Sunday, September 25, 2011


Helpful Buckeye is changing course this week and steering back into the world of dogs, to be specific.  Many of our readers sent e-mails during the 4-week run of articles on unusual cat behavior saying that they couldn't wait to get back to things about dogs.  Some of you even went so far as to suggest that dogs are much smarter than cats anyway and wouldn't exhibit any of those "stupid" cat behavioral problems.

But also, thanks for all the e-mails in which many of you reported that you enjoyed the articles even though you didn't have a cat.  That's a kind of comment that's nice to hear!  You can't please all the people all of the time.

Getting back to smart dogs, just how should we decide what constitutes a "smart" dog?  Is yours smarter than mine or are they both less smart than the dog down the street? 

Which Dog Breeds Are The Smartest?

How do you qualify a question that asks what the smartest dog breeds are?

Just how dumb or smart a dog is depends on what defines a "smart dog." Is it the ability to wrap people around her dewclaw and get her way, no matter what? Which dog is smarter, the one that does as he's told and works hard for his supper or the one that cocks her head, looks confused and is waited on because she's obviously too challenged to find her way to her own food bowl?

It's not a simple question. Just as you have book-smart and street-smart people, you have dogs that are smart in different ways. Dogs that we consider book-smart are the ones that tend to learn commands easily--and once these commands are learned, do as they're told. Owners of other breeds might agree their dogs may not have college futures, but they do have street smarts, and when it comes to getting their way, they're without peer.

The reason for these differences is all in the genes. Or more precisely, the tendency to follow human direction depends very much on what a breed was developed to do in the first place. Of the most trainable breeds, almost all come from herding or retrieving backgrounds, jobs for which the ability to follow human cues is vital. A good herder must be able to follow the shepherd's directions to move the sheep where they are wanted. A good retriever must be able to follow his handler's directions to locate fowl downed out of the dog's sight, or to avoid swimming into danger. Even lapdogs tend to have an obedient streak, since they've been selected as companions for generations.

It's easy to explain why some breeds are so obedient, but how can it be explained why some are so disobedient? Sometimes being disobedient, or at least independent, is a job requirement. Hounds and terriers, for example, were developed to trail or chase quarry without human direction; a hound or terrier that checked back with the hunter to see which way he should go would be a dismal failure on the hunt.

Other breeds tend to be disobedient simply because they're less civilized, so to speak. Breeds that DNA studies have shown to be more closely related to the wolf tend to think for themselves rather than rely on humans. These so-called progenitor breeds include the basenji, the Afghan hound, the chow chow and the Pekingese.

Domestication has selected for dogs that have an aptitude for training to a greater degree than typical wolves, which are notoriously hard to train. Yet nobody would ever think of accusing a wolf of being slow-witted. After all, is it smarter to do everything you're told or to make up your own rules?

Most people think they want a smart dog, but be careful what you wish for. Smart dogs need mental stimulation to keep themselves occupied. If you can't provide it, they can undertake their own projects, which may include various home-improvement jobs, such as pulling up that old carpet, redoing the wiring or rearranging your pantry. Unfortunately, no matter how smart they are, they seldom get past the demolition stage of one project before moving on to the next.

There's something to be said for a dog that's easily entertained.

Adapted from:

Another way to qualify how smart a dog might be is to look at different types of intelligence.  In his book, The Intelligence of Dogs, Stanley Coren breaks it down this way:

"The Intelligence of Dogs" is a book on dog intelligence by Stanley Coren, a professor of psychology at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. Published in 1994, the book explains Coren's theories about the differences in intelligence between different breeds of dogs.

Based upon previous research, Coren recognizes that intelligence has a variety of different dimensions. Coren writes of three such dimensions:
  • instinctive intelligence,
  • adaptive intelligence, and
  • working and obedience intelligence.
Instinctive intelligence refers to a dog's ability to perform the tasks it was bred for, such as herding, pointing, fetching, guarding, or supplying companionship.

Adaptive intelligence refers to a dog's ability to solve problems on his own.

Working and obedience intelligence refers to a dog's ability to learn from humans.

The book's ranking focuses on working and obedience intelligence. Coren sent evaluation requests to American Kennel Club and Canadian Kennel Club obedience trial judges, asking them to rank breeds by performance.

