How smart is your dog?

We all know that dogs have unique and, in some cases, amazing abilities to learn and problem solve.  Perhaps you have seen dogs performing memory games or distinguishing among hundreds of objects. Among the most famous of the “brilliant dogs” are Rico who knows more than 200 words, and Betsy who knows about 340.  But the champ so far is Chaser who recognizes more than 1,000 different words or objects!  And it probably comes as no surprise that all three of these furry little wizards is a Border   Collie—one of the brightest breeds of all.

Pet Expert Warren Eckstein, a regular guest on the ‘Today’ show, believes there are two basic types of dog intelligence: instinctive and adaptive.

According to Eckstein “instinctive intelligence” is breed specific.  In other words, certain breeds just naturally possess the ability to do some things better than other breeds.  Specific breeds of hounds, for example, usually do better on sight-oriented tasks, while bloodhounds, beagles and some terriers are much better at scent-oriented tasks.

Eckstein describes “adaptive’ intelligence” as social and environmental learning—the kind of intelligence that comes from dealing with everyday circumstances—sort of like “on the job training.”  It’s interesting to note that dogs are like humans in that not all of us learn the same way, or at the same pace. Some of us are better at math, while others are far better at language.

So here are some little “intelligence tests” that will be fun for you and your dog.  Don’t try to jam all these tests into one day, and be sure to reward your dog with treats for every effort.  If he becomes frustrated at some point, just give him a break and try again later, maybe even on another day.  Keep in mind that all of us learn differently, so don’t be surprised if your dog does better at some tests than others. Just love him and praise him for trying.

Dog Intelligence Tests

Towel Test:  Gently place a large towel over your dog’s head. If he frees himself from the towel in less than 15 seconds, give him 3 points; if 15-30 seconds, he gets 2 points; and longer than 30 seconds, he gets 1 point.

Bucket Test:  Let your dog watch you place a treat under one of three buckets (or large plastic cups)  that are placed next to each other.  Turn your dog away from the buckets for a few seconds; then have him turn around and find the treat. If he gets the right bucket/cup on the first try, award him 3 points; if two attempts – 2 points; if he finds the treat after looking under the two others first, 1 point.

Favorite Spot: While your dog is out of the room, rearrange the furniture a little. When he re-enters, see if he goes directly to his favorite spot, even though it’s in a different part of the room.  If he does, 3 points are his! If it takes him 30 seconds to look around before he finds his spot, he scores 2 points; and if he decides on an entirely new spot, he gets 1 point.

Chair Puzzle: Place a yummy treat under a chair or coffee table.  Be sure that it’s low enough that your dog can’t get his head under it, just his paw.  If he can figure out how to get the treat out with his paw within 1 minute, 3 points are rewarded! If his paw and nose are needed, 2 points; and if your dog tries but eventually gives up, 1 point.

Go for a Surprise Walk! On a day/time you normally don’t walk your dog, quietly pick up your keys and his leash while he is watching you. If he gets excited right away, 3 pts. If you have to walk to the door to ‘prove’ you’re leaving, 2 pts; and if he watches but doesn’t do anything, 1 pt.


13 and above –Border Collie Brilliant!

10 to 12 –Above Average

7 to 9 – Average

4 – 6 – Below Average

1 – 3 – Well, we still love them!