All dog owners like to think that their dog is really smart, even when all evidence points to the contrary! Many heated debates have ensued after a perceived sleight to someone else’s dog’s intelligence, but on the flipside, we have all seen our dogs doing something ridiculous, nonsensical or in complete disregard of their own safety and wondered exactly how the species is still extant despite this too!
If you’re wondering how intelligent your dog really is and if there is a way to compare them to the average middle-of-the-road dog to assess if they are smarter or dumber than the norm, the answer to this question is broadly yes – if you can be objective about it yourself!
There is a widely used and referenced scale of canine intelligence that scores dogs on a spectrum on a breed by breed basis and that dictates what the average dog of each breed is theoretically capable of, and you can use this to score your own dog too. This is called the Coren scale, as developed by canine behaviourist and professor of psychology Stanley Coren.
There are a couple of ways, therefore, to assess the intelligence of your own dog compared to the average for dogs as a whole, depending on how specific you want to be! The first of these if your dog is a pedigree, is to find where their breed as a whole falls on the scale of 138 different breeds assessed. If the breed falls in 68th place or a smaller number, they’re more intelligent than the norm – and if they fall in 69th place or a higher number, they’re less intelligent.
However, every dog within a given breed group isn’t the same in terms of their basic intelligence and every breed will contain dogs that are much smarter, or much less smart, than the breed norm too!
Coupled with this, if your dog is from a breed not ranked on the scale, or is a hybrid breed or of unknown ancestry, the pedigree dog scale won’t help you at all. Ergo, if you want to find out whether or not your dog is more or less intelligent than the average dog regardless of their breed, you need to dig a little deeper – and we’ll tell you how within this article. Read on to find out more.
The Coren scale is the only widely accepted benchmark of canine intelligence, and it contains more breeds today than when it was first developed, but still does not include every recognised pedigree dog breed either in the UK or the world.
However, the scale or spectrum essentially compares the ranked dog breeds to each other based on their working intelligence and obedience, which means their capacity to learn, willingness to do so, and ability to follow direction as well as just to understand them.
The way this is assessed in practice is to combine information for both how many times a dog needs to be told a brand new command under controlled settings before they understand it well enough to demonstrate this by following it – in combination with how many repetitions the dog needs on average of the command before they will follow it.
Out of the 138 different dog breeds formally ranked in intelligence order on the Coren scale, bang on the middle of this means numbers 68 and 69 in the list – which are the Kuvasz and Australian shepherd dog breeds respectively.
Neither of these are hugely common in the UK and so the average dog owner probably won’t even know a single dog of either breed; but these are the two breeds that fall squarely in the middle of the pack, and so can be considered to be exactly average in the intelligence stakes!
The Kuvasz and Australian shepherd dog breeds fall within the Coren scale grouping referred to as containing dogs of “average working intelligence and obedience,” and there are a total of 31 dogs within this section out of the 138 total assessed.
The 31 “average” intelligence dogs are ranked within the group in intelligence order, and ergo there are small differences between each individual position within this part of the list, but the benchmark for dogs in the “average” intelligence section is defined by Coren as the following:
Naturally in order to assess how long it took dogs of each breed to learn any given command and assess how often they follow said command, the testing conditions were very well controlled and the means and application of the training approach developed by professionals. This is to ensure that nothing would serve as a barrier to the dogs’ ability to pick things up – like mistakes on the part of their handlers, or too much external stimulus.
This means that the average dog owner who is not a professional or highly experienced trainer might not be able to replicate such a result exactly with the same dog, but it does provide a basic guideline or benchmark.
Depending on the approach you prefer and how specific of an answer you want to get, there are a few ways to assess if your own dog is, on paper at least, more or less intelligent than the average dog.
First of all, you can look up pedigree breeds on the Coren scale and accept the breed average, and see if the breed average is above or below the midway point on the list.
If you own a hybrid or cross breed of known ancestry, you can look up the respective parent breeds and pick the average figure from between them and again, see if it is below or above the midway point of the list.
Alternatively, if you’re confident enough in your dog training skills to be sure of giving your dog a fair crack at learning a command effectively as far as they are able, you can follow the benchmark information to teach them a new command!
This means picking a brand-new and not overly complex standalone command and keeping a note of how many times you need to teach or direct your dog with it before they demonstrate understanding of it by complying.
Then, assessing how many repetitions on average they require once they know it before they comply.
If your dog picks up the command within the 25-40 instructions window (these need not, and unless your dog is a very fast learner, should not, be all in the same training session!) and will follow the command once they know it more than half of the time, they’re bang on the average.
Under 25 repetitions to learn and compliance first time 70% of the time or better places them in the next smartest group up – or above – whilst over 40 repetitions and compliance first time 30% of the time or less places them in the below average group!