- Labrador Retriever
- Australian Cattle Dog
10 Dumbest Dog Breeds
So, does this mean these are the 10 dumbest dog breeds? Well, not necessarily.
Dumb and smart dog breeds are bred for different skills
“How smart you appear to be depends on the test,” says Nicholas Dodman, BVMS, Dipl. ACVB, professor emeritus and former section head and program director of the Animal Behavior Clinic at the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University. “Until quite recently, I had two dogs. One of them was hyper and the other dog would sort of lie around like a lump. You would say Jasper was not as smart as Rusty. But once you were out on a trail, Jasper lit up. He was doing the job that nature intended him to do because he was a coonhound, and he was using his super-intelligent nose. He was brilliant at his job, but not so good at some other things.”
It’s no secret that purebred dogs have very different skills depending on what they were bred to do. For instance, herding breeds like Border Collies, Australian Shepherds and Corgis are universally considered to be extremely intelligent. Due to the nature of their work, they are excellent at both making independent decisions and taking instructions from humans.
Why are hound dogs considered to be dumb?
“Pretty much all scenthounds are governed by their noses,” Dr. Dodman says. “They’re hard to train because they don’t really look up, they look down. They’re not really interested in listening or pleasing anybody, they’re just interested in tracking with their noses. The sighthounds want to chase anything that moves. For every dog breed there’s a purpose, and the mixed breeds are just a combination of the purebreds. I can see how it might be easy to superficially judge a dog who is kind of slow and not paying a lot of attention to what you say and really not that interested in performing tricks, but it doesn’t mean that they’re not smart, and in some ways, being very independent could be more intelligent than being obedient.”
Scenthounds like Basset Hounds, Beagles and Bloodhounds can sniff out almost anything. Sighthounds can spot their prey making the slightest movement and swiftly chase it down. A Border Collie is far more trainable than a Bloodhound, but a Bloodhound is far superior at tracking scents than a Border Collie. They each have different skills, but they excel in their own ways.
Research on dog intelligence is not perfect
As it turns out, some of the research done to determine the most intelligent or dumbest dog breeds might not be entirely accurate.
“The scientific work on breeds has not really held up,” Dr. Hare states. “Most breeds are only 150 years old, so there is very little to distinguish them. To scientifically prove the smartest breed, you would need to compare at least 30 dogs from each breed. They would have to be puppies raised and tested in a similar manner to control for the effect to rearing history and age on performance. If you took the AKC breeds or all breeds worldwide, you would need between 6,000 to 12,000 puppies, decades of work, millions of dollars and about a thousand graduate students. It is no wonder no one has done it.”
In fact, in his own research, Dr. Hare has seen as much variation within a breed as between them. “For example, Labradors bred for the military are the same breed as Labradors bred to be assistance dogs — and you have never seen two more different dogs in your life,” he explains.
Humans categorizing certain breeds as the dumbest dog breeds is less about truly measuring their intelligence and more about not understanding the breed’s particular skillset.
“No individual dog or an entire breed should be considered ‘dumb,’” says Gina DiNardo, executive secretary for the American Kennel Club. “Ease of training is not an accurate way to assess a dog’s intelligence. What we humans may perceive as an animal being ‘dumb’ may be independence, stubbornness or aloofness, which are common characteristics in many breeds. Training takes time and patience, and every dog is different. Learn different training techniques available, and if you are having problems, seek out a trainer who can give you the skills that you need to teach your dog.”
According to Dr. Hare, dog intelligence is not a black and white matter. “I don’t really think there is any such thing as ‘smart’ dogs and ‘dumb’ dogs,” he states. “That is just a throwback to a linear version of intelligence, as though intelligence is a cup of coffee that is more or less full. Different dogs are good at different things. And all of them are geniuses in their own way.”
So, what is it about certain breeds that caused them to end up as the dumbest dog breeds in Dr. Coren’s book The Intelligence of Dogs? Let’s take a look at each of these breeds.
The 10 Dumbest Dog Breeds and Their Traits
1. Afghan Hound
The Afghan Hound tops the list of “dumbest dog breeds” according to The Intelligence of Dogs, but Afghan lovers surely disagree. Afghans are sighthounds, which means they were bred to hunt using their extraordinary speed and eyesight. Like many sighthounds, Afghans can be aloof, which means they can be a little standoffish and reserved, especially with strangers. They can also be stubborn and independent. Due to these traits, Afghans are not easy to train, but that doesn’t mean that they aren’t smart. They simply prefer to think for themselves and do things on their own terms. You might have to be more creative when training an Afghan, but their elegance, regal air and devotion to their humans makes them special companions.
