All dogs are brilliant
Occasionally when I am searching the internet for something, I come across an article about the 10, 20, 30, 100, whatever number, smartest dog breeds. I must admit, I always look to see where my dogs rank. My German Shepherd is usually in the top three of whatever list, and my Great Pyrenees is usually somewhere towards to bottom. Ok, that’s a lie; my Great Pyrenees usually isn’t even on the list unless it is a long list (I recently found the Great Pyrenees at number 64, not too shabby!) However, and I hate to admit this, I searched for the world’s dumbest dog breeds to see if his breed was on there…and it was. Apparently, according to this site, the Great Pyrenees is the 16th dumbest dog breed. I don’t think I will share this information with him though! I also get asked on many occasions which dog breeds are hardest to train or which ones I think are the smartest (nobody usually asks me which ones are the dumbest).
But here is the thing, I think these lists are ridiculous and they can influence someone from adopting (or buying I guess) a certain breed because people don’t want a “dumb” dog. One of the lists I looked at gave a dog breed a certain rank by how many repetitions it took to learn a new trick. Well, here’s the thing…how was the trick being trained? What environment was the trick being trained in? And, MOST IMPORTANTLY, what motivation was used to get the dog to do the trick.
This may seem shocking, but not all dogs are motivated by the same thing. Just like people, dogs have preferences. I am often envious when I talk to people and they tell me their dog loves carrots, or string beans, or apples. I can’t get either one of my dogs to eat fruits or veggies! You have to figure out what motivates YOUR dog, not what motivates your friend’s dog, even if they are the same breed. If you want to get your dog to learn a trick faster, and have better recall with that trick, motivate them with something they love. It could be food, but it could also be their favorite toy, or your affection.
Also, whatever motivation (reward) you are using to train your dog, it needs to be more exciting to your dog than what he is doing. For example, my Great Pyrenees loves to walk the perimeter fence. Sometimes when he is in my backyard he paces or walks the perimeter fence; he is guarding his property, which is very intelligent if you ask me. I will call him in, sometimes even with a treat, but he will not come. It is not that he is dumb or that he doesn’t know what I want him to do, it is that what he is doing, guarding me, is way more important to him then a treat. If you ask me, that is awesome and super smart!
As for my German Shepherd, if she even sees me coming to the back door she is at my side in a second (literally!) I don’t need to call her, I don’t need to offer her a motivation or reward…I am her reward, being with me is more important than anything else she is doing.
So it is not about your dog being smart or dumb. It is about knowing what motivates your dog. Figure out what your dog loves and use that to train him. And remember that training does not occur once or twice a week; it isn't an even that occurs, training is continuous! Do this and you will have the smartest dog in the world!
Michelle Turner is a certified dog trainer and behaviorist.