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How to Test Your Dog’s Intelligence


We all know the stories of intelligent dogs – whether it’s hard working service dogs that save their owners’ lives, or famous dogs like Chaser and Lassie, dogs are held in high regard when it comes to smarts. As a result, dog owners tend to be keen to find out whether their pup measures up.

While most dogs are smart to begin with, many of them are even more intelligent than we give them credit for. It’s possible to test your dog to find out how smart they actually are. But to do that it’s a good idea to learn more about the types of canine intelligence.

All breeds, from tiny Maltese Shih Tzus to big, friendly Golden Retrievers, have the capacity for great intelligence.

Types of Canine Intelligence

Understanding canine intelligence begins with recognizing its various types. Intelligence in dogs, much like in humans, is multi-faceted and can be broadly categorised into three main types: instinctive intelligence, adaptive intelligence, and working and obedience intelligence.

Instinctive Intelligence

This refers to the innate abilities of a dog, often specific to their breed. For instance, herding dogs like Border Collies have an instinctual ability to herd livestock, while hounds like Beagles have a heightened sense of smell for tracking.

Adaptive Intelligence

This type of intelligence pertains to a dog’s ability to solve problems on their own. Dogs displaying high adaptive intelligence can learn from their environment and experiences, showing an ability to solve new challenges without prior training.

Working and Obedience Intelligence

Often gauged in training environments, this aspect of intelligence reflects a dog’s ability to learn from humans. It encompasses their ability to follow commands, understand cues, and perform tasks.

Breed-Specific Intelligence Considerations

While some breeds, like Border Collies, Poodles, and German Shepherds, are often ranked highly in terms of working and obedience intelligence, it’s crucial to remember that each breed also has its instinctive intelligence.

For example, breeds like the Afghan Hound, though ranked lower in obedience intelligence, have specialized skills in areas like hunting or tracking due to their breeding history. This underlines the importance of considering a breed’s specific skills and purposes when evaluating its intelligence​​.

Photo from Blue Bird

How to Test Your Dog’s Intelligence

Testing your dog’s intelligence involves a series of exercises and games designed to assess various aspects of their cognitive abilities.

Problem-Solving Tests

Treat Under the Cup:

Step 1: Prepare three cups and a treat.

Step 2: With your dog watching, place a treat under one of the cups.

Step 3: Shuffle the cups around.

Step 4: Encourage your dog to find the treat. Note how long it takes for them to choose the correct cup.

Barrier Challenge:

Step 1: Create a barrier with a piece of cardboard or a large book, tall enough to block your dog’s view but low enough for them to jump over.

Step 2: Show your dog a treat and then place it on the other side of the barrier.

Step 3: Observe if your dog can figure out how to get to the treat either by going around, under, or over the barrier.

Memory Tests

The Shell Game:

Step 1: Use two or three cups and hide a treat under one while your dog watches.

Step 2: Distract your dog for a few minutes by playing with them or taking them out of the room.

Step 3: Bring them back and see if they can remember which cup has the treat.

Hidden Treat:

Step 1: Hide a treat in plain sight while your dog is watching.

Step 2: Take your dog out of the room for a few minutes.

Step 3: Let your dog back into the room and observe if they go straight to where the treat was hidden.

Obedience and Learning Tests

New Command Learning:

Step 1: Choose a new command or trick to teach your dog.

Step 2: Spend 10–15 minutes per day working on this new command.

Step 3: Observe how many sessions it takes for your dog to understand and follow the command reliably.

The Name Test:

Step 1: Select three objects your dog is familiar with and one new object.

Step 2: Assign a name to each object, including the new one.

Step 3: Test your dog by asking them to fetch the objects by name, particularly focusing on how quickly they learn the name of the new object.

When testing your dog’s intelligence, it’s essential to approach the process with a few general guidelines in mind. Every dog is unique and responds differently, so it’s important to be patient and not rush the process.

It’s also beneficial to conduct each test multiple times on different days. This ensures consistency in your dog’s responses and provides a more accurate assessment of their abilities.

Lastly, don’t worry if your dog doesn’t succeed immediately or doesn’t perform as you expected – there are various ways to develop your dog’s intelligence.

How Do You Develop Your Dog’s Intelligence

Developing your dog’s intelligence is a continuous process. Old dogs can definitely learn new tricks, and they actually enjoy it.

Enriching Training Sessions

  • Advanced Training Techniques: Beyond basic commands, engage your dog in more advanced training. Teach them new tricks, or enrol them in dog sports like agility, obedience, or rally. These activities not only stimulate their mind but also strengthen the bond between you and your pet.
  • Clicker Training: Utilise clicker training to shape new behaviours. This method uses a sound (click) to mark the exact moment a dog does what you want, followed by a reward. It encourages the dog to think creatively and can be a fun way to learn complex tasks.

Interactive and Mental Stimulation Games

  • Puzzle Toys: Introduce a variety of puzzle toys that require your dog to solve problems to receive a reward. These toys can vary in complexity to keep your dog challenged and engaged.
  • Hide-and-Seek: Play hide-and-seek with treats or even yourself. This game taps into your dog’s natural hunting instincts and provides both mental and physical exercise.

Social and Environmental Enrichment

  • Diverse Social Encounters: Regularly introduce your dog to new dogs and people. Socialising in different environments can improve their adaptability and social intelligence.
  • Varied Walking Routes: Change your walking routes frequently to expose your dog to new sights, smells, and sounds. This provides mental stimulation and reduces boredom.


Remember, each dog is unique, and intelligence can manifest in various ways, so it’s important to approach this testing with patience and an open mind. Each dog has their own pace and style of learning. The lifelong process of training your dog and encouraging their mental abilities will not only enhance your dog’s life, but also deepen the relationship you share.