All dog lovers believe their chosen breed of pet is noble and genius, if not sacred. And indeed, the dog brings its proud owners plenty of emotional satisfaction and even health benefits. Some studies suggest marriages of dog owners are more likely to succeed and that a dog owner is 4 times more likely to survive a major heart attack. But while they may be a great pet, not all dogs are created equal.
A Canadian psychologist named Stanley Coren, with the help of hundreds of dog trainers and vets, developed a Canine IQ test to determine The Intelligence of Dogs, in a book of the same name. It rates the ability and willingness of dogs to solve problems and obey commands. To be sure, obeying the commands of bossy humans is not the be all and end all of a dog's raison d'etre. But, as one of the simple tests demonstrates, if a dog can't figure out how to shake a blanket thrown over its head, it’s not likely to remember how to get home after wandering without a leash.
A score of 54 and over classifies a dog as “brilliant.” What follows is the list of those breeds which consistently scored 18 or under, which indicates a breed “clearly deficient in many areas of adaptive intelligence and may be extremely difficult to live with.” But most of the mentally challenged breeds have been bred for things that don’t require a high level of intelligence. Like cuteness, or hunting. They almost always have compensating character attributes. And most importantly, they have the quality of being pets that work for their owners.
But still, these are scientifically the dumbest dog breeds, as determined by experts.
11 Shih Tzu
The American Kennel Club ranks this breed as the 15th most popular in the U.S. and classifies it in the Toy Dog category.
Some dogs lack intelligence and trainability because they were once the favorites of royalty, and the Shih Tzu has a most regal history. The Shih Tzu was the house pet for most of China’s Ming Dynasty (1368-1664). Its sole purpose has been to be an affectionate lap dog, a task that requires little in the way of intellect. It’s also a highly regarded Barking Guard Dog.
10 Basset Hound
The droopy face and ears, impassive demeanour, homely face and ungainly little legs make for an endearing pet, but one that is not the sharpest pencil in the box. Originally developed in France to track small game, Bassetts were bred for their noses - not their brains.
They were so highly regarded, Lafayette gave some to fellow Revolutionary George Washington for his hunting pleasure. And unless you count slobbering, passing wind and staring blankly when you call it, hunting is pretty much where this hound's talent ends. A basset hound needs to be watched and usually leashed outside. If one finds an interesting scent, it has been known to follow it and forget how to get back.
Its modern popularity dates from the 1950s ,when a doe-eyed Bassett named Jason was made “SpokesBassett” for Hush Puppy shoes. Trivia: Elvis sang Hound Dog to a Bassett on the Steve Allen show in 1956.
9 (tie) Mastiff
A surprisingly good natured, kid-friendly breed despite its size and violent background, mastiffs are the gentlest of giants. Used as war dogs by British tribes against the Romans, they were taken to Rome by Julius Caesar to kick lion and gladiator butt in the notorious Coliseum.
One known for their ferocity and courage, they were used as watchdogs in rural England. Now, they're known for their docility as well as a short attention span that takes a long time to learn simple things which are quickly forgotten anyway.
What are beagles doing here? Snoopy's a beagle, and he’s smarter than most humans and a World War One flying ace.
In reality, beagles have a good nose, a lovely disposition and not much more. Creator of the dog IQ scale, Coren ,writes that he almost gave up even trying to train a beagle after it took a year to learn what his Nova Scotia retriever learned in four weeks. “It could go for dozens of training sessions without getting an exercise right, then out of nowhere for no apparent reason do it perfectly.”
Essentially a love muffin, this is one of those breeds raised for and only for companionship. The Pekingese are the Divas of Dogdom. Like the Shih Tzu, they were called Lion Dogs because of their resemblance to guardian dogs in Chinese legend. They are thought to be one of the oldest breeds still alive.
The Pekingese are extremely brave for their size. Or is that delusional? Training them has been likened to training a very stubborn, spoiled child.It’s interesting that one web site calls them dumb and arrogant, while websites devoted to that breed call them ‘independent’. They have recently dropped from 37th in popularity in America to 77th according the American Kennel Club.
To give them their due, bloodhounds are rescuers and life savers. Their ability to follow scents days old is unmatched. A workhorse on the job, they are alas one of the one-dimensional breeds. The nose is all it knows. You may have noticed the Disney rendition of bloodhounds, Pluto, does not work for NASA.
Its name is Russian for fast. Its Canine IQ, on the other hand, says slow. This is an athletic, affable, affectionate, low maintenance and an all-round nice dog with the hygiene habits of a cat. One Borzoi website describes the breed as being bred to be hunters and being consequently independent - as if independence is code for not being able to get with the program - but owners love them anyway. Well, humans were once bred to be hunters and we’ve gone on to learn a thing or two, so there may be hope for this dim breed.
4 Chow Chow
They weren’t bred for brains. This breed is thought to be a decent Barking Watchdog, which also means its wariness of strangers can make chow chows particularly yappy, too. Very demanding, jealous and difficult to train, the Chow Chow website insists: “Again, this dog isn’t stupid, it has proven to be very hard to train because of the nature and personality of the dog. Remember, stubborn doesn’t mean stupid.”
Nor, it must be said, does it mean smart. Freud’s favourite dog was a Chow Chow named Jo-Fi. He often depended upon Jo-Fi for an assessment of the patient's mental state, which may shake your faith in psychoanalysis.
It’s said that hockey enforcers are animals on the ice and the gentlest of souls off the ice. Like a bulldog. One of the most popular dogs around, its name derives from the old British blood sport of bull-baiting at which bulldogs, with their tenacity and strength, excelled. They were champions in dog fighting until all blood sports were outlawed. Still valued as fearsome guard dogs, they have evolved into being very affectionate, gentle and yet almost totally vacuous.
The Basenji has a very exotic lineage as an African hunting dog, a favourite of hunters since before the building of the Pyramids. Their claim to fame is as the ‘barkless’ dog. They have a wide repertoire of howls, screams and even yodels.
The Basenji Club of America says the breed can “look right into your soul”. Maybe Freud should have used one of these instead. Other sources report they mostly stare out the window for hours on end.
Another difficult-to-train breed, Basenjis are just not good at learning new things or remembering behaviours that improve the quality of life.
1 Afghan Hound
This one really is just another pretty face. The number of surveys that rank the Afghan Hound dead last on brain power is overwhelming.
They are known as the King of Dogs - but then, Michael Jackson was known as the King of Pop. This elegant, dignified breed is notoriously difficult to train and housebreak. They are famed for their low obedience level and there's no chance of calling your Afghan just once to come in. It’ll take a while.
They are bred for looks and indeed, they look like they spent every day at the beauty parlor. They are formidable competitors in dog shows. But they are generally thought to make up in affection what they lack in gray matter. You may need to call for your Afghan Hound a few times before it comes back inside of the house but perhaps that's a small price to pay for gorgeous.