People in the market for a new canine companion often ask which breed is the smartest.
This is a similar question to one people ask gun dealers; which gun is the best for personal defense? Or which boat is best for my family? Which car is the best overall.
Frankly, the answer to all these is, it depends.
Let’s stick with the dogs.
Do you want a herding breed? Do you want a jogging companion? Do you want one that retrieves waterfowl or upland game? Do you want one to protect your home and property? A show dog maybe? You see, it depends.
Last November, Reader’s Digest published a piece ranking dog breeds based upon how smart they were. The piece referenced a book, “The Intelligence of Dogs,” written by renowned canine researcher and professor Stanley Coren.
Coren told writer Lauren Cahn that he breaks canine intelligence down into three categories. He prefaces all three categories by the way dogs interact with humans.
“Instinctiveness” he says looks at what the dog has been bred by humans to do.
The second intelligence type offered by Coren is “adaptive,” or how well the dog learns from its environment to solve problems.
Finally, “working and obedience,” or how hard the dog is willing to work to please its people and do its jobs.
He went on to explain that what underpins all three is the desire and ability to communicate with humans. By that he means how well the pooch understands human signs, actions and commands. In return, how well does the dog express itself via barks, body movements and actions?
To provide some perspective, consider that the average dog can learn about 160 words. But some know more than 250. There are two more key points here to consider.
First, dogs really do care about doing their job and doing it well.
Second, the human has to live up to the commitment of training time and energy, too. Train only sometimes and the dog gets confused. “Do you want me to do this job or not?” the dog thinks and signals.
In several field and herding competitions, owners or trainers are only allowed to use hand signals in certain parts of the testing process.
So those hand signals have to be both taught and learned as well. Some breeds will take to such training better than others.
I have to speak up for the mixed breed pet that would otherwise languish in a shelter.
With the right owner and sufficient time spent in daily 20- to 30-minute sessions, they can accomplish almost anything. Fundamentally, dogs have been developed to serve humans and they enjoy doing so.
Of course one would be foolish to use a Chihuahua in a swift river to try and retrieve ducks. Trained appropriately, one would try though.
The border collie usually ranks first in such pieces. Some are known to know more than 1,000 words. They want to herd and serve. They are constantly looking to their owner for signals and direction. The tough part is this dog truly wants to work hard.
If you fall down on the job and don’t give them a job and work them at it, it is a shameful waste. One doesn’t have to have a flock of sheep to make this relationship work. They can do just as well with catching and retrieving flying discs, or in agility competitions.
Numbers 2 and 3 are poodles and German shepherds respectively. A word to the wise, never count out a well-trained poodle. No, seriously.
Powell is the retired public information officer for Washington State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine. This column reflects his thoughts and no longer represents WSU. For questions or concerns about animals you’d like to read about, email email@example.com