We have all met dogs that make us think “wow! That dog is so smart!” I’m sure you have also met a dog that you’re pretty sure would rank 0 on any IQ test. But what about the Bichon Frise? They seem a little froufrou so they can’t be too smart, can they? But then again they are little comedians and love to make people laugh. Laughter being the best medicine, perhaps the Bichon is as smart as a doctor?
What is the Official Method to Test Dog Intelligence?
The intelligence of dogs has been measured by how quickly the dog learns a new trick. If a dog can learn a new command in 5 repetitions or less and obey that command 95% of the time or more they are ranked in the top 10 smartest dog breeds.
The next 16 smartest dog breeds can perform a new command after 5-15 repetitions and obey the command 85% of the time or better.
Dog Intelligence Test Considerations:
This seems like a great test, right? Well, kind of. We must also consider however what the breeds were bred for. The smartest breeds were bred to work closely with people and they have a very strong desire to please people.
However, many breeds were bred to be more independent. To work with little human help. They have a job, they know what it is, and they do it. But if a person asks them to do something outside their job… Well, they won’t. These breeds are often labeled as stubborn or dumb.
If you think about it though these breeds are just doing what they know they were meant to do. Following their hearts, their instincts, being true to themselves. They find fulfillment in this and don’t need some human to tell them they are a “good dog.”
If you think about it in this way, if these “least intelligent” dogs were people we would be giving them huge praise! They are like those people who seem to have been born with one purpose and they go after that purpose with everything they have. These people are so inspirational, just being who they are with no apology. They need no one to tell them good work. They have no desire to please anyone but that desire inside that says “you were made for…”
Thus the smartest dogs are actually more like the best employees. They have such a strong desire to please someone that they do the best they can for their boss.
So, if we think of dog intelligence in human terms who would we think are the truly intelligent ones?
Of course, the “smartest” breeds are also, are just doing what they were bred for. They find their joy in what they do and in working closely with people and getting that praise. I guess I’m just saying the current intelligence test is pretty biased.
We must also keep in mind that dogs are individuals. Some are bred better than others. The ones that are better bred will hold truer to their innate desires, to the reasons the breed was developed. I would say that a well-bred dog is going to be the smartest dog when compared to a poorly bred dog. Because dogs are individuals you will have some in all breeds that outshine others in intelligence and some that are more “stubborn.”
It is important to note that some dogs will catch on to different commands faster then they will other commands. If the dog thinks that one command is fun they will learn it faster, then a command they think isn’t fun or is painful to them is some way. For instance, some dogs will not be comfortable going into a “down” in a strange place. But they will gladly give you a “high-five” anywhere.
One more thing when considering the intelligence of a dog. We must consider the owner. Many owners will get a dog because they like the look of the breed. Perhaps they get a dog that is “stubborn.” The owner may then decide that their dog is “dumb” because it doesn’t have the need to please them. So, do not take an owner’s word for it if they say that their dog is “stupid.” What is the breed? Was if originally developed to work closely with people? Was the dog well-bred? These are all things to consider when thinking about the intelligence of an individual dog.
Smartest Dog Breeds:
So by the generally recognized standard of intelligence, these are the top breeds.
Border Collies, no surprise there, I’m sure. This breed was bred to work closely with humans and have high energy. An eagerness to please combined with an overwhelming amount of energy leaves most owners with little other option than to train these pups as much as possible. This burns energy and keeps the breed from getting bored.
That said, herding breeds, in general, tend to be very intelligent. The Australian Cattle Dog, Shetland Sheepdog, and German Shepard are all on the top 10 list of smartest dog breeds.
The Poodle, Golden Retriever, and Labrador Retriever are also on the top 10 list. These breeds were bred to work closely with humans. So an eagerness to please humans was a must during breed development.
The Rottweiler and Doberman Pinscher are also on the top 10 list. Interestingly the Rottweiler was used as a herding dog in its past. So, it was bred to work closely with humans. The Doberman Pinscher was bred to protect and intimidate, but also obey its human. It makes sense then that this breed would need to be eager to please his human. While being intelligent enough to not take orders for just anyone.
Least Intelligent Breeds:
So, here are what the world claims as the “least intelligent” dog breeds.
The list includes sighthounds such as the Afghan Hound and Borzoi. These are elegant breeds made for speed. They were breed to work alone. To chase down prey and kill it with or without help from a human.
