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Just for fun...

What traits or behaviors make a dog "smart" or "dumb"?

A lot of people call my boys smart. But usually this is said in the context of them behaving nicely or doing tricks. I think both my dogs are very motivated to train and that they are well trained. But I don't necessarily think a dog that is compliant and trained MUST be smart. They must simply be willing to work for a motivator. I honestly wouldn't even know which one of my dogs I would call smarter, if I had to choose. They each learned certain things faster than others and they are both very motivated. Also, their foundations in training (spacial and rear end awareness, responding to pressure, navigating obstacles, boundary training) allow them to navigate the world with seemingly more awareness than an untrained dog. But without any training, I am sure they would behave differently in their environment.

Really, I can't think of a dog I've personally met that has struck me as smarter or dumber than any other dog. I have been impressed by some problem solving skills from my own dogs, like Soro remember and choosing a roundabout way to get across an obstacle. There are videos of dogs that strike me as smart, usually ones getting into trouble. Mostly, independent and bored dogs who figure out creative ways to manipulate or escape their environment. But most of what I see is just "learning". If the capacity to learn makes a dog smart then I guess all dogs, and all animals, are smart. After reading Brian Hare's "Genius of Dogs" I like the idea that every animal has their own kind of genius. Objectively, some dogs have the ability to infer better than others. Just random musings... I guess this is the challenge with assigning these sorts of adjectives to dogs. :D
 

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I think a lot of people actually mean "biddable" when they say "smart". A lot of breeds that get labeled "smart" are typically dogs bed for generations to be biddable, and work closely with people. Lots of herding and bird hunting breeds are very cooperative, and tend to ask their person what can they do for them now. On the other hand, breeds labeled as "dumb" or "stupid" tend to be breeds that have not been bred to work closely with humans. Northern breeds, sight hounds, pack hounds, and livestock guardian breeds were developed to have a certain degree of independence, and to think for themselves.
 

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I also think that sometimes 'smart' gets confused with 'biddable.'

I do think, however, that some dogs are better at making connections more quickly and figuring out how to get what they want. Some are better at remembering that doing this thing led to getting a reward, or doing this thing ended up not being so great. I mean, if you gave me a set of tricks to teach a Border Collie and a Golden Retriever, I would bet that the Border Collie would master them first. I think some dogs are better at learning things we don't teach them, like this event the human does leads to this, or even picking up words we don't teach them.

I don't think any dog is inherently dumb...maybe just that their strengths lie in other places, lol.
 

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I totally agree that "smart" is usually confused with biddable and/or motivated, especially when we're talking on a breed level.

But also... Snowball is not as smart as the girls, and it has nothing to do with being less motivated - he is definitely more food motivated than Ida. He is not a good problem solver, and he takes longer to build associations than the girls do. This could be because they have better foundations than he does, or because Snowball is my first dog, so I'm a better trainer now than I was when he first came along.
 

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Add me to the list of people who think 'biddable' or even 'really good at learning what they're taught' is often confused for intelligence. With the second there is also a lot of the TRAINER and how skilled they are (or even just if a given method works for a given dog and the ability to change methods to get the desired result if it doesn't).

That said, I've known some dogs who just don't seem to learn, regardless of method or whether there's a human element of not. And to me, the capacity problem solve and to learn - from the environment, from a person, whatever - is pretty much the definition of intelligence.

To whit, I'm pretty comfortable saying that I have owned some dogs who were just plain not smart.
 

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Yes. Most people confuse biddable with smart (or dumb).

I do find hounds a challenge (and why I do not own them). I also find females tend to be less biddable than males (but not always!). Pack drive and biddability is in the same category. Then there is genetic obedience.. those dogs that seem pre programmed (currently our training decoy/helper has one of these and they are rare).

As to SMART I can say I have a female who does not have the greatest pack drive, who is biddable if there is something in it for her but who is VERY VERY smart and that can be trouble! I have seen "dumb" hounds out think "smart" Germabn Sheopherds when finding their way out of or around an obstacle.

OTOH I think the smartest dog is probably the Border Collie and/or the Poodle. The issue with the first is they seem to have perfect recall on any task.. and if you teach it wrong then will never forget it. The issue with the second is if they find anything boring they will get creative and make up a game and it will not be what you had in mind.

Smart should be the ability to problem solve.. and those dogs, if not very biddable, are your greatest challenge.
 

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I personally classify dogs as 'smart' based on what they figure out on their own without me actively guiding/teaching them. Like my Pyr who learned to grab her own harness and leash when she sees me getting ready for a walk, who tries to use the doorknobs herself (and uses different techniques for the kind you turn vs the kind you push), who somehow connected the umbrella with rain and will bring it to me along with her harness when we walk in the rain even though I certainly never taught her that. She's just quick that way, and there are many more examples I could list of course.

My poodle is 'smart' in that he knows the most tricks out of all of them because he picks them up the easiest and fastest. I would not call him a biddable dog at all (part terrier) but he is food motivated. The speed with which he picks up the tricks could be attributed to food motivation or intelligence, I guess, but I'll never know which one has more effect. However, he has an excellent memory, and that ties back into my thinking dogs are smart when they do things I haven't taught them. He can learn and remember things on his own.
 

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Smart should be the ability to problem solve.
I agree with this. For example you're walking your dog on leash and he goes around one side of a tree or post and you go on the other. The dog who can't figure out that they need to come back around to get back to you might be considered less smart than others.

I have an example this week for Kane. At work I get up to walk down the hall to the bathroom and I call him to follow me. Sometimes he's SUPER slow and I get there way before he does. A few times I've hidden behind the bathroom door to see if he will find me (or I foolishly think that if he's left alone and gets panicky that he'll follow me faster next time). But he can't find me! He gets to the bathroom and I hear him stop. Then turn around. Then take a few steps and stop again. So I call him, but stay hidden. He does the same thing - gets to the door, stops, turns around, etc. At this point he usually starts to get pretty worried that he's been left alone and abandoned so I peek my head around the door and call him again. Then he's SO relieved that he found me and he wags his tail and comes racing over to me all happy.

His reaction is understandable the first time or two, but I really thought he would have figured it out by the third or fourth time. So maybe he's not the smartest dog in the world :) Pepper on the other hand would have just walked right up to me and been like "why are you behind the door?".
Smart girl ;)
 
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