“Your dog is stupid! My dog is smart and trained! Your dog is stupid because he is Cosmo’s son and Cosmo is a stupid dog and so, your dog must be stupid!”
This is what a lady in denial of a fact that even her behaved dog, like any other dog, can sometimes disappoint you and slack off their training told me many years ago. But, was she right?
Well, as I covered in the article ‘Nature vs Nurture’, part of the dog’s character is determined by its parental genes. At the same time, even the dog’s upbringing has a strong impact on the dog’s character.
So, my dog is “stupid” because his father was “stupid”, if so, how did she calculate the intelligence level of my dog’s father? It is not rare to hear people saying that certain dogs are very intelligent, but how can you calculate the intelligence of a dog?
An IQ test may calculate human intelligence but it cannot be applied to dogs, so how is canine intelligence calculated? Is a Border Collie more intelligent than a Bloodhound? Some people may say yes because Border Collies have the reputation of being the “canine rocket scientists”.
Border Collies are herding dogs and are great at herding livestock. But like any other pedigree dogs, the Border Collie is a product of selective breeding. To create dogs good at performing a particular task, humans have focused on leveraging natural canine instincts of preying (tracking, chasing and killing), guarding and nurturing (keeping the young together and retrieving food to the den).
In case of the Border Collie and other herding breeds, generations of dogs with better ability to keep the young together have been selected. In case of the Bloodhound, humans have chosen dogs better at tracking.
So, is the Border Collie more intelligent because it is better than the Bloodhound at herding sheep? If we follow the same logic, the Bloodhound is more intelligent than the Border Collie due to its higher tracking skills.
If an individual with superior problem-solving skills is considered more intelligent, who is more intelligent, a doctor or a mechanic? Even in this case, the level of intelligence depends on what problem they have to solve, a broken car or an ill person?
When it comes to dogs, some people refer to dogs with more focus on the owner as more intelligent than the ones that are not focused on the handler. But even a stubborn dog can be intelligent, it can be an escape artist very difficult to confine due to its ability to always find a way to escape. Even the latest is a problem to solve that requires intelligence.
It is better to use the term easy to train than very intelligent. On my dog’s father Cosmo, how did certain people reach the conclusion that he was “stupid”? Was it because the dog was unresponsive to commands? If so, did anyone actually try to teach him anything?
If people base the canine’s intelligence on the ability to focus on the owner and responding to given commands, my dog has 50% of the stupid dog’s genes but, at the same time, he focuses on me and performs my commands many times better than the majority of dogs I have met. Yet, I don’t think my dog has a level of intelligence superior to any other dog. His responsiveness to my command and his focus are the outcome of me spending time with him, playing with him and giving him basic training and rules to respect.
Recently I have volunteered at a dog shelter near Kyiv, I tried to give basic training to dogs that are more suitable for adoption. Between the 2500 dogs in the facility, there was a dog named Red. Before I started working with him, the shelter staff told me he was completely untrained and couldn’t understand his name. “Did anyone even try to teach him anything?”, I’ve asked myself.
Of course, you cannot expect backflips from the dog that has spent years chained as a failed guard dog and two years in an overcrowded chaotic shelter but, in less than an hour, Red showed signs of great potential by responding to his name, coming when recalled, sitting when demanded and politely walking on the lead much better than many other dogs. Now Red has a new home and a new owner who is very satisfied with his choice of adopting him.
There are many factors that can make training a dog difficult. A major cause is a lack of a dog’s focus due to distractions in the surroundings or, in case of entire dogs, the urge of mating. Still, these factors do not make a dog “stupid”.
I don’t know my dog’s father, I saw him a couple of times back in the time when I didn’t have that much knowledge of dogs. To me, he didn’t look any different from the average dog but, referring to the urban gossip, he wasn’t “smart”. I can take it as the dog didn’t have his chance. If Cosmo’s owner put some serious effort and expectation into her dog, people’s opinion of him could have been different. I can agree that he might lack focus but I doubt that he lacked intelligence.
If you own a dog, remember that some dogs are easier to distract than others, especially if entire. But it doesn’t mean they are less intelligent. Mental stimulation (especially for puppies) increases cognitive function and problem-solving ability making training easier and faster.
So be an intelligent owner and put some honest effort into your dog.
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Also, if you like the topic of dogs, please check my book ‘Before You Get A Dog’ by Simone Burani. You will find the essential knowledge written in simple language to have a great time with your pet.