Which is the most intelligent dog breed? – study

A test battery assessed the cognitive functioning and behavior of various dog breeds. The Belgian Shepherd Malinois rose to the top of the pack.

 Belgian Shepherd Malinois (photo credit: World Animal Foundation)
Belgian Shepherd Malinois
(photo credit: World Animal Foundation)

The Belgian Shepherd Malinois emerged as top dog following a series of tests conducted by researchers at the University of Helsinki on a data pool of over a thousand dogs from 13 different breeds.

The results were documented in a study published by scientific reports, an open-access, peer-reviewed journal published by Nature Portfolio.

The dogs examined by the study included members of the following breeds: Australian Kelpie, Australian Shepherd, Belgian Shepherd Malinois, Border Collie, English Cocker Spaniel, Finnish Lapphund, German Shepherd, Golden Retriever, Hovawart, Labrador Retriever, Shetland Sheepdog and Spanish Water Dog along with a group of mixed breed dogs.

A total of 2,352 adult dogs participated in a test battery between March 2016 and February 2022. The analysis, however, only considered dogs who were both members of breeds that had at least 40 individuals participate in the test battery and were between the ages of 1 and 8 years. The age restriction was to ensure the study only included dogs that were in their cognitive prime. Ultimately, the study included 1,002 dogs from the 13 included breeds.

The test battery consisted of 10 tests, 7 of which were designed to assess cognitive traits and 3 of which were designed to assess behavior.

 A dog. (credit: PIXABAY) A dog. (credit: PIXABAY)

The tests

The test battery included a greeting assessment, an overall activity level assessment, a curiosity/adventurousness assessment, an inhibition/impulse control test, a human gesture understanding test, a spatial problem-solving test, an unsolvable task, a logical reasoning/inference-making test, a memory vs. misdirecting gesture test and a short-term memory test.

The tests revealed substantial breed differences in a dog’s ability to comprehend human gestures, the likelihood of following a person’s misleading gesture, spatial problem-solving abilities, inhibition control and degree of persistence.

Additionally, different breeds demonstrated very different behavior in how they greeted unknown people, how active they were and how they responded to new environments.

However, the test battery failed to find meaningful differences across breeds in areas such as memory and logical reasoning.

“Breed differences thus emerged mainly in tasks measuring social cognition, problem-solving, and inhibitory control,” the study’s authors write.

“Breed differences thus emerged mainly in tasks measuring social cognition, problem-solving, and inhibitory control,”

the study’s authors write.

No single breed performed the best across all the tests. The Malinois, though, performed strongly across the majority of tests. Additionally, they were the most likely to complete the spatial-reasoning test within the allotted time and had the highest success reading human gestures. Additionally, the Belgian Shepherd Malinois topped the list as the most active breed.

It would be improper, however, to conclude from the study that the Malinois is objectively the most intelligent breed. There were tasks related to cognitive functioning in which they were modestly or significantly outperformed.

For instance, while the Border Collie scored the highest in inhibition control, the Belgian Shepherd Malinois was among the lowest-scoring breeds.

Additionally, the researchers acknowledge certain limitations to the study. For instance, the owners whose dogs participated in the battery were self-selecting, causing the represented individuals and breeds to not be randomized. Additionally, there was no way to account for the training and environmental background of each dog. For example, 45% of dogs within the Malinois breed had a background as police dogs.

Also, only 13 dog breeds were represented. Had others been included, it’s possible another breed would have performed the best overall.

It should be noted that the other breeds represented also featured many individuals who had backgrounds as working dogs or competition dogs.

Ultimately, though, a dog’s life experiences, training and upbringing cannot be discounted when it comes to intellect. The study’s authors also acknowledge that these factors may have been, as opposed to breed differences, responsible for the results of the study.