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Are Golden Retrievers Smart? Breed Intelligence Revealed

Written by: Samantha Reed

Last Updated on May 21, 2024 by Dogster Team

woman training a golden retriever puppy

Are Golden Retrievers Smart? Breed Intelligence Revealed

Golden Retrievers have been branded as America’s favorite family dog for a good reason. They are known for being incredibly friendly, loving, and undeniably loyal canine companions. Not only do Golden Retrievers have the personality to become integral parts of any family, but their goofiness and lovability also come with a surprising secret weapon: their high IQ.

Don’t let their penchant for attempting to carry sticks twice their size through your front door fool you; Golden Retrievers are the fourth most intelligent dog in the world. They rank right behind Border Collies, Poodles, and German Shepherds.

Dr. Stanley Coren, a psychology professor and neuropsychological researcher, did a series of studies and research to determine the obedience intelligence in dogs after surveying and consulting over 200 obedience trainers and judges. He is known for his research into canine behavior and his determination that the smartest canine breeds can pick up new commands in less than five exposures and have an obedience percentage of about 95%.

Golden Retrievers are easy to train and can pick up on human emotions with little additional training. They are so smart that their intelligence level matches that of a two-year-old human!divider-paw

How Do We Know Golden Retrievers Are Smart?

It’s a big claim that Golden Retrievers are the fourth smartest dogs, so what exactly determines how smart a dog is? Dr. Coren based his research on two factors: the number of repetitions necessary to learn a command and the success rate of obeying a known command on the first attempt. According to Coren’s research, Golden Retrievers require fewer overall repetitions to learn new commands. They also had a higher success rate of obeying orders on the first try.

Golden retriever beautiful lovely pair
Image Credit: Rala3030, Shutterstock

Instinctive and Adaptive Intelligence

Another portion of Coren’s research determined that dogs have different types of intelligence. You can see how smart a dog is by examining their instinctive and adaptive intelligence.

Instinctive Intelligence

As you can probably tell from the name, instinctive intelligence refers to a dog’s instincts. This intelligence centers on inherited abilities that are bred into the dogs. It could be their hunting instinct, their nursing instinct, or, in the case of our Golden Retrievers, the instinct to retrieve things for you without you asking.

happy little girl hugging her golden retriever dog
Image Credit: Tatyana Vyc, Shutterstock

Adaptive Intelligence

Unlike Instinctive Intelligence, Adaptive Intelligence is what a dog can learn without you explicitly training them. While this might seem confusing, a great example is your dog learning your daily routine. For example, say that you always put your dog in their crate when you leave.

You do it often enough as part of crate training that it’s not an explicit command. Eventually, your dog will see you getting ready to leave, and they will go to their crate without you commanding them, giving them a treat, or leading them in that direction. Adaptive intelligence typically showcases skills your dog learned from previous experiences.

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How Smart Are Golden Retrievers?

You might be wondering exactly how intelligent Golden Retrievers are. Knowing that they rank fourth smartest among 150 breeds doesn’t necessarily equate to knowing how smart they are. Golden retrievers’ intelligence ranking is based on their ability to understand commands and their emotional intelligence.

Golden Labrador Retriever
Image Credit: Glass_Burin P, Shutterstock

Learning Queues

Because they were bred as hunting dogs, they are highly attuned to their owner’s commands. During Coren’s research, he discovered Golden Retrievers were so good at learning new commands that some could even understand commands in as few as five repetitions. Their ability to perform tricks with minimal verbal and nonverbal cues moves them up the intelligence list.

Emotional Intelligence

The Golden Retriever’s reputation precedes them regarding their emotional intelligence. They are known for their love, loyalty, and playfulness. Golden Retrievers are highly expressive and can also respond to the emotions of the people around them. Your Golden can tell when you are happy, angry, exhausted, and might need more love.


Why Are Golden Retrievers Smart?

It’s no accident that different breeds display different levels of intelligence. Some dogs, specifically ones bred for hunting or guarding, learn commands quickly and are more responsive to an owner’s command.

Golden Retrievers were originally bred to be sporting and retrieving dogs. Breeders valued dogs that responded to commands and made sure to select those traits. Selective breeding has led to Golden Retrievers being smart and easy to train.

golden retriever outdoors
Image Credit: Chiemsee2016, Pixabay

How Can I Tell if My Golden Retriever Is Smart?

Even though, statistically speaking, Golden Retrievers are incredibly smart, determining your dog’s intelligence level is a different adventure. Your dog may enjoy eating cardboard as much as they love to learn and perform new tricks.

A great way to determine your Golden’s intelligence level is to monitor how easy they are to train. Keep track of how often you have given the command before your dog starts following the expected behavior. You may also notice that your dog is incredibly attuned to your emotional state, which indicates their intelligence. Remember that emotional intelligence and learning tricks are separate factors in their overall intelligence level.



Golden Retrievers are among some of the most intelligent breeds. They are quick learners, dedicated companions, and loyal friends. They are ideal for any dog lover seeking an easily trainable lifelong companion.

No matter how brilliant your dog is, you must invest time and effort into their training. Golden Retrievers benefit from mental stimulation and training challenges to keep them engaged. They will play with you every chance they get, and because of their eagerness to please you, they thrive on active interactions with their owners and families.

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Featured Image Credit: Ovchinnikova, Shutterstock

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