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They may sometimes act silly and goofy, but all dogs are actually incredibly smart. Nevertheless, are some breeds really more intelligent than others? How does the German Shepherd’s intellect fare in comparison to other breeds?
Are German Shepherds Smart?
Yes, there’s no doubt about it. German Shepherds are incredibly smart. That’s the reason why they’re the most popular working breeds. Some people speculate that their usefulness in a variety of canine applications is due to their strength and temperament. But the fact is that their intellect plays a huge role. How else could they be trained for all of the functions they serve?
German Shepherd Intelligence Rank
The American Kennel Club consistently lists the German Shepherd Dog as one of the smartest breeds of dogs. But one of the most compelling evidence of the GSD’s intelligence is a study led by Stanley Coren, a canine psychologist and author of “The Intelligence of Dogs,” among other books.
In an effort to rank dog breeds according to intelligence, Coren engaged obedience trial judges from the American Kennel Club and the Canadian Kennel Club. The goal was to judge a breed’s working intelligence, or a breed’s ability to learn from humans. They did so by evaluating dogs based on specific criteria:
- The number of repetitions it takes for a breed to learn a new command.
- The rate at which the breed obeys a command they already know on the first try.
Every breed was evaluated at least 100 times, and the German Shepherd was ranked as the 3rd most intelligent dog breed. It is preceded only by the Border Collie and the Poodle, which rank 1st and 2nd, respectively.
Based on this study, the top 10 smartest dog breeds are:
1. Border Collie
3. German Shepherd
4. Golden Retriever
5. Doberman Pinscher
6. Shetland Sheepdog
7. Labrador Retriever
10. Australian Cattle Dog
Landing in this top 10 list means the German Shepherd has proven to learn a new command in fewer than 5 exposures and obeys a known command at least 95% of the time. That’s a testament to the GSD’s superior working intelligence.
Why are German Shepherds so Smart?
Apart from their proven working intelligence, the German Shepherd also excels in two other types of intelligence: Adaptive and Instinctive.
A dog’s adaptive intelligence refers to its problem-solving abilities. It involves how they learn on their own and draw lessons from past experiences.
Every German Shepherd owner will attest to the breed’s adaptive intelligence with stories of how their dogs just figure things out for themselves.
Similarly, German Shepherds are also known for their instinctive intelligence, or the ability to demonstrate natural skills for which they were bred.
In fact, their innate abilities in herding and livestock protection were the reason the breed flourished in the first place.
German Shepherds were developed from a stock that showed a natural ability to herd sheep even without training. That skill caught the eye of dog enthusiasts who not only propagated the breed but also created breed standards to protect the features and abilities we value in the German Shepherd today.
Besides their intelligence, one of the most important reasons the GSD is so smart is their eagerness to please. That trait makes them obedient, keen to work, and easy to train.
Benefits of Having a Smart Dog
The advantages of an intelligent breed are obvious in the context of working dogs. But if you’re looking for a companion or family dog, having a smart dog also has its perks:
They’re easy to train
The German Shepherd’s natural abilities combined with their eagerness to please allow them to learn very quickly. That means they’re more easily trained to be a good member of your household who not only potties in the right place but also follows house rules.
They’re fun to play with
The GSD’s capacity to learn isn’t limited to being a well-behaved dog. Their drive for work is also useful in teaching them to play games. That makes spending time with them even more fun.
Smart dogs like German Shepherds are incredibly enjoyable to observe because they tend to figure things out on their own. Plus, given enough time and patience, they can learn practically any trick, which they’d be more than willing to demonstrate in exchange for some treats and praises.
The dedication you put into raising a smart dog rewards you with a strong sense of fulfillment. You know the effort pays off when you have a well-behaved, obedient dog that’s also expressive in their appreciation of you. Being able to train them to play games, do tricks, and engage in sports gives you an even deeper sense of accomplishment.
Difficulties of Having a Smart Dog
Although there are plenty of benefits to owning an intelligent dog, it also comes with some difficulties. Don’t choose a German Shepherd or any of the smartest dog breeds unless you’re ready to take on these challenges:
They require more attention
Smart dogs require a certain level of devotion. You need to dedicate enough time and effort to stimulate their mental faculties. Otherwise, they might end up developing some destructive behaviors.
Plus, smart breeds are usually high-energy dogs. So, they don’t just need mental stimulation but lots of physical exercises as well.
They get bored easily
Despite their drive and eagerness to please, you’ll need to exert a lot of effort in keeping them engaged. Apart from mental and physical stimulation, you must provide enough motivation for them to learn and listen. Their tendency to tire of things easily might also mean you’ll need to change toys and treats more often.
They can quickly pick up bad habits
Smart dogs can learn unpleasant habits just as easily as your favorite tricks. Without the proper structure and devotion to their upbringing, their ability to learn things on their own might lead to unwanted behaviors.
They can outsmart you
Dogs can and will use their intelligence to get what they want.
They might whine and wail to get some extra treats. They might even intimidate you into dropping what you’re doing to take them out to play. Smart dogs need a firm yet doting handler who knows when to let things slide and when to assert their authority.
Evidence of German Shepherds’ Intellect
Their superior intelligence combined with their build and temperament has allowed the German Shepherd to excel in a wide variety of roles. Among them are:
Military & Police Work
The German Shepherd is one of the most popular breeds used in military and police work. Their build, temperament, tracking ability, and intelligence makes them reliable companions for patrolling, protection, and apprehension.
They are also taught to use their remarkable scenting abilities to detect various things of interest to police, including bombs, drugs, and human remains.
Here’s a compilation of clips demonstrating the GSD’s abilities in various police and military applications:
Now that fencing is more common in farms, herding no longer the first thing that comes up when discussing the functions in which the German Shepherd excels. Nevertheless, this is where their roots lie and, in fact, where they got their name.
Today, some farms still rely on the GSD’s abilities to guard their livestock and protect them from outside predators. Additionally, it is one of the breeