Tag Archives: dog intelligence

Is Your Dog A Smart Dog?

Do you have a smart dog? We feel your pain!

There are lots of ways to measure intelligence in dogs. There’s really no dog I.Q. test, so dogs are judged by other parameters. How quickly do they learn new tricks? Do they have a large vocabulary? How well do they obey? Are they able to solve problems?

That last one is probably where most small dog breeds excel. Most are derived from Terriers in their background. And all Terrier-type dogs were bred to work independently, ridding their community of various types of vermin.

Conventional wisdom

People generally think that Border Collies are the most intelligent breed of dog. We have a friend who’s owned Border Collies, Brussels Griffons, and now has a Russell Terrier. She’s an amazing obedience competitor, with the highest-achieving Brussels Griffon ever, and multiple Obedience championships with her Border Collies.

Picture of a black Brussels Griffon Dog named Roc who was a very smart dog.

The Border Collies came after the Griffs. We think she got the Border Collies so she wouldn’t have to work as hard to achieve the Obedience accolades. It’s not that Griffs can’t do obedience. They can. But their overwhelming motivation for doing it is because you want it. Griffs stick to their people’s side, known as “Velcro dogs.” Once upon a time, Hope went to a tracking workshop with Roc, her Brussels Griffon. He was fine at the sniffing part, finding the “hide.” Awful at “going out” ahead of Hope to follow the track. He barely needed a four-foot leash, let alone the 15-footer that was part of the workshop.

Border Collies, on the other hand, work with people. They don’t have to be near the person at all. They do what they’re told. And they like it. Over and over and over. If Border Collies could talk, they’d repeatedly ask: What can I do for you now? How about now? Now?

Different questions

After our friend had her Russell Terrier for a while, we asked about the differences in training between her Border Collies and the Russell Terrier. (She’s given up trying to do Obedience with her Griffs.) Both breeds are active, intelligent dogs. And she’s discovered that her Terrier is just as bright, quick, and eager to learn as any dog. She also found a fundamental difference. 

Her answer? The Border Collies do what they’re told, when they’re told to do it. The Terrier asks “Why should I?” And that’s it, in a nutshell. It’s not that the Russell Terrier is less intelligent than the Border Collie. It’s that most Terrier-type dogs need a reason to do what we want. Once you’ve found your dog’s motivation, they’re capable of doing anything.

Challenges of smart dogs

Having a smart dog can be exhausting. They always explore, notice changes in their environment, and ask “Why?” It’s also a lot of fun, once you convince them that there’s nothing interesting under the rug, the garbage doesn’t need to be investigated, and the hole in the lawn doesn’t need to be bigger. 

If you have a smart dog, keeping that little body out of big trouble can be a chore. They’re creative problem-solvers and probably need closer supervision than other dogs. It’s one of the reasons we love training our dogs every day. Just a few minutes of concentrated, fun training games will require a nap after. And they’re so darn cute when they’re sleeping!

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Just as we thought – dogs really are smarter than a two-year-old!


Most dog owners know their dogs are smart. They recognize us, they love us, they understand our words as well as our tone, and they really to watch what we’re doing.

We’re righguiltytorquet! Scientists are now finding that dogs can learn hundreds of words, know their owners apart from anyone else, are happy to see us, get jealous when we pay attention to other dogs, and can follow our gazes as well as our gestures. Read all about it here.

The only finding that contradicts conventional dog-owner lore is that dogs don’t really know when they’ve misbehaved, and don’t really feel guilt. We accept that. None of our dogs has ever been the least bit sorry about their naughtiness!