The Border Collie is widely considered to be the world’s smartest dog breed (with the Poodle coming in close second). If some dog breeds are the smartest, it only makes sense that some dog breeds are the dumbest, right?
First, what are the criteria that determine dog breed intelligence?
So, just what makes a dog smart? Is it simply how trainable he is? His ability to remember things? Sense of direction? Energy level? Something else?
- Instinctive intelligence (ability to perform tasks it was bred to perform like herding or hunting)
- Adaptive intelligence (ability to independently problem solve and learn from previous experiences)
- Working and obedience intelligence (ability to learn when being taught by humans)
The following lists are pulled from the dog intelligence rankings in The Intelligence of Dogs by Dr. Coren.
10 Smartest Dog Breeds
- Border Collie
- German Shepherd Dog
- Golden Retriever
- Doberman Pinscher
- Shetland Sheepdog
- Labrador Retriever
- Australian Cattle Dog
10 Dumbest Dog Breeds
So, does this mean these are the 10 dumbest dog breeds? Well, not necessarily.
When talking about canine intelligence, remember: all dogs are bred for different skills
“How smart you appear to be depends on the test,” says Nicholas Dodman, BVMS, Dipl. ACVB, professor emeritus and former section head and program director of the Animal Behavior Clinic at the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University. “Until quite recently, I had two dogs. One of them was hyper and the other dog would sort of lie around like a lump. You would say Jasper was not as smart as Rusty. But once you were out on a trail, Jasper lit up. He was doing the job that nature intended him to do because he was a coonhound, and he was using his super-intelligent nose. He was brilliant at his job, but not so good at some other things.”
Why are hound dogs considered to be among the dumbest dog breeds?
“Pretty much all scenthounds are governed by their noses,” Dr. Dodman says. “They’re hard to train because they don’t really look up, they look down. They’re not really interested in listening or pleasing anybody, they’re just interested in tracking with their noses. The sighthounds want to chase anything that moves. For every dog breed there’s a purpose, and the mixed breeds are just a combination of the purebreds. I can see how it might be easy to superficially judge a dog who is kind of slow and not paying a lot of attention to what you say and really not that interested in performing tricks, but it doesn’t mean that they’re not smart, and in some ways, being very independent could be more intelligent than being obedient.”
Determining dog breed intelligence presents the same issues as determining human intelligence
Dr. Dodman notes how gauging human intelligence can present a similar conundrum to determining the intelligence of dog breeds. “It just depends on how you grade people,” he explains. “Some people are good at math, some people are good at English. You can be good at some things and not so good at others.”
Inaccuracy in the research on dog intelligence
As it turns out, some of the research done to determine the most intelligent or dumbest dog breeds might not be entirely accurate.
The 10 Dumbest Dog Breeds and Their Traits
1. Afghan Hound
The Afghan Hound tops the list of “dumbest dog breeds” according to The Intelligence of Dogs, but Afghan lovers surely disagree. Afghans are sighthounds, which means they were bred to hunt using their extraordinary speed and eyesight. Like many sighthounds, Afghans can be aloof, which means they can be a little standoffish and reserved, especially with strangers. They can also be stubborn and independent. Due to these traits, Afghans are not easy to train, but that doesn’t mean that they aren’t smart. They simply prefer to think for themselves and do things on their own terms. You might have to be more creative when training an Afghan, but their elegance, regal air and devotion to their humans makes them special companions.
The Basenji is another sighthound that makes the list for his independence and aloofness. Some people describe this breed as having feline qualities, and in fact, many Basenjis will groom themselves like cats. The breed has earned a reputation for being “untrainable,” but again, ease of training is not always an accurate indicator of intelligence. Quite the contrary, Basenjis are intelligent, curious and playful. Like inquisitive toddlers, they are smart enough to get into trouble if you don’t watch them carefully. Raising a Basenji can sometimes feel like taming a wild animal. They are watchful and wary, and although most bond with their owners, they may or may not like your friends. Bottom line: Basenjis are stubborn so they aren’t consistently obedient, but they can be trained. Positive methods are best.
