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Are Big Dogs Smarter Than Small Dogs?

Learn about intelligence differences in dog breeds.

It seems as though, whenever there's a list of the most intelligent dogs, medium and large breeds dominate it. But is that true? Are large and medium-breed dogs generally smarter than small and giant breed ones?

Different Types of Intelligence

Just as with humans, it turns out that there are different types of intelligence for dogs. In his book The Intelligence of Dogs, Stanley Coren, Ph.D., identifies them as:

  • Instinctive intelligence. This has to do with how well a member of a specific dog breed can do the task or tasks for which it was bred.
  • Adaptive intelligence. This has to do with how well a dog can figure out unique problems that he hasn't explicitly been shown how to solve and that don't relate to the job(s) for which his breed was developed.
  • Working and obedience intelligence. This category deals with how well a dog can be trained to behave and perform tasks.

It turns out that most of the lists you'll find that score dogs' intelligence focus on the last type, working and obedience. And dogs in the medium and large categories tend to do quite well in that category.

Why Are Medium and Large Dogs Scoring High on Obedience Intelligence?

Researchers have some ideas about why dogs in the medium and large breed categories tend to do better on tests of obedience intelligence than small breeds. Here are some of their theories:

  • Brachycephalic dogs (those with short faces) and dogs with elongated muzzles (like greyhounds) were bred for incredibly specific tasks (guarding and chasing prey respectively). But dogs with average head shapes, like those in much of the medium and large breeds, weren't bred with such specificity in mind. That may help the average head-shape dogs retain more flexibility in their abilities.
  • Dogs with more easy-going personalities tend to score higher on obedience intelligence, and many of those breeds land in the medium and large breeds. Small dogs tend to be more aggressive and anxious and less open and easy to train, perhaps because the world is a scarier place for small dogs, which may be easily stepped on.

But there's a third suggestion about why medium and large breed dogs score better on working intelligence meters than small and giant breeds, and it may be the one with the most oomph:

  • Owner influence. Owners of small breed dogs tend to interact with them much differently than they do medium and large breed dogs. Owners tend to rely more on punishment and manhandling with small dogs than they do on training. They also seem to spend less time in interactive play such as fetching and going for walks than people do with their medium and large breeds. Those types of interaction can lead to lower obedience intelligence scores in those dogs simply because they haven't been conditioned as well to respond to training.

Works Cited

  1. Stanley Coren PhD., D. F. (2016, Aug. 31). Can a Dog's Size Predict Its Intelligence? Retrieved from

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