The “least intelligent” breed lists also include terriers such as the Bull Terrier and Scottish Terrier. This is another category of breeds that were bred to work alone. Terriers were mainly bred to get rid of rodents. To fearlessly charge face-first into a rodent den and get rid of the inhabitants. An impressive job but not one that people wanted to do.
There are several other hunting breeds on the list including the Beagle. This is not overly surprising as the Beagle was bred to hunt in packs. Mostly for sport like a fox hunt. The dogs would find the scent, lead the way, and humans would follow on horseback. The dogs did not need humans to perform their job.
There are also scenthounds on the list, think Bloodhound and Bassett Hound. These dogs were bred to follow the scent. Period. People might give the dog a scent to follow but after that human involvement was not necessary.
Bulldogs also make the list. These dogs were originally bred to not have any need for people when preforming their “job.” Which was an entertainment of sorts. Bulldogs were bred for bull-baiting. A ruthless, bloody form of entertainment in which a bull was attacked by dogs. Basically, either the dogs or the bull or some of both died. Obviously, no people needed for that, other than to watch.
The Chow Chow also makes the list of “dumb” dogs. In this breeds early history they were actually raised as food animals. It makes sense then that they were not bred for their intelligence. You generally don’t want your food to know that you are going to eat it, otherwise, it wouldn’t hang around.
There are many toy breeds on the list of “least intelligent” as well. Some of the breeds included are the Pekingese, Lhasa Apso, and Chihuahua. This makes some sense as well. They are such small breeds it is easy to force them to do what you want them to do. You don’t need their permission or help or cooperation. They don’t want to walk on a leash, you can drag them. They don’t want to cuddle, you can grab them up and cuddle anyway. These dogs were bred more for looks and companionship. They weren’t bred to help humans, like a sheepdog or retriever. So, eagerness to please wasn’t a huge part of these breeds development.
Where Does The Bichon Rank?
So, were does the Bichon Frise rank in all this? Are they amongst the top 10 or the bottom few? Well, according to the intelligence ranking that we currently have to work with, Bichons are about in the middle. Number 45 ranking equally with the Siberian Husky, Havanese, and King Charles Spaniel.
This means that it takes the Bichon, as a breed, 25-40 repetitions to obey a new command. They will perform that command 50% of the time or more on the first ask.
Bichons got their start as companion animals, which could partly account for their slightly lower intelligence ranking. However, they later became popular with street performers and circus acts. Clearly, they are smart enough to learn fun tricks to show off. They are also very eager-to-please which helps them gain a higher footing on the intelligence scale.
I think that a dog with a middle of the road intelligence is the right fit for a lot of people. Unless you have time to train like crazy, a Border Collie or other herding breed is likely not for you. It takes a special person with high-energy to engage a dog like a Border Collie enough to keep the dog from getting bored.
Likewise, it takes a special person to accept the ways of a “low intelligence” breed. These are not the breeds for you if you want a dog who will perform tricks and be in obedience competitions. These breeds are best left to people who are willing to love the breed and the dog for who he is. Without a desire to change the dog into something they want.
Again dog intelligence if fairly relative. There is a Havanese (closely related to the Bichon) that has a bachelor’s, master’s, and Ph.D. from Yale. This is due to this dog’s participated in studies done by the university on dog intelligence.
Testing Your Dog’s Intelligence:
You can test your dog’s intelligence too if you would like. Pick a new trick and see how many reps it takes for your dog to understand. Then see how much percent of the time they comply with your first request for the trick.
Another way to test your dog’s IQ is to get one of those IQ toys. A toy with hidden compartments for treats. The first time it will likely take your dog a while. But time the dog on subsequent attempts. You will notice that each time your dog figures it out faster because he remembers. You can use this in the same way as training a new trick. How many repetitions does it take before your dog obviously knows exactly how to find all the treats.
The intelligence of dogs is judged by their willingness to work with us humans. But dogs are so much more than that. They have the ability to, not only understand, what we say but also then communicate back to us. A growl or a look and you know exactly what your dog is telling you. “Don’t touch my toy” or “please, share the cheese.”
Dog’s also have an emotional intelligence knowing when we need cuddles and a furry body to cry on. Or if we need to laugh or play or go for a walk, and they give us what we need.
Plus, some dogs are intelligent enough to know things that we humans don’t even understand yet. You hear stories of dogs who can detect cancer, a low blood sugar, an impending seizure, or a pop-up tornado. How do they know? Are we really giving dogs the credit they deserve when it comes to intelligence?