The meaning of intelligence in general, not just in reference to dog intelligence, is hard to define. Is it the ability to problem solve? Is it the ability to understand complex situations / scenarios? Maybe it is the ability and speed of learning when compared to others of similar age. But then the BIG question comes. What is learning? Information (learned) that some people treasure is viewed as a total waste of time to others and would not be classed as a sign of intelligence.
There are many different opinions on what defines dog intelligence, but it is a popular opinion that dogs do not have the ability to premeditate an action when it comes to solving a problem. There are certainly breeds and individuals who would be more persistent at trying different actions to arrive at a result that they want; and they might possibly accidentally reach a solution. But would this be discerned as dog intelligence or just persistence? Thomas Edison did this same thing more persistently than any dog would attempt and he is viewed as a genius! Dogs can often make a connection between an accident and a result, especially if it involves access to food or (to a lesser degree) access to somewhere they have in their minds that they want to get to. (The grass is always greener on the other side syndrome).
There is one line of opinion that states that cross breeds are smarter because they have a stronger disposition due to them being out-crossed to a wider gene pool. In most circumstances a “mutt”, (a cross bred), displays a mix of characteristics inherited from its ancestry, and is so diverse it cannot be explained so simply. In fact sometimes it can work in the opposite way and the dog can end up with major problems, both mental and physical due to the extreme differences in the demeanor and structure of its ancestors.
When it comes to pure bred dogs there has ALWAYS been some controversy when it comes to defining dog intelligence in general. A general explanation of what I mean is, a person involved in dog obedience training at a high level will interpret the ability to learn quickly (from instruction from a human) as a sign of intelligence.
A person involved in dog exhibition, where the dogs are judged on conformation, and who might not be interested in the same level of obedience from their breed, but still require a sound temperament, a social intelligence plus the capability to learn, could interpret the “trained obedience” as nothing more than blind subservience from a desire to please their “master”.
The ability to learn and obey commands is not the only possible way to measure intelligence, even though much information on the internet points towards this standard of measurement, largely from the works of a Stanley Coren whose work is sourced from surveys of input from dog trainers and dog obedience judges. This has unfortunately led to a “weighted” outcome, which champions dog breeds that are eager to please their human masters, while actually describing and listing other breeds that are “less eager to please” as basically “Dumb”!
Think about it, if you were a dog trainer earning a living from dog training would you rather train breeds that are subservient and quickly trainable or breeds that are more independent and “question” an instruction to do a particular command. And dog obedience judges?? Do I need to say anymore. Most have not even had any type of association with dog breeds that are not the “trained obedience trials” type, and yet it appears they were invited for an opinion on dog intelligence in general. Figure!! Do you think there would have been any other result from these surveys? I could have done a “Nostradamus” on this survey myself, when it comes to predicting the outcome of opinions regarding breed specific dog intelligence!
There can even be a wide range in the degree of subservience between the same breed that has been developed for different roles. For example, the first picture most will see in their mind when you talk about an “assistance dog”, also called a guide dog, is that of a Labrador. Now there is a huge difference between the Labrador you see as a family favorite at the local park or as a popular obedience and show dog, and those that are carefully bred for this assistance purpose. What one is the most intelligent? One is a rolly-polly bundle of exuberance and the other is a quiet genteel animal. Get your gloves on for the boxing bout between those 2 camps of supporters when discussing dog intelligence!
There are some fiercely stubborn breeds such a livestock guardian breeds that fail to see the point of a command such as “sit” or “down” or even “roll over”. They know their role, partly inherited, partly from instruction and partly from self learning and often carry it out with uncanny foresight that comes from “some other place”. (Please note that there is a huge difference between guarding breeds and herding breeds).
Like these guardian breeds, hounds are generally hunting dogs and are often put way down the pecking order in a list of intelligent dogs and yet their ability to work as a team, (a “pack” mentality), exhibits exceptional thought processes as every action in a hunting environment is different. There are no “trained” responses in a chase, but there are many “off the cuff” and “learned” responses that carry over to each hunt so a dog goes from a total novice to a true pro in their lifetime. While the hunt instinct is inherited, this type of “think on the go” intelligence requires exceptional memory and very quick learning.
This hunt experience usually goes hand in hand with quite a placid “pack” nature which has a flow over into how they interact in the environment of being a family pet. Owners of these breeds, who usually have personalities that “fit” with these breeds, do not want a “slave” as a pet. These owners experience other types of intelligence most probably not seen in the subservient breeds who usually have an extrovert personality and have a different type of relationship in a family environment.
I haven’t forgotten the other groups of dogs such as gun-dogs, non-sporting, toy breeds, etc. but you can guarantee that many breeds across the whole gamut of pure bred dogs have been unfairly judged due to such an obvious bias as that exhibited in any article related to the studies by this Stanley Coren guy or those websites that just “parrot” his findings.
It comes down to this. If I were to say, (as has been said in the past), that one genotype of human being was more intelligent than another it would not be tolerated. Why? Because it is just so totally untrue. Human intelligence is based on so many factors and we (ALL) are now so interconnected and so interactive that we know any single human from any possible background has the same capability as any other human, (given the same amount of freedom and the right environment) to learn and remember.
We also know that “learning” would be interpreted in so many different ways by people from different backgrounds that it’s definition would be harder than defining what intelligence is.
When you research your breed, or the breed you are interested in, please don’t be swayed by this bias towards the “slave” breeds. As it is in human races, all dog breeds have equal “dog intelligence”. All breeds have the same capability to learn enough to be what you want as a companion. The biggest hurdle will be finding the breed personality that most matches your own and / or your families.