Are Some Dogs Just Dumb?
Seriously, I hear this question a lot from clients, and friends who have dogs, and I am ready to weigh in with my opinion on “dumb dogs.”
If you ask people to name the smartest dog breeds they will often say a Border Collie, or an Australian Shepherd, and if I asked you to name the dumbest dogs you might say a Bassett Hound or an Afghan. Right away can anyone tell some similarities between these answers? The two “smartest” dogs are in the herding group, while the two “dumbest” breeds are hounds… Interesting… I think we could be onto something here!
When we try to measure the intelligence of a dog, we can only do so by exposing them to exercises we have people do to test human intelligence. We can only test how intelligent they are in relation to us. Humans are pretty inept when it comes to scent tracking. We don’t use smells to learn or to communicate; we do use words, gestures and body language. Dogs have 44 times the amount of scent receptors that humans have. That is an average dog, not even specifically a hound.
So what if we could more easily communicate, and even be more aware of scents? Would we perhaps then find a Basset to be the smartest dog? Have we ever stopped to think about the reason training might be failing? Because to even waste a moment worrying the animal might just be dumb, is a complete waste of time. Instead step away from the animal and look at yourself, and the training program.
Are you training a scent hound using visual and verbal cues only? Perhaps if you step away and think of how to train the scent hound using his strengths; scent, you might get a lot further, a lot faster!
We even test humans to see what kind of “learners” we are, but yet we rarely stop to think of the type of learners our dogs are. Since the communication barrier is already a bigger factor between humans and dogs, it would seem that trying to figure out what motivates your dog, and how he can most easily learn something, will greatly improve the training experience for you both.
Today we do have a tool to help us figure this out! Dognition is a great website that offers brain games and exercises to help you to better understand the way your dog learns.
I grew up with a Corgi, I have mentioned him a lot before; he was certainly a reason I become a dog trainer. If you ask me, he was simply brilliant. One of the smartest dogs I have met to this day. Max learned language (words) so easily, and he remebered them! People’s names, places we were going and specific foods; he knew it all! Now that I am a trainer I fully understand why he was a brilliant addition to our family; we’re talkers! -especially to our animals! I am the chatterbox of the family, and I talked to Max a lot. So he learned language, he was a herding dog, and it came a little easier to him, than some other breeds, but again all of this amounts to a family dog who we viewed as simply brilliant.
If people could easily emit smells, as communication just as we do words, then perhaps my Corgi would have seemed quite dumb, and we would have preferred the Afghan as our family pet, but it is just the way humans work. We can’t easily create and present different smells, but we know lots of words!
In conclusion, I will again say that I do not believe there are dumb dogs, especially not specific breeds that are dumber. I believe humans are limited in their ability to communicate and train dogs, and so some are more difficult for us, but this is no fault of the dog, and it certainly is not the sign of unintelligence. If you are reading this thinking your dog is the exception, and he is truly dumb, then I challenge you! Learn about your dog! Understand his breed, if he is a mutt, then research several breeds that seem like they could make up your dog. Find out what he was bred for, and what the breeds strengths are, and use them in your training. Another great option is to join Dognition to help you learn more about your dog. If you live in the New York City area, and want professional help with this, please feel free to contact us!