The Basenji is another sighthound that makes the list for his independence and aloofness. Some people describe this breed as having feline qualities, and in fact, many Basenjis will groom themselves like cats. The breed has earned a reputation for being “untrainable,” but again, ease of training is not always an accurate indicator of intelligence. Quite the contrary, Basenjis are intelligent, curious and playful. Like inquisitive toddlers, they are smart enough to get into trouble if you don’t watch them carefully. Raising a Basenji can sometimes feel like taming a wild animal. They are watchful and wary, and although most bond with their owners, they may or may not like your friends. Bottom line: Basenjis are stubborn so they aren’t consistently obedient, but they can be trained. Positive methods are best.
Another breed known for stubbornness is the Bulldog. The term “bullheaded” fits the Bulldog to a T. For this reason, Bulldogs can be difficult to train, but dumb? You only have to look to one of the famous skateboarding or surfing Bulldogs to see that they are definitely capable of learning. Bulldogs are also labeled as lazy, but clearly some enjoy more vigorous activities than lying on the couch.
4. Chow Chow
Chow Chows might look like adorable teddy bears, but they are not always the cuddly type. Originally bred to be guard dogs, Chows are serious, independent and aloof. They are strong-willed and stubborn, and therefore more difficult to train, which lands them a spot on the list of dumbest dog breeds. Chows are intelligent — they just have minds of their own. If not trained correctly, Chows might challenge their humans for authority, which can become problematic. For these reasons, Chows require firm but fair training and extensive socialization starting from an early age. When raised properly, Chows are noble, loyal and devoted companions.
Yet another sighthound, the Borzoi is an independent freethinker. This breed can also be stubborn — training a Borzoi is an exercise in patience. Borzois seem to do best with frequent, short training sessions rather than hour-long classes. In the house, they are generally very well-mannered, calm, clean and quite affectionate, especially with their special people.
If you have ever witnessed the aurora borealis, the colorful northern lights display that transforming the night sky into a brilliant sight to behold, you might be able to understand how a scenthound like the Bloodhound “sees” the world with his sensitive nose. Bloodhounds are hard to train because they are so distracted by all the glorious scents just waiting to be investigated. They also have a ton of energy, are stubborn and independent, and are absolutely relentless when on a scent trail. Combined together, the Bloodhound’s unique skills can sometimes make these dogs challenging to live with, but enter a Bloodhound in a tracking event and watch his special talents shine.
One reason people might think Pekingese are a little slow is the fact that they are somewhat sloth-like. At home, they enjoy lounging about and surveying their domain. This could be due to their physical build or partly held over from their history as sacred pets of the Tang Dynasty in 8th-century China. In fact, Pekingese were called “sleeve dogs” because members of the Imperial household carried their cherished companions around snugly nestled in their voluminous sleeves. Can you blame the Peke for enjoying the easy life? Pekingese are also stubborn and difficult to housebreak. This doesn’t make them dumb, but it does make for some training challenges. Start training early and be consistent.
Like Bloodhounds, Beagles like to follow their noses, which can sometimes get them into trouble. The Beagle’s sweet, affectionate nature, combined with his happy-go-lucky outlook might lead you to think he’s empty headed. It’s best to keep Beagles on a leash. They can’t resist the urge to explore, smell the world and chase small critters.
The large, laid-back Mastiff is a very chill dog. So chill, in fact, that you might thing he’s a little dense. They are also a bit stubborn and might be more challenging to train than some breeds. Again, activity level and ease of training aren’t necessarily good indicators of intelligence. Mastiffs are actually quite bright. Due to their size and natural wariness of strangers, it’s essential for owners to start training and socialization early in puppyhood so Mastiffs develop into well-behaved and discerning companions.
10. Basset Hound
Like the Pekingese, Basset Hounds can be a bit lazy. This could be in part to their long and low bodies or their laid-back personalities. Bassets can be a little stubborn, and like their scenthound cousins the Bloodhounds and the Beagles, Bassets might have trouble ignoring the amazing scents around them long enough to concentrate on learning. However, Bassets want to please their people and are very food motivated, so they do respond well to training. Don’t mistake the Basset’s easy-going personality for lack of intelligence, though. They are bright and affectionate dogs.
The bottom line on the dumbest dog breeds
It’s not fair to label any breed or individual dog dumb. Yes, some dogs are brighter than others, but most dogs are good at something — you just have to figure out what.
“Some dogs do some things better than others, and they have different behaviors.,” Dr. Dodman says. “Police dogs and army dogs tend to be the German Shepherd Dog and Malinois types because they’re easily trainable. Does that mean they’re smart? Or does it mean they’re not so smart because they always follow other people’s directions and don’t think independently? You can argue it both ways.”
Note: Dogster does not believe any dog breed is a “dumb” dog breed.
Thumbnail: Photography ©dimarik | Thinkstock.
Originally published in 2012 and updated in 2018.
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