Another breed known for stubbornness is the Bulldog. The term “bullheaded” fits the Bulldog to a T. For this reason, Bulldogs can be difficult to train, but dumb? You only have to look to one of the famous skateboarding or surfing Bulldogs to see that they are definitely capable of learning. Bulldogs are also labeled as lazy, but clearly some enjoy more vigorous activities than lying on the couch.
4. Chow Chow
Chow Chows might look like adorable teddy bears, but they are not always the cuddly type. Originally bred to be guard dogs, Chows are serious, independent and aloof. They are strong-willed and stubborn, and therefore more difficult to train, which lands them a spot on the list of dumbest dog breeds. Chows are intelligent — they just have minds of their own. If not trained correctly, Chows might challenge their humans for authority, which can become problematic. For these reasons, Chows require firm but fair training and extensive socialization starting from an early age. When raised properly, Chows are noble, loyal and devoted companions.
Yet another sighthound, the Borzoi is an independent freethinker. This breed can also be stubborn — training a Borzoi is an exercise in patience. Borzois seem to do best with frequent, short training sessions rather than hour-long classes. In the house, they are generally very well-mannered, calm, clean and quite affectionate, especially with their special people.
If you have ever witnessed the aurora borealis, the colorful northern lights display that transforming the night sky into a brilliant sight to behold, you might be able to understand how a scenthound like the Bloodhound “sees” the world with his sensitive nose. Bloodhounds are hard to train because they are so distracted by all the glorious scents just waiting to be investigated. They also have a ton of energy, are stubborn and independent, and are absolutely relentless when on a scent trail. Combined together, the Bloodhound’s unique skills can sometimes make these dogs challenging to live with, but enter a Bloodhound in a tracking event and watch his special talents shine.
One reason people might think Pekingese are a little slow is the fact that they are somewhat sloth-like. At home, they enjoy lounging about and surveying their domain. This could be due to their physical build or partly held over from their history as sacred pets of the Tang Dynasty in 8th-century China. In fact, Pekingese were called “sleeve dogs” because members of the Imperial household carried their cherished companions around snugly nestled in their voluminous sleeves. Can you blame the Peke for enjoying the easy life? Pekingese are also stubborn and difficult to housebreak. This doesn’t make them dumb, but it does make for some training challenges. Start training early and be consistent.
Like Bloodhounds, Beagles like to follow their noses, which can sometimes get them into trouble. The Beagle’s sweet, affectionate nature, combined with his happy-go-lucky outlook might lead you to think he’s empty headed. It’s best to keep Beagles on a leash. They can’t resist the urge to explore, smell the world and chase small critters.
The large, laid-back Mastiff is a very chill dog. So chill, in fact, that you might thing he’s a little dense. They are also a bit stubborn and might be more challenging to train than some breeds. Again, activity level and ease of training aren’t necessarily good indicators of intelligence. Mastiffs are actually quite bright. Due to their size and natural wariness of strangers, it’s essential for owners to start training and socialization early in puppyhood so Mastiffs develop into well-behaved and discerning companions.
10. Basset Hound
Like the Pekingese, Basset Hounds can be a bit lazy. This could be in part to their long and low bodies or their laid-back personalities. Bassets can be a little stubborn, and like their scenthound cousins the Bloodhounds and the Beagles, Bassets might have trouble ignoring the amazing scents around them long enough to concentrate on learning. However, Bassets want to please their people and are very food motivated, so they do respond well to training. Don’t mistake the Basset’s easy-going personality for lack of intelligence, though. They are bright and affectionate dogs.
The bottom line on the dumbest dog breeds
It’s not fair to label any breed or individual dog dumb. Yes, some dogs are brighter than others, but most dogs are good at something — you just have to figure out what.
Note: Dogster does not believe any dog breed is a “dumb” dog breed.
Thumbnail: Photography ©dimarik | Thinkstock.
Originally published in 2012 and updated in 2018.
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