When Coren's list of breed intelligence first came out there was much media attention and commentary both pro and con. However over the years the ranking of breeds and the methodology used have come to be accepted as a valid description of the differences among dog breeds in terms of the trainability aspect of dog intelligence. In addition, measurements of canine intelligence using other methods have confirmed the general pattern of these rankings including a new study using owner ratings to rank dog trainability and intelligence.

Adapted from:

Coren's book is available at:

For further determination of intelligence vs. smartness, consider this:

How Smart Is Your Dog?

You might think your beagle is the smartest canine on the block, but he's got the dubious honor of being among the least trainable of dog breeds. The snarling Doberman next door? He's a quick study.

Dog intelligence, like human intelligence, comes in various forms. And although the best in any breed can be nurtured by owners willing to put in the time and effort, there are fixed realities when it comes to your animal's inbred qualities.

If it's bred to hunt, herd, or retrieve, the dog is more likely to be quick on its feet, eager to work, to move, and to please you. It will learn faster. If it's bred to be a livestock guard dog or a scent hound, it may seem distracted and just a bit dense.

Yet, even if some breeds are more nimble - some might call them smarter - trainers say any dog can learn the basics like sitting and staying. It just might take them longer to catch on.

The key is knowing what your pooch is built for and how to motivate him.

But keep in mind that the smartest dogs often don't make the best pets, trainers and vets say. Your job is to find a breed that suits your lifestyle and to focus on bringing out the best in your dog.

Smartest Dogs

In his bestselling book, "The Intelligence of Dogs", neuropsychologist Stanley Coren, PhD, focuses on trainability as a marker of intelligence.

The University of British Columbia psychology professor relied on the assessments of 110 breeds by more than 200 professional dog obedience judges who scored breeds based on working/obedience tests.

The top dogs absorbed commands in less than five repetitions and obeyed them 95% of the time or better. Here's the list, along with a breed description by the American Kennel Club:

1. Border Collie: A workaholic, this breed is the world's premier sheep herder, prized for its intelligence, extraordinary instinct, and working ability.

2. Poodle: Exceptionally smart and active. Bred to retrieve things from the water. The miniature variety may have been used for truffle hunting.

3. German Shepherd: The world's leading police, guard, and military dog -- and a loving family companion and herder.

4. Golden Retriever: Intelligent and eager to please. Bred as a hunting companion; ideal as a guide and as assistance with search-and-rescue operations.

5. Doberman Pinscher: Known for its stamina and speed. Bred to be a guardian and in demand as a police and war dog.

6. Shetland Sheepdog: The "Sheltie" is essentially a miniature working Collie. A rough-coated, longhaired working breed that is keenly intelligent. Excels in herding.

7. Labrador Retriever: An ideal sporting and family dog. Gentle and intelligent.

8. Papillon: A happy, alert breed that isn't shy or aggressive. Known as Dwarf Spaniels in the 16th and 17th centuries, they reach 8-11 inches high.

9. Rottweiler: Robust and powerful, the breed is happiest with a job. Suitable as a police dog, herder, service dog, therapy dog, obedience competitor, and devoted companion.

10. Australian Cattle Dog: Happiest doing a job like herding, obedience, or agility. Energetic and intelligent.

Do Smart Dogs Make Better Pets?

You might think a smart dog will do what you want it to do. Not necessarily.

"Smart doesn't mean easy," Coren says.  "A Doberman is going to get bored and destroy your sofa and Ming vase collection if you're out of the house for 8 to 10 hours a day, while an English bulldog may take 8 hours to figure out you're gone," Coren says. "You'll come home and he'll greet you and your pottery is still on the shelf."

A border collie is bred to work all day, so if it doesn't have an opportunity to work or exercise, it will be miserable, says Chris Redenbach, an Atlanta-based dog trainer who runs The Balanced Dog, a training program. "Typically, it'll come out in other areas, like destructiveness, running away, nipping at kids."

Having a smart dog "is like having a very smart kid," Redenbach says. "They're always into something and will get into trouble if they're bored.

Coren says his beloved beagle, a breed that scored low in obedience tests, is perfect around Coren's nine grandchildren because he doesn't seem to mind - or remember - them pulling on his ears.

Veterinarian Sophia Yin, an animal behaviorist in Davis, Calif., tells people to seriously evaluate the amount of energy they have compared to the breed they want to get.

"Are they the type of person who can exercise it a few hours a day? How much time are they willing to invest in training the dog, because the more energetic the dog is, the more training he might need," she says. "When they think they want a smart dog, it's a huge misconception. They don't need smart; they need attentive."

