What Breeds Are The Most Intelligent?

Smart dog bringing stick

1. “Left for the wolves.”

In the late Spring of 1902, Constable Richard Morris, of the Royal North-West Mounted Police, reported an incident dealing with the native Cree Indians and their dogs. Stationed in a community north of Lake Winnipeg, he noticed that a number of dogs had been staked out in the forest. Each one was left alone and fastened to an iron stake by a chain. When he asked the reason for this, the Crees told him that the dogs were “left for the wolves.”

When Const. Morris objected to this treatment, the Crees explained that the dogs wouldn’t be harmed by the wolves. The dogs — Ungava huskies — were bitches in heat. Male wolves without mates of their own would be attracted to the bitches and mate with them, resulting in cross-bred puppies with “wolfblood.”

Morris said, “Oh, I see. This is so your sled-dogs will be bigger and stronger.”

“No,” said one Cree. “A wolf can outrace our dogs in a quick dash — but our huskies have much more stamina than wolves and can easily outlast them in a long run. Wolves make poor work dogs.”

“Then,” concluded Morris, “it’s because wolves are healthier.”

“No. They are the same.”

“Then — why?” asked the Mountie.

“Up here,” replied the Indian, tapping his forehead.

Father LeBeaux, an Oblate Missionary, later explained, “The Cree people believe that when an animal becomes domesticated, each generation loses in intelligence. That’s why wolves are more intelligent than dogs. The Indians say, ‘The closer to the wolf, the smarter.’ If it is true of domesticated animals, what does that say of civilized man, eh?”

2. “How intelligent are they?”

Our ancestors might have asked this 15,000 years ago when they played with their adopted wolf or jackal pups — the first dogs.

Even the ancient Egyptians asked that question, and studied their own dogs to answer it.

The first modern attempt was by Rene Descartes, who only went one step beyond the cloudy thinking of his time, saying all animals were just soulless biological machines. Descartes set up the narrow, human-centered theory of behaviorism that would dominate until well into the 20th Century.

For decades, behaviorists put animals — including dogs — through sterile tests in sterile labs, looking for mechanical results that proved worthless.

In the middle of this muddle came one sane voice: Donald Griffin, professor of biology at Rockefeller University, who said, “Behaviorism should be abandoned not so much because it belittles the value of living animals, but because it leads to a serious incomplete and hence misleading picture of reality.”

In 1953, Konrad Lorenz’s MAN MEETS DOG created an instant classic about canine intelligence. Written with humor, wisdom and great insight, the German Nobel Laureate almost single-handedly recreated our methods of exploring animal behavior.

In his ground-breaking 1994 book THE INTELLIGENCE OF DOGS — CANINE CONSCIOUSNESS AND CAPABILITIES, Canadian Stanley Coren, psychologist, dog trainer, “and avowed dog lover,” presented his controversial Ranking of Dogs for Obedience and Working Intelligence.

Coren ranked 133 breeds, from #1 on… The reaction was predictable: “The Poodle? He ranked a POODLE above my Belgian sheepdog?” “Come on! My Samoyed is smarter than any Australian Cattle Dog!” “No Papillon can out-think my Lassie.” “OK, maybe a Poodle is intelligent –but…”

“Controversial” doesn’t begin to describe the reaction to “Coren’s Ranking.”

But his observations have proven to be pretty accurate. Coren was testing, of course, pure breeds. The “purebred” Siberian husky, for instance, isn’t as quick-witted as the native husky of northern Siberia. This is even more true of the Alaskan malamute. We deliberately breed out some of the “wolfishness” in our pets.

3. “Never Cry Wolf!”

In 1963, Farley Mowat’s NEVER CRY WOLF appeared on the bookshelves. Described as “an intimate casebook in wolf sociology,” Mowatt described how, as a biologist employed by the Canadian Wildlife Service, he had spent a summer on his own, studying a pack of Arctic wolves. The book sparked an avid interest in wolf research that has never dimmed.

IN PRAISE OF WOLVES and SECRET GO THE WOLVES described R D Lawrence’s close experiences with wolves in Canada. DANCE OF THE WOLVES by Roger Peters describes his three winters in the forests of northern Michigan. These and others have shown us the remarkable lives and intelligence of the wolf.

R D Lawrence wrote: “Reality, particularly in the case of wolves, means that these animals have keen intelligence, excellent memory, and demonstrable capacity of conscious thought. When Shawano fed his pack before keeping a piece of chicken for himself, he demonstrated not only that he could profit from experience in a profitable way, but that other wolves could do so as well.

“This demonstration is alone sufficient to discredit the mechanistic theory which contends that evolution, by means of hereditary imprinting, has led to the thoughtless or automatic responses of animals to any one of an enormously wide variety of natural stimuli…

“Memory, by allowing an animal to benefit from experience, plays an important role in the formulation of conscious decisions; the better its memory, the better able will the animal be to adapt to a changing environment.”

It’s the wolf’s intelligence, as well as its loyalty and great heart that caused our ancient Northern ancestors to bring the wolf into their families, or to interbreed their existing dogs (probably of ancient jackal ancestry) with wolves.

“In the summers there is one visitor, however, to that valley, of which the Yeehats do not know. It is a great, gloriously coated wolf — like, and yet unlike all the other wolves. He crosses alone the smiling timberland and comes down into an open space among the trees.

“Here a yellow stream flows from rotted moose hide sacks and sinks into the ground, with long grasses growing through it and the vegetable mold overrunning it and hiding its yellow from the sun; and here he muses for a time, howling once, long and mournfully, ere he departs.

“But he is not always alone. When the long winter nights come on and the wolves follow their meat into the lower valleys, he may be seen running at the head of the pack through the pale moonlight or glimmering borealis, leaping gigantic above his fellows, his great throat abellow as he sings a song of the younger world, which is the song of the pack.” -Jack London, THE CALL OF THE WILD
Today, we mingle with wolves, in a sanctuary and in the wild.

What, then are the smartest breeds?

Taking in the conclusions of dog trainers, psychologists and researchers, as well as those who work with dogs in life and death situations, such as police, search & rescuers, and wilderness inhabitants — and balancing the Cree wisdom: “the closer to the wolf, the smarter!” with ongoing research into the evolution of dogs (the earliest dogs were probably adopted jackal pups), here are the TEN MOST INTELLIGENT DOGS:

1. Ungava Husky, or Wolf Dog

2. German Shepherd

3. Golden Retriever

4. Labrador Retriever

5. Border Collie

6. Poodle

7. Doberman Pinscher

8. Papillon

9. Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever

10. Alaskan Malamute

If your dog is not on this list, you can be sure it’s #11!

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