Researchers in Finland tested the cognitive abilities of 1,000 dogs from 13 distinct breeds to assess the intelligence of each breed. The study which was published in Scientific Reports has been hailed as potentially the largest laboratory study of canine intelligence ever conducted.
Previous studies showed that a dog’s breed isn’t as predictive of its personality and behaviour as many think, the present study suggests that there are noteworthy differences in certain cognitive abilities.
Within the 13 breeds examined, the dogs were all medium to large in size, and each breed had at least 40 individuals assessed. Breeds included in the study were the Border Collie, Belgian Malinois, English Cocker Spaniel, German Shepherd, Golden Retriever, Labrador Retriever, and the broad category of “mixed breed,” among a few others.
While the study could have some bias due to breed differences the study tried to eliminate as much as possible saying: “Another factor which could affect breed differences is the brain size and skull shape of the breeds. However, the breeds included in our study all had similar skull shapes, and there were no extremes in body size.”
They added: “The Shetland Sheepdog and Cocker Spaniel were the only breeds which markedly differed in size from the others, but they did not seem to consistently differ from the larger breeds in their results.”
So, which dog is the least intelligent? Here’s a breakdown of the full study and everything you need to know.
Dog intelligence study
The smartDOG study featured ten separate tests that measured traits like activity level, exploratory behaviour, inhibitory control, problem-solving ability, logical reasoning, and short-term memory.
The full list of tests carried out in the study were:
- Cognitive test battery
- Activity level
- The Cylinder test
- Human Gestures
- Unsolvable task
- Logical reasoning
- Memory vs gesture
One of the assessments tested the social cognition of each breed, which involved the owner gesturing toward a food bowl using different prescribed gestures ranging from emphatic pointing to a simple gaze to see if the dog will understand.
Whereas when testing Human Gestures the study said: “The test battery included five different gestures. Before the test phase, the dog was familiarised with the test set-up over four training trials, during which the dog was simply taught that food is available in either of the two bowls.”
What is the smartest dog breed?
In what is possibly an unsurprising result, Border Collies scored at or near the top in social cognition, inhibitory control, and spatial problem-solving ability, whereas the beloved (and most popular) Labrador Retrievers scored near the bottom.
What is the least intelligent dog breed?
Labrador’s are one of the most popular breeds across the globe, known as lovable, loyal, friendly, and trainable, but not necessarily considered to be the brightest. And the study backs up these suspicions as Labrador Retrievers scored near the bottom of all the breeds in problem-solving ability and inhibitory control.
However, if it’s a waggy tail you’re after, the lab is a great choice coming out as the breed most likely to be friendly when meeting someone new. A total of 934 dogs were recorded in the greeting test and out of these, 12.8% were fearful when meeting the unknown person, 28.2% were indifferent, 41.1% were friendly, and 11.1% were overexcited.