Can You Teach a Dumb Dog New (Any) Tricks?

If your canine seems clueless, it may be that it has been bred to be more independent, or not so eager to please its owner, Yin says.

Training will require more patience and the right kind of motivation, whether it's praise, petting, or treats.

"For breeds, instincts make a difference, but for the basics - 'sit,' 'come,' 'down' - they'll all learn at the same rate. With good technique, the difference might be a month," she says.

Her Australian cattle dog, for example, stays at her side when they're out and loves a pat on the head. Her Jack Russell terrier, a high-energy breed that didn't make the smart list, has to be rewarded lickety-split with a treat or he'll lose interest in learning. A pat on the head just won't do it.

The beagle, a breed trained to work independently, probably needs more training time, Yin says. And the bulldog, which scored well below average on obedience tests, can learn quickly - as long as he doesn't feel pushed around or punished.

The beagle and bulldog are among the dog breeds on the bottom of Coren's list. These dogs had to hear commands 80 to 100 times or more before they obeyed them even 25% of the time. They include:

1. Shih Tzu

2. Bassett hound

3. Mastiff/Beagle (tied)

4. Pekingese

5. Bloodhound

6. Borzoi

7. Chow Chow

8. Bulldog

9. Basenji

10. Afghan hound (least obedient)

Redenbach doesn't like categorizing dogs as smart or dumb; she says that's too simplistic. Like Yin, she says positive and consistent training will make a good dog.

"The number of intelligent dogs I have met has been on the increase over the years, because the better trainer I become, the smarter I see they are," Redenbach says.

Adapted from:

For an interesting (and humorous) look at the Top 10 and Bottom 10 breeds for intelligence, go to:

So, just what is it about Border Collies that rates them as #1?

Recent research by the American Psychological Association proves what any dog owner already knew: dogs are smart!

But, exactly, how smart are dogs? Chaser, a Border Collie (considered to be one of the smartest dogs) can distinguish the difference between nouns and verbs and correctly identify over 1,000 different objects!

Chaser enjoyed the attention of scientists, led by her owner and trainer, retired psychology professor John Pilley. Chaser responded correctly to identifying a noun as an object 95% of the time, according to USA Today. Not only was Chaser able to pick out the correct toy out of over 1,000 every time, she was able to identify toys she's never seen by process of elimination - all based on verbal commands. Chaser definitely qualifies as one of the world's smartest dogs.

More studies conducted by University of Florida in Gainesville showed that dogs are extremely attuned to human body language and behavior.

Two years ago, Stanley Coren of the University of British Columbia presented research that stated that "dogs can learn about 165 words, can count to four or five, and have a basic understanding of arithmetic. He said the mental abilities of dogs are close to those of a human child of about 2 or 2½ years old, but abilities vary by breed" according to USA Today.

Not bad, for just a dog, right?

Adapted from:

More information on the Top 10 smartest breeds:

#10 Australian Cattle Dog

The Australian Cattle Dog is a very active breed. They need to be exercised on a regular basis, both mentally and physically. As they were originally bred to herd in cattle in Australia (hence the name), they are freethinking, resourceful, and very protective of their property, including people!

#9 Rottweiler

The Rottweiler, #9 on our list, has a fearsome reputation that is largely undeserved. The Rotti is only average in intensity, and make a great family dog. Not only is the Rottweiler intelligent, but extremely courageous (one of the best guard dogs) and reliable.

#8 The Papillon

Does this dog scare you at all? Well it should, because Papillons are actually a lot tougher than they look! Some would characterize Papillons as a little moody and aggressive, but they are simply very possessive of their masters and “home turf”. It may surprise some that the Papillon is considered one of the most affectionate dogs. Another very intelligent dog, and very easy to train.

#7 Labrador Retriever

An extremely loving, affectionate, and patient dog, the Labrador Retriever is one of the most popular breeds of dog in the world. They love to work, and need a lot of exercise. Without proper exercise, Labs have been known to develop weight problems. Because of their good nature, and love of children and other dogs, they are a very popular family dog.

#6 Shetland Sheepdog

Many Shetland owners swear that their dog has nearly human intelligence! Shelties were originally bred to herd hundreds of sheep and cattle, requiring great concentration and, of course, intelligence. They can be a little wary of strangers and children, but are very loyal and affectionate within their own family. In fact, the Sheltie very much craves human companionship.

