Why are some breeds of dog more intelligent than others?

Happy Thanksgiving, Science 200! I am far from my hometown in New York at my cousins house, and this morning we are watching the annual National Dog Show sponsored by Purina. After watching dog after dog prance across the screen, poised an polished by breed, I began wondering if some of the dogs that participate in the show are smarter than dogs of other breeds.

To study this, I researched the intelligence of some of the breeds highlighted in the show: Retrievers, Toys, and Spaniels. According to neuropsychologist Stanley Cohen, author of “The Intelligence of Dogs”, there are 3 categories of intelligence that all breeds of dogs fit into. The 3 breeds that I am focusing on are all very different in terms of intelligence.

The intelligence of dogs can depend on what their breed was initially created for. For example, for the Toy breed, they were originally bred as lap dogs and were bred to look cute, not as herding dogs, so they don’t have a high intelligence. However, Retrievers were bred to be loystanley-coren-and-the-intelligence-of-dogs-5241d3bc7b1baal hunters and know what their job is, so therefore have a higher intelligence.

On the National Dog Show (NDS) website, it describes the different events and categories necessary, including demonstrations. The website claims the dogs must show intelligence and athleticism.

8 thoughts on “Why are some breeds of dog more intelligent than others?

  1. Charles Hart

    I was thinking before I read the full article that maybe the reason some breeds are smarter is because maybe richer or poorer families purchase smarter dogs. This would’ve been my confounding variable, but after reading the article my hypothesis makes no sense. How could a dog’s intelligence be dependent on something that happened after it’s intelligence showed up. Now maybe a more affluent family has a stable environment so it helps the dog’s mind grow and become smarter, but I doubt it. Very excited for more studies to be done on this topic.

  2. lkv5058

    This post was very interesting! Seems like natural selection to me. Dog’s that had to be smart became increasingly smarter breeds. Dogs that were taken care of best if they were cute became increasingly cute. My guess is dogs that are breed to hunt are becoming increasingly better hunters as well. I wonder how large the intelligence spectrum is in each breed of dog? Did you see this in any of your research? It would be interesting to see if dogs of the same breed could have vastly different levels of intelligence. Thanks for posting!

    If you’re curious and would like to see what dogs are smartest and dumbest, check out this article by buzzfeed!

  3. Matthew Porr

    I think that this was a great post and I often wonder about my own dogs intelligence. I think this blog could improve by coming to a clear and concise conclusion. It seemed as if you were trying to get at that the dogs intelligence were linked to genetics, but it was never explicitly said. Also I think that you could have analyzed Cohen’s study which would help bring in class material such as hypothesis testing and sample size. However, I do think you are on to something with the genetic link to intelligence because I just learned in my Psych class that humans intelligence are linked to genetics so that could definitely be interesting to explore in the future as to how much of animals intelligence is based on your chromosomes.

  4. Mackenzie French

    How could I not comment on a dog post! Watching dog shows is hilarious and quite entertaining. I found your research on the different types of dogs and what their abilities were very interesting. But some of them I feel kind of sorry for the dog, like this article I found on this guy attaching a mechanical mouthpiece to the dog so it looks like it is talking for stand up comedian. Check it out! http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3036685/Watch-Britain-s-Got-Talent-s-singing-dog-Wendy-TV-s-amazing-act-little-mechanical-help.html

  5. Christopher Ronkainen

    I am by far a dog person and for this reason I took the time to check out your post! Growing up I always remembered my parents and family members talking about how smart peoples dogs were as if it was some sort of competition. It would always seem to end with the discussion of how labradoodles are super smart. Weird right? Anyways, to comment on your post, you don’t really do any research on the intelligence of dogs which is what you seemed to want to make your post about. While doing some of my own research I came across this post that I think you would be interested in taking a look at!

  6. Daniele Patrice Loney

    I’ve always known that some dogs intelligence levels differ from others, but I never considered why or by how much so I think this was so cool for you to address, especially after the annual Purina dog show! However, I have a chocolate lab and, to put it lightly, she isn’t the brightest lightbulb. Labrador Retrievers are though to be one of the smarter breeds as it’s been mentioned. I think my dog’s situation just goes to show that there are so many factors that influence “intelligence.”
    My lab is the runt of her litter, and my family just assumes she has some sort of issue, whether it be mental or emotional, that makes her such a weird/stupid creature. However, she is more well behaved than my other dog who is also a lab. To me, this reminds me of autism and how talented some individuals with the disease are.
    Although they physically may be at a disadvantage, some of them are truly genius, or have an incredible singing voice, etc.
    I hope one day we understand a dog’s brain and they intelligence levels more and are able to relate them to humans and how our own intelligence levels differ among different people.
    Awesome blog post overall. A lot of questions can branch off from it!

  7. Marielle Concetta Ravally

    Interesting post Danielle. It definitely had me considering the intelligence of dogs, however I wonder if nature vs nurture has an effect in this. I understand the aspect of Cohen’s research where he states an aspect of a dog’s intelligence is dependent on their ancestors purpose, but I wonder if you were to raise a toy breed dog in a work dog’s environment, would the toy dog develop the same skills of the work dogs and therefore show the same level of intelligence. This same aspect goes for our own species. As humans, are certain people born “smart” or does their environment influence their intelligence? Here’s an article that goes in depth regarding human intelligence regarding nature vs nurture:

    I wonder if you can apply the same thinking to dog breeds. It would definitely be interesting to look into this further.

    Thank you for sharing.

  8. Jason Williams


    I’ve always wondered why certain breeds are able to respond and react to commands quicker than others. From looking more into the neuropsychologist you mentioned, Stanley Cohen, I found a website that ranks dog breeds by intelligence based on Cohen’s calculations. It appears that dogs that we typically associate as “workers” or “protectors” are more likely to observe commands almost every time. Numbers three, four, and five are German Shepherd, Golden Retriever, and Doberman Pinscher, respectively. On the other hand, breeds like bulldogs tend to be the least receptive towards commands. Overall, this ranking can show some trends between breed and the intelligence of the dog.

    Here’s the ranking’s website: Petrix

Leave a Reply