Most people think of a border collie when they hear the phrase “smartest dog”, but a new study found that another herding breed may be the most intelligent.
Scientists at the University of Helsinki in Finland conducted a study on 1,002 dogs testing them on seven cognitive and three behavioral tasks. They wanted to see how the 13 dog breeds differed and if they excelled in tasks associated with their breed.
The dogs consisted mostly of herding breeds but also included Labrador retrievers, golden retrievers, and mixed breed. Most were personal pets, aside from the 30 police dogs who took part in the study. To ensure the most accurate results, the dogs needed to be motivated by food and between the age of 1 and 8 years old.
The commercial cognitive test battery called smartDOG™ (developed by one of the researchers, Dr. Katriina Tiira) began in March 2016 and concluded in February 2022. The findings were recently posted in Nature’s Scientific Reports.
Dogs participated in several tests that covered everything from reading human gestures to overcoming an invisible object for a food reward. Researchers also tested dogs with an “unsolvable task”, such as a closed food box, and noted which dog breeds looked to their owners for help and also how quick they gave up on the task.
All dog participants tested well in memory and logical reasoning. The differences occurred in the tasks measuring social cognition, problem-solving, and inhibitory control.
“Human-directed behaviour and socio-cognitive abilities may be highly valued in pet dogs and breeds required to work closely with people, such as herding dogs and retrievers. In line with this, the Kelpie, Golden Retriever, Australian Shepherd, and Border Collie spent the largest proportion of their time on human-directed behaviour during the unsolvable task.”
The independent thinkers were German shepherds and Belgian Malinois who never looked to their human to help solve the unsolvable task, which makes them good detection dogs.
The study revealed that not all herding dogs excel at the same tasks. “The Finnish Lapphund received the lowest score in the gesture tests, whereas the Kelpie and Malinois had the highest scores for this test, despite all three being herding breeds.”
Furthermore, “During the unsolvable task, the Australian Shepherd was the least likely breed to abandon the task, whereas the Kelpie was among the breeds most likely to abandon the task.”
Researchers found the results aligned with the dog breeds’ intended function.
Smartest Dog Breed
But who was the smartest of them all?
According to these tests, the Belgian Malinois scored the highest with 35 out of 39 points. The border collie came in second and the Hovawart took third.
“The Belgian Shepherd Malinois stood out in many of the cognitive tasks, having very good results in a majority of the tests,” study author Dr Katriina Tiira told The Telegraph.
However, the border collie was right on its tail. “Border Collies also performed well in many of the tests,” shared Dr. Tiira.
Belgian Malinois are known for their agility, work ethic, and quick responses. They form close bonds with their humans and excel as police dogs and pets for active families. They must have a job to do and need plenty of mental and physical exercise.
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