#5 Doberman Pinscher

Dobermans are an extremely loyal, assertive, and fearless breed. They have incredible stamina, and love to work (they are one of the top 10 best guard dog breeds) Although known as a dominant breed, Dobermans can vary greatly as far as temperament goes. Some can be quite docile, and even work as therapy dogs in hospitals! Dobermans can be great family dogs too, if trained properly from an early age. Although not vicious, you can count on a Doberman to aggressively protect its master if necessary.

#4 Golden Retriever

Consistently ranked as the most popular breed of dog, the Golden Retriever personifies everything we love about dogs-loyal, loving, patient, great with children and eager to please. With such great intelligence, it’s no wonder that Golden Retrievers excel in obedience competitions and at performing tricks. It should be no surprise that the Golden ranks highly on our list of top 10 most affectionate dogs.

#3 German Shepherd

German Shepherds are extremely intelligent, courageous, and have a very strong protective instinct (they are one of the best guard dogs). As long as they are trained in obedience from an early age by a loving but firm hand, they can be great family dogs, and excellent with children. Because of their intelligence, a German Shepherd needs a purpose or job in life to be truly happy. This intelligence, coupled with their courageous nature make German Shepherds excellent police and search dogs.

#2 Poodle

Yes, the Poodle is at number two. The standard Poodle is highly intelligent and one of the easiest breeds to train. They love to be around people, and really hate to be left alone. Some standard Poodles are good guard dogs, and some can even be trained as hunters! Overall, Poodles are a sensitive, pleasant and happy breed.

#1 Border Collie

Like many intelligent breeds, the Border Collie needs a job to do. If they don’t have a purpose in life or some kind of job, they will not be happy. Border Collies should definitely not be left at home alone all day, and if they are, they can become quite destructive. They need constant companionship, praise, and extensive exercise. So if you work and live in the city, a Border Collie probably isn’t the dog for you! Because of their legendary intelligence, Border Collies set the standard in competitions for such skills as agility, obedience, and of course, sheepdog trials.

Adapted from:

As the closer for this week's issue of Questions On Dogs and Cats, watch this very entertaining and informative video of the Top 10 smartest dogs, brought to you from Animal Planet:

OK, I'm sure we've stirred up the debate amongst our dog-owning readers.  Is your dog the smartest dog you've ever seen?  The smartest dog in your neighborhood?  How about the smartest in your house?  Let Helpful Buckeye know where you stand on this question at:

The Pittsburgh Steelers went to Indianapolis to play the Colts tonight.  Most people expected an easy Steeler win but Helpful Buckeye knew the Steelers would keep this one close...and, close they kept it...until the last drive of the game.  A 3-point win is still a win, but the Steelers continue to look for an answer to their inconsistencies.


Helpful Buckeye's plans for the Quadathlon of 2011 have somewhat unraveled.  My much anticipated biking trip in the Colorado Rockies was postponed due to being in Pennsylvania to help my Dad get situated with his health problems.  Then, I had to postpone the rim-to-rim hike across the Grand Canyon due to being away from home for my Dad's funeral for almost 4 weeks.  It would have been foolhardy to attempt that hike without any conditioning for over 4 weeks.  As it turns out, I wouldn't have been able to make the hike anyway...I tore one of my calf muscles playing racquetball last Sunday and can barely walk.  The question now becomes, "Can I get back into a proper training regimen on my bike for the 79-mile bike race down in Tucson the week before Thanksgiving?"...which would have been the 4th event of my Quadathlon.  The 2 events that I had to postpone will be doable in 2012...after all, the Rockies and the Grand Canyon have been there for a long more year won't change their challenge.  I'm already making plans for those, lining up our travel buddies, considering that reservations need to be made well in advance at both locations.

As mentioned a few months ago, Desperado and Helpful Buckeye have been awaiting the return of cooler temperatures at the lower elevations in Arizona so that we could resume our quick-hitting trips to various parts of our state.  The Arizona Centennial celebration, coming up in February, has aroused a lot of interest in Arizona history and we plan on adding to our already growing list of interesting Arizona experiences.  More on that as it happens.

~~The goal of this blog is to provide general information and advice to help you be a better pet owner and to have a more rewarding relationship with your pet. This blog does not intend to replace the professional one-on-one care your pet receives from a practicing veterinarian. When in doubt about your pet's health, always visit a veterinarian.~~

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