Do you feel like your dog is falling behind? You might compare them to other dogs, especially those you’ve raised in the past, and wonder why they don’t seem to be picking up the same skills. You might find yourself repeating lessons over and over again, and feeling as though your cues and signals just aren’t “clicking” in your dog’s brain.
Maybe your dog seems unfocused, clumsy, or spaced out.
Though you may be tempted to chalk it up to your dog being “dumb,” the truth is that your dog might just need some extra help decoding their difficulties and unlocking their learning potential.
Intelligence VS Obedience
What makes a dog smart anyway?
Dog psychology expert Stanley Coren published a ranked list of dog breeds from most to least intelligent in his 1994 book, “The Intelligence of Dogs”. The ranking criteria included how many repetitions a dog needs to learn a new cue, as well as how likely a dog is to respond to a known cue on the first try.
The “least intelligent” breed on his controversial list is the Afghan Hound. The Afghan Hound is a sighthound that was originally bred to hunt large prey, a skill that may have required the dog to rely on their senses and perceptions, rather than commands from their human.
Conversely, the “most intelligent” breed is the Border Collie, which was originally bred to respond to cues in the form of coded whistles over great distances while working as a team.
While an Afghan Hound may be unlikely to perform as well as a Border Collie in an obedience trial, they can do wonderfully in a sport that utilizes their innate hunting skills, such as lure coursing or barn hunt.
Intelligence is more than your dog’s ability to learn and respond to cues. Your dog may not be the best at obedience, but they may have incredible creative intelligence or emotional intelligence, they may easily navigate miles of unfamiliar terrain, or they may be intuitive hunters.
Tapping into your dog’s unique strengths can help you unlock their intelligence, improve your communication with them, and in turn, help them better learn and respond to cues.
Unlocking Your Dog’s Potential
Here are some ways you can level up your dog’s training at home:
Are your rewards yawn-worthy? Maybe your dog isn’t motivated by treats. You can use toys and playtime both as teaching tools and as motivators.
Is your dog unable to focus? Teach core skills like “watch me” and heavily reward eye contact, then move on to other skills.
Are YOU having fun? If you’re feeling frustrated, your intuitive dog may be picking up on that. When your mood is making your dog nervous, calming behaviours like sniffing the ground and avoiding eye contact can be misconstrued as inattention. Try shorter training sessions, move around more, and use silly voices. Keep your pup guessing!
Do Dogs Develop Autism And Other Neurological Disorders?
A dog that seems “dumb” may actually be suffering from a medical issue. Poor eyesight, fatigue, chronic pain, and other issues can make it harder for them to focus and learn. Bring up your concerns at your dog’s next checkup to see if your veterinarian can help.
There are some health conditions in dogs that veterinarians are still learning about. Some veterinary experts believe that dogs can have some of the same neurological disorders as humans, including OCD and autism.
Difficulty socializing (with humans or with other dogs), problems with processing verbal or nonverbal communication, and obsessive, repetitive behaviours are all signs that your dog may have a sensory or neurological disorder. Your veterinarian may be able to refer you to a behaviourist who specializes in such disorders.
Need Help Finding Your Dog’s Genius?
Positive training based on behavioural science works on all dogs, whether they’re too smart for their good, or lovingly – though inaccurately – labeled as a “dumb” dog.
Healthy Houndz offers reward-based private training for dog parents in Toronto and North York, as well as remote training sessions via Zoom for dog parents worldwide.