Mirror mirror on the wall, what is the smartest breed of all?
The Brightest Dogs
Ranks 1-10 are the brightest dogs in terms of obedience and working intelligence. Most dogs will begin to show an understanding of simple commands in less than five (5) exposures and will remember new habits without noticeable need for practice. They obey the first command given by their handler around 95% of the time. Furthermore, they respond to commands within seconds after they are given, even when the owner is a distance away.
Excellent Working Dogs
Ranks 11-26 are excellent working dogs. Training of simple commands should take around five (5) to fifteen (15) repetitions. The dogs will remember commands quite well, although they will show improvement with practice. They will respond to the first command 85 % of the time or better. For more complex commands, there may sometimes be a slight but occasionally noticeable, delay before the dog responds. These delays can be eliminated with practice. Nevertheless, virtually any trainer can get these breeds to perform well, even if the handler has only minimal patience and not much experience.
Above Average Working Dogs
Ranks 27-39 are above-average working dogs. Although they will begin to show a preliminary understanding of simple, new tasks within around fifteen (15) exposures, on average, it will take up to twenty five (25) repetitions before relatively smooth performance is obtained. Dogs in this group benefit from extra practice, especially at the beginning stages of learning. After they learn a habit, they generally retain it well. They will usually respond to the first command around 70% of the time or better, and their reliability will depend upon the amount of training that they have received. All in all, these dogs act like the excellent dogs in the group above. They simply respond a bit less consistently, and there is often a perceptible lag between the command and the response. They will not respond reliably beyond a certain distance from their handlers , and at long distances, they may not respond at all. Inconsistent or poor training by inexperienced handlers result in definitely poorer performance for these breeds.
Average Working Dogs
Ranks 40 - 54 are average dogs in terms of their working and obedience training. During learning, they will begin to show rudimentary understanding of most tasks after fifteen to twenty (15-20) repetitions. However, reasonable performance will take between twenty-five to forty (25-40) experiences. Given adequate practice, these dogs will show good retention, and they definitely benefit from additional practice at the time of initial training. In the absence of extra practice, they may seem to lose the learned habit. These dogs will respond on the first command more than 50% of the time, but the actual performance and reliability will depend on the amount of practice and repetition during training.
Fair Working Dogs
Ranks 55 - 69 can be rated as only fair in their obedience and working ability. It may sometimes take up to twenty-five (25) repetitions before they show the glimmering of understanding when presented with a new command, and they may require between forty (40) and eighty (80) experiences before achieving reliable performance. Even then, the habits may appear to be weak. Extended practice, with many repetitions, may be required for them finally to master the commands and show solid and reliable performance. If they do not get several extra sessions of practices, these breeds often act as if they have forgotten what is expected of them. Occasional refresher sessions are frequently needed to keep performance at an acceptable level.
With average training levels, these dogs will respond to the first command only 30% of the time. Even then, they work best when their trainers are very close. These dogs appear distracted much of the time, and they may seem to behave only when they feel like it. Owners of these dogs spend a lot of time shouting at them, since the dogs seem totally unresponsive if there is much distance between them and their handlers. People who own these dogs usually rationalise their dogs' behaviour with the same arguments that cat owners use to explain their animals' unresponsiveness, claiming that the animals are 'independent, aloof, easily bored' and so forth. These breeds are not for first time owners. An experienced dog trainer, with lots of time and firm but loving attention, can get these dogs to respond well, but even an expert dog trainer will have a hard time getting one of these dogs to perform with more than spotty reliability.
The Most Difficult to Train
Ranks 70 - 79 are the breeds that have been judged to be the most difficult, with the lowest degree of working and obedience intelligence. During initial training, they may need more than thirty (30) or forty (40) repetitions before they show the first inkling that they have a clue a to what is expected of them. It is not unusual for these dogs to require over one hundred (100) reiterations of the basic practice activities, often spread over several training sessions, before any reliability is obtained. Even then, their performance may seem slow and unsteady.
Once learning is achieved, practice sessions must be repeated a number of times; otherwise, the training seems to evaporate, and these dogs behave as if they never learned the exercise in the first place. Some judges cited some of these breeds as being virtually untrainable, while other suggested that the difficulties probably lie in the fact that, with average handlers, the initial learning sessions and practice were not being continued long enough for the behaviours to work themselves into becoming permanent habits. Once a habit is learned, these breeds still show unpredictable failures to respond. Sometimes they turn away from their handlers, as if they were actively ignoring commands, or fighting their owner's authority. When they do respond, they often do so quite slowly and seem unsure about, or displeased with, what they are supposed to be doing. Some of these dogs are reasonable workers on lead and are not trustworthy when free. Of all the breeds, these need the most competent and experienced handlers.
But what about Mixed Breeds or Crosses
Here the dog judges whose job it was to asses the behaviour of purebred dogs, were less sure. Judges as well as those who were also trainers and ran obedience classes seemed to feel that it was possible to make rough predictions and rankings eve of mixed-breed dogs. Their general feeling was that a mixed breed dog is most likely to act like the breed that it most looks like. Thus if a beagle-poodle cross looks like a beagle, it will act much like a beagle. If it looks most like a poodle, its behaviour will be very poodle-like.
On the other hand, most mixed breeds have some predispositions and behaviours that are characteristic of both breeds which contributed to it. The more of a blend the dog that the dog's physical appearance seems to be, the more likely that the dog's behaviour will be a blend of the two parents.
Editor's note: Is there a case for introducing a Titling system as used in other parts of the Agility world so that everyone, with whatever breed they choose, can enjoy the sport. Or will we keep it just for the collies?
Extracted from: The Intelligence of Dogs by Stanley Coren
(1994), Headline Book Publishing.
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