The problem with evaluating dog intelligence

Dogs as intelligent as two-year-old children

I have never agreed with Dr. Coren’s use of the term “intelligence” to denote a dog’s response to obedience commands. I would have liked it better if he used another term – perhaps “obedience application” rather than “intelligence”.

Look at the breeds ranked as “most intelligent”:

  1. Border Collie
  2. Poodle
  3. German Shepherd Dog
  4. Golden Retriever
  5. Doberman Pinscher
  6. Shetland Sheepdog
  7. Labrador Retriever
  8. Papillon
  9. Rottweiler
  10. Australian Cattle Dog

Half of them are from herding backgrounds and three of them from retrieving backgrounds – types of dog that are naturally attuned to their owners.  These are types of dog bred to work closely with humans and to take direction.

Here are the breeds ranked the least intelligent:

  1. Shih Tzu
  2. Basset Hound
  3. Mastiff
    Beagle (tied)
  4. Pekingese
  5. Bloodhound
  6. Borzoi
  7. Chow Chow
  8. Bulldog
  9. Basenji
  10. Afghan Hound

6 of the 10 are scent or sight hounds, bred for hunting and pulling down game.  Not bred for working to close commands with the owner, not bred to take intricate direction.

Since Coren did not evaluate Shibas in his “intelligence” tests, let’s take a look at similar breeds to figure out where they would stand.

Above Average Working/Obedience Intelligence

33. Samoyed

36. Norwegian Elkhound

Average Working/Obedience Intelligence

43. Finnish Spitz

45. Siberian Husky

50. Alaskan Malamute

54. Akita

Low Obedience Intelligence

76. Chow Chow

78. Basenji

So, I would say that the Shiba would be in the Average category.  But this is where this is flawed.  As Shiba owners know, obedience is not an indicator of overall intelligence.  As Shiba owners also know, their dogs also can put any 2 year old human child to shame when it comes to single-minded escape maneuvers.  Shibas can learn and execute commands with blinding speed; they just don’t give a shit unless you’re waving a poached salmon wildly in their sight… if they’re hungry … if there isn’t something more interesting around … if the wind happens to be blowing westerly and its Tuesday…

Sometimes I’m sure we would all love a stupid dog who can’t figure out that they can jump from the compost heap to the garbage can to the top of the fence and catapult off like a high diver in the Olympic finals.  A dog who can’t figure out how to open simple lids would also be nice, as would a dog who can’t calculate your length of reach to the millimetre so that they can keep the leash exactly just out of your grasp if they get loose.

Average.  Sure.