Thursday, July 10, 2008

Top 10 Dumbest Lists

Reid forwarded a link and a wink with this story: 10 Dumbest and Smartest Dog Breeds

Needless to say the list itself (a silly, rehashed non-story) deserves no comment; and equally needless to say, we all jumped in eagerly to comment on it.

Steve wrote in first:
I don't even have to LOOK. Oriental sighthounds, like other primitive breeds, always come out "dumb" on these lists because they aren't"biddable". But try seeing them solve their own problems-- or live with one and watch it train itself. (Remember I have also trained "smart" lurchersand sheepdogs as well as bird dogs-- NONE learns as naturally as a real i.e., "Country Of Origin" AKA unspoiled, hunting stock) saluki.

Show Afghans and some modern salukes-- what Libby calls "supermodels"-- are a whole 'nother story, which is why I have Kazakh and John Bedouin dogs.) John will doubtless have more to say when he gets back from Europe.

I am curious about all of you others' opinions-- I'm forwarding this toVladimir too, as his Laikas are also "primitives" with minds not unlike tazi-salukis (which he also has.) Patrick (as an owner of very different dogs) and Rebecca (as a pro trainer)--?

Vladimir responds: "I have both now, Laika and three Tazy (Saluki). They all are smart dogs, but not necessarily obedient; being smart is not the same as being obedient, of course."

After taking a minute to flip through the breeds pictured, Steve says of the so-called dumbest:
At least it was an Afghan! But Aboriginal Affies, taigans etc are just like COO salukis, only even fierier (and more aloof and less biddable.) I still hope to get a taigan-blooded dog from K'Stan for my strain (from Shakula-Vladimir knows.)

The rest is as I expected. Shepherds which are fairly smart but biddable do well. Retrievers most which are dumb and biddable also do well (goldens areas dumb as rocks, Labs almost, Chessies... pretty smart but not there BECAUSE INDEPENDENT. Primitives (chows, basenjis) do poorly in these tests. Don't really
know the modern show chow but the ones around here are smart but independent.
Ditto the Africanis breeds like basenjis.

Pekingese and beagles are genuinely dumb (most scenthounds have smart noses, but...) Pekes and the poor show bulldog can barely exist or be born without aid-- who can tell about their brains, really? Mastiffs are a sort of degenerate descendant of flock protection dogs, which tend to have rather one-track minds.

Rebecca spoke up next, almost starting another kind of rowe: "The smartest dogs I've worked with have been mutts. Take away specialization and you've got a better problem solver. I could make an accipiter big falcon comparison here, but I won't. ;-)"

I added:

Brian Plummer defined canine intelligence as "trainability" which has its merits but I think is too narrow. But any list based on show breeds and without consideration of field work is bound to be off. This list seemed to be about "which dogs looked smartest in this one picture."

Certainly the most apparently intelligent dogs I've spent time with (subjective observation of course) are border collies and australian shepherds; these were dogs you could basically speak to in English and expect full compliance and evident understanding. They were attentive and would regularly (and correctly) intuit your next move.

Quick story to illustrate: We were hawking rabbits in Amarillo, TX, with a mixed pack of dogs in tow including a border collie, a whippet, a black lab and a pointer (all working dogs) and we came to a gated fence. The lab and pointer and my whippet all crowded to the latch area of the gate, bumping into each other but at least knowing which side of the gate to crowd around (pretty smart, huh?). The collie was smarter: He simply sat down about 3 feet from the gate and watched the other dogs vie for position. When I opened the gate, the first three dogs banged their heads together in a mad rush to get by, and the collie just walked through like a person.

Some of the least compliant and attentive dogs I've worked with were pointers and springer spaniels, FWIW.

The sighthounds are always placed near the bottom of these lists, but never (we should note) by people who work with them. My past and current whippets have been smart in the sense of compliant and observant and quick to learn new tasks. But they are also game-oriented and "uncontrollable" at the times you might expect them to be.

Having just spent 4 days with my parents' show-bred borzoi, I expected to meet a truly dumb dog. But not so. Their Barrie is a sensitive and observant animal who changes his behavior to suit his differing relationships with each family member (he is clearly the alpha animal in the house but gives Dad polite respect in public), and he figured me out pretty fast as the one of our group who was not buying his BS. He adjusted his behavior in my case too. He is a dog I could work with I'm sure.

Here was Prairie Mary's take, agreeing part-ways with Rebecca:

"I'm gonna go with the Seven Sister colleges here and say 'all comparisons are odious.' 'Smart' is as variable in dogs as in humans, mostly because humans define the term. A dog that's smart in one context is stupid in another and that's the point of breeds: to fit the context.

"All-purpose mutts, looked at as individuals, are the Swiss Army Knives of dogdom. Sometimes a mongrel gets the best of the mix and sometimes they get the worst. Stupidest dog I ever knew was half English Sheepdog and half show afghan. Both halves were the worst of the breed.

"Sadie was her name. She warn't no lady."

Finally Patrick, grouchily:

"And the NUMBER ONE DUMBEST BREED IN THE WORLD is .... the human being.
"Television producers and press editors keep coming up with these kinds of lists, and humans, unimpeded by any real experience and possessing incredibly short attention spans and shallow memories, keep "click and treating" when this kind of stink is delivered right to their feet. The result: every day is 'groundog day' for humans, and stink follows them from one end of the earth to the other."
Who else wants to comment? How can you resist? Was your favorite breed lumped in with the slow starters? Did the editors miss anything important here? (Of course they did!)


Nightmare said...

The list seems based on Stanley Coren's most intelligent dogs list. He compiled that list by interviewing obedience trail judges. Enough said.

I'm a firm believer that you can take a normal puppy and make it stupid if you raise it wrong. Keep it in a pen most of the time, take it out mostly for grooming or stacking, don't let it interact with adult dogs of different types, don't let it run around and explore and get into trouble, don't give it time to act like a pup, and you'll atrophy it's brain and make it stupid. Mutts aren't typically raised like a show puppy.

LabRat said...

The dogs I've owned have varied a lot in intelligence. The Basset Hound I had was truly, unmistakably stupid; some was just scent-obsessed houndiness, but I know plenty of bright hounds that don't run full-tilt into a sliding glass door every single morning of their lives, including other Bassets. Rip was just a canine short-bus rider, plain and simple.

The German Shepherd Dog I had was a show dog. Beautiful, stunning, and didn't have those scary low-rider hips, either. Sweet, sweet animal, but dumb as a box of rocks.

The shelties were pretty bright- and extremely willing. I could teach them to do pretty much anything. Not big innovators, though.

American Akitas have always been show dogs, but with only thirty years of AKC recognition on top of a long primitive ancestry, they seem to be doing all right. The two I have now are head and shoulders above any other dog I've owned for intelligence. I can teach them anything, but whether they'll choose to do it is another matter entirely; training is always an extended "meeting of the minds". For what it's worth, teaching them house manners was far easier with the Akitas than it was with any of the others; they were both housebroken the moment they had physical control, and we've never had to worry about them destroying our stuff for entertainment.

Mike Spies said...

Well, I couldn't possibly attach any credibility to a report assembled as 'filler' by some unknown media writer.

Steve said (I think it was Steve) that pointers were possibly the dumbest dogs he has experience with. I differ - bird dog breeds most be intelligent to do their jobs. Conjugating Latin verbs is not on the job description. Independence, awareness and the ability to develop 'bird sense' through experience are what makes a good bird dog. Horses for courses.

Steve Bodio said...

Not guilty, Mike! Though pointers might not be as across- the- board bright as some generalists I would and will take a pointer if I ever add a bird dog to my house again. And I have known some not- too- dumb springers too.

Some English pointer males can be pretty hard headed though (;-)

Matt Mullenix said...

Mike I was the one who mentioned pointers: "Some of the least compliant and attentive dogs I've worked with were pointers and springer spaniels, FWIW."

A gross generalization based on little direct evidence. But that's been my experience, anyway.

Heather said...

Attack of the Coren BS rehash.

In addition to biddability and problem-solving as (often-opposed)dimensions of intelligence, a major factor in whether we perceive a dog as intelligent is that dog's capacity for impulse control. And I'd argue that impulse control is a tremendous element of intelligence for anyone.

It is a big part of what gives the Akitas their commanding presence, and the absence of it is what gets beagles (many of whom have shown me flashes of apparent genius on problem-solving) classed as dumb.

Ferexample ...

I've been partner to three German shepherd search and rescue dogs. All from impeccable working breeding, all great search dogs, none related. Our first, Lilly, had a chessmaster's brain, and in many ways was never a puppy. People perceived Lilly as "wise," and that's a fair word for her. She had moderate impulses, and the self-possession to control them. Lilly was not particularly biddable for a GSD, but she was polite and well-mannered because she chose to be.

Our second, Mel, the dog whose heart and mine are two halves, was an evil genius from birth, had very strong impulses ("high drive"), uncanny problem-solving abilities, but took several years to develop impulse control. People perceived Mel as "clever" or "brilliant" and working with her was working with a delicate genius. She was something of a social dork when young, but developed into a zen master of working with fearful and aggressive dogs.

Our current GSD, Sophia, has the highest drives of any GSD I've ever worked with, and is probably in the top 1-2% for "ball drive" in the working population (which is itself 1-2% of the gene pool). She's over -the-top by any measures. Fantastic working dog. No quit in her. Undistractible. Dumbest dog I ever hope to own. Zero inherent impulse control at age three -- it's all external, and it's accompanied by screaming that shreds the fabric of space-time (and makes me ears itch). And she's socially autistic. Our teammates call her Rain Dog -- she's an excellent fetcher.

Training Sophia was more akin to programming than teaching. It was also the most trouble-free training I've ever done for a SAR dog -- six of my own, and directing/assisting with scores of others. She isn't smart enough to be distracted by other interesting possibilities, or to jump to wrong conclusions based on a mishap or mistake.

One breed, and the "real thing" within that breed. Three animals carefully bred for function, and all highly competent at that function. Same home, same handlers. Virtually no similarities in their various "intelligences."

I could give similar accounts of the five closely-related English shepherd SAR dogs I've trained or supervised the training of.

And the media wants to tell us which are the smartest and dumbest breeds?

Mike Spies said...

Steve, Matt -- Sorry that I confused your comments, a product of my distracted mind. Pointers can be hard headed (read: focused on different stuff than you are). They have very high drive to find birds and often seem impatient and inattentive. I would agree, then, with Matt's assessment.

The fact is that dogs live in a different reality than we do. Smart/dumb doesn't mean much when we consider that WE created them as they are. 'Breed' doesn't mean much either - simply and arbitrary boundary we draw around a 'type' of dog with some shared ancestry.

I live with a number of bird dogs - setters all.

One is smart, but not a good bird dog - too impulsive.

Another is dumb as a box of rocks and has numerous 'faults', but he is a very good bird dog - he is just smart enough to do what he has to do. I imagine that testing him for 'intelligence' would land setters in the 'dumb' list.

Two others are both smart AND excellent bird dogs... my ideal. My current puppy will likely fall into this category also.

I love dogs, but I am not stupidly sentimental, nor breed blind in the way that I have seen in others. That said, the advantage of focusing on a single breed (once you find the dogs that do the job you want done) is that you can develop some in-depth knowledge of the characteristics, variability and limits of the breed, and understand the blood lines and outstanding individuals within the gene pool. This increases the odds of getting good dogs -- dogs that suit you.

Julie Zickefoose said...

Well, I'm just glad some junior bacon cheeseburger at CBS put together that little list, because some mighty fine minds have had reactions which are infinitely more interesting and illuminating than the original ranking. I especially like the link in our minds between intelligence and compliance. I've always maintained that the more animals act like us, the more intelligent we think they must be.

Matt Mullenix said...

Julie does that work for marriages too?

Anonymous said...

Everyone needs to read Stanley Coren's book FIRST! In it, he describes all kinds of intelligence--the "obedience intelligence" used on these lists is only ONE type of smarts. I have had a Saluki(desert bred, though), an Azawakh, and a Greyhound/Saluki cross, and my sighthounds were as as intelligent aany dogs I've had. I've also kept many "primitives", that are low on these lists, but could easily survive on their own(Basenjis, Siberians)which requires a certain amount of smarts--just not particularly obedient! And I have had five wolf/dog crosses, EXTREMELY intelligent, but also not particularly tractable! But you wouldn't say wolves are stupid just because they don't follow a human's orders!

Anonymous said...

This is "anonymous" again--I'm having trouble figuring out how to post comments--I'm not really anonymous (my name is Lane Batot)...Anyway, I've also kept coonhounds-scenthounds-which are often labeled "dumb", but I definetely disagree--they can be extremely focused on trailing, but can exhibit plenty of sagacity given the chance. It takes quite a bit of mental ability to decipher all those diffrent scents, too! Most people that I know that say their hounds are stupid keep them chained to a barrel, and might take them hunting once or twice a year. Most people raised and living that way wouldn't develop much intelligence either....

Anonymous said...

Anonymous(L.B.) comment #3--We sighthound afficiondos are always right sensitive about the intelligence thing--one tiresome myth is that because sighthounds have narrow skulls, there isn't room for much of a brain. I love good old Dr. Leon Whitney's comment in his book(I think it's this one--he wrote many) "The Truth About Dogs"(an early marvelous rant against AKC show breeding practices)regarding this notion. Being a veterinarian Whitney dissected lots of dogs, and he said size-wise there was no diffrence between a narrow-skulled greyhound's brain, and a broad-skulled bulldog's brain. His blunt comment was,"If you have dumb greyhounds, it's because you bred dumb greyhounds to dumb greyhounds..."or something to that effect!

Anonymous said...

And I(anonymous L.B. again) must include a story illustrating one of my own sighthound's sagacity. My Azawakh(I would have dared ANYONE to call my Azawakh "dumb" to his face!But then, he wouldv'e bitten them even if they complimented him!)was a splendid creature, but he just could not take cold weather well. I lived in a tumbledown board-and-batten shack in the Tennessee mountains at the time, where the only warm spot on cold nights was right by the wood heater(only source of heat). The Azawakh's place was on one side of the couch next to the wood heater. This particular Azawakh was not very high in the pack hierarchy, so when someone else appropriated his spot on chilly nights, the Azawakh would rush to the door or window and bark his head off like we were being beseiged! The other dogs would rush to see what intruder was there, and the Azawakh would calmly take his formerly occupied place on the couch! He may have discovered this by accident, but he had the reasoning ability to figure it out and make this "lie" work for him--it even fooled me sometimes! Quite the clever fellow, that Azawakh.....

Steve Bodio said...

Lane-- just caught up, and loved all the comments, especially the greyhound quote and the Azawakh tale. Do you have my email?

Anonymous said...


My lurcher does something similar to your Azawakh. If she wants to sleep in my jack russells dog bed she first entices the jack to play with her (play bows, barking). As soon as the jack gets out of the bed to play my lurcher hops right in. She too is the low dog in the pack (of two).


Teddy Moritz said...

I had a miniature longhaired dachshund who, if beaten to a hole with hard quarry in it, would go to the nearest tree and begin to look up and bark as if the biggest bear in the country was up there. The dachshund in the hole would rush out to join this elder female, whom the rest of the pack respected. As soon as the hole was clear the old schemer would dive into it, getting her chance to work the quarry while the rest of the small dogs stood outside, a bit dumbfounded. This dachshund repeated this scenario enough times for it to be obvious to me, but she still fooled her constituents each time. Another kennel-time trick she pulled, for years after being spayed, was to cuddle up to the stud dog, blow in his ear and present her rear end, as if in standing heat. The male always fell for this act and when he became interested she'd attack him fiercely, but with a 'smile' on her face. Also she had a way of maintaining her dominance over younger, stronger dachshunds. Upon return from a hunt and being placed back into the paddock with other dachshunds she would arbitrarily (or so it seemed to me) pick out one dachshund and thrash it for no apparent reason. The underdog would submit and rush off, confused, at this attack. Clever old dog. What constitutes intelligence more than survival in a pack for a dog?

Anonymous said...

No, Steve Bodio, I do not have your E-mail(yet)--but be very, very careful if you are thinking about giving it to me, especially if you want me to elaborate more about my many dogs! Mine is(a work address--I don't have one of these contraptions in my home) I have another (funny?) comment about greyhound dumbness I'll try and submit tomorrow.....

Anonymous said...

Okay--the "funny" comment is from a book by an Australian author(Anne Rolins)"All About The Greyhound"-innocent enough title, and some great pictures, but alas, more about the internal workings of the dog than anything--just a walk-through dissection of a greyhound! Plus, it gave my poor dictionary a hernia when I tried to read it. This book, for all its efforts at sophistication, fell into the same myth of greyhounds being dumb because they have narrow skulls(not because they have been bred to run around in circles after fake prey), and her description of it is as follows;"In consequence of the attenuating and lengthening of the head of the greyhound, the internal cavities became necessarily contracted and the frontal sinuses were thereby greatly diminished, and with their decrease of surface, the scenting powers likewise decreased. The cranial cavities also diminished and with that a lessened volume of brain ensued which proved unfavourable to a full development of some organic functions and also of those higher traits of what may be called intellectuality."Good Gawd, woman! Cain't you just say you think greyhounds iz dumb?! And the whole book is like this.....Beautiful picture of a splendid white greyhound on the dust jacket of my copy, though....

Anonymous said...

Well, a skinny head WOULD mak ethe greyhound more aerodynamic. Form follows function doncha know...

Anonymous said...

Except when "FORM" becomes the mantra of a religious conformation activity and gets exagerrated beyond any ability to function! Ditto for repetitive "one-type-fits-all" obedience tests that I find as boring as my Siberians, Malamutes, Basenjis, scenthounds and sighthounds do!...L.B.

Mike Spies said...

Ms. Anonymous...

"Except when "FORM" becomes the mantra of a religious conformation activity and gets exagerrated beyond any ability to function! Ditto for repetitive "one-type-fits-all" obedience tests that I find as boring as my Siberians, Malamutes, Basenjis, scenthounds and sighthounds do!...L.B."

I could not agree more. The key word is FUNCTION, not whim or fancy. As for obedience tests.... argh! a buch or kinder control freaks!