From instinct to intellect: how dogs showcase their intelligence

1 comment by Kris Rollo

small dog sitting at a desk looking at a computer

Dogs have long held a special place in human hearts and homes. Their loyalty, companionship, and unique ability to understand and communicate with us have made them one of our closest, and most intelligent, animal companions.

While intelligence in dogs can be challenging to quantify, it's generally divided into several categories, including problem-solving abilities, adaptive learning, memory, and emotional intelligence. Here are some aspects of dog intelligence, along with some of the smartest dog breeds:


Problem-solving abilities

Dogs vary in their ability to solve problems and puzzles. Some can figure out how to open doors, navigate obstacles, or retrieve hidden toys. The smartest dogs tend to excel in this area.

Dogs have a natural curiosity that drives them to explore and engage with their environment. This curiosity often leads them to solve puzzles, such as figuring out how to obtain hidden treats from a puzzle toy, carrying objects from one location to another, or opening doors using the handle. This is not only a testament to their intelligence but also a form of mental stimulation that keeps them engaged and happy.

Some dogs excel at navigating through complex environments, which is especially crucial for working dogs like search-and-rescue or guide dogs. Certain breeds are deemed more naturally suited for being trained for navigational tasks. These breeds, such as Golden Retrievers, can identify safe paths, avoid obstacles, and stay on course even in challenging situations.


Adaptive learning

Dogs can learn from their experiences and adapt to new situations. This includes understanding commands and responding to them appropriately. Many dogs excel in obedience training, responding to a wide range of commands from "sit” or “wait”, to more complex instructions like "roll over" or "fetch." This is a testament to their ability to understand and follow human cues.

Dogs are observant animals, and they can learn from the behaviours of other dogs and humans. Some dogs are able to pick up habits when exposed to other well-trained dogs or when guided by humans.

Dogs can also adapt their behaviour based on the context. For example, they know it's playtime at the park but will be calm and well-behaved at home. This contextual understanding is a sign of their adaptive learning.

Border Collie running in a field

Border Collie's are widely considered the most intelligent breed of dog



Dogs have varying degrees of memory retention. This is important for remembering training commands, the location of objects, and recognizing people.

Well-trained dogs have a strong memory for commands. They can remember and respond to a wide range of verbal cues and hand signals.

Dogs have the ability to remember the locations of objects like toys or treats. This memory allows them to retrieve their favourite items and find treats buried in the garden.

Dogs have an incredible ability to remember people they've met. They can differentiate between familiar faces and respond differently to strangers, friends, and family members.


Emotional intelligence

Dogs possess a high level of emotional intelligence, which includes their ability to understand human emotions and respond to them. They can also pick up on social cues and the emotions of other dogs.

Dogs have an uncanny ability to sense and respond to human emotions. They can offer comfort when we're sad, celebrate with us when we're happy, and even provide a sense of security when we're anxious. Some dogs are even thought to be able to sense illness within a human. This is because a dog will know a person's individual smell and when an illness changes that smell.

Dogs are keen observers of social cues, both from humans and other dogs. They can pick up on subtle body language and vocal tones to understand what's happening in their environment.


So, what are some of the smartest breeds?

Border Collie: Often considered the smartest breed, Border Collies are highly skilled at problem-solving and excel in obedience training. They're known for their herding instincts and ability to learn complex commands.

Poodle: Poodles are highly adaptable and excel in a wide range of canine activities. They're quick learners and have a strong desire to please their owners.

German Shepherd: These dogs are known for their intelligence and versatility. They are frequently used in police and military work due to their problem-solving abilities and loyalty.

Golden Retriever: Known for their friendly nature and intelligence, Golden Retrievers are quick learners and make excellent family pets. They excel in obedience training and have a strong desire to please.

Doberman Pinscher: Dobermans are known for their sharp intelligence and loyalty. They are quick learners and can be trained for various tasks, including guarding and protection.

Australian Shepherd: This breed is highly energetic and intelligent, making them excellent herding dogs. They need mental stimulation and problem-solving tasks to keep them engaged.

Labrador Retriever: Labradors are not only friendly and good-natured but also intelligent. They are quick to pick up on commands and are often used in various working roles.

Shetland Sheepdog: Shelties are known for their agility and problem-solving abilities. They excel in dog sports and obedience training.

Papillon: These small dogs are surprisingly intelligent and excel in agility training. They have a keen ability to learn tricks and commands.

Rottweiler: Rottweilers are both intelligent and loyal. They can be trained for various tasks and are known for their protective instincts.


In summary

Of course, intelligence can vary within the breed, and your dog may be super smart but not listed above. It is a complicated and multifaceted aspect of our beloved canine companions which varies greatly depending on each dog.

Their problem-solving abilities, adaptive learning, memory, and emotional intelligence make them truly remarkable animals. While some breeds may be more renowned for their intelligence, every dog has the potential to shine with the right training, enough socialising, and sufficient mental stimulation.

Understanding and nurturing their intelligence not only strengthens the bond between dogs and their humans, but also enriches their lives by keeping them engaged and fulfilled.


If you’d like to book your first, or your next, appointment with Doggy Styling visit us today at our Cobham dog grooming salon, our Weybridge dog grooming salon, or our Surbiton dog grooming salon.


1 comment

  • Thedogsale

    What an attractive read! Exploring the depths of dogs intelligence, this article fantastically highlights the transition from intuition to mind in our furry friends. A captivating dive into the world of canine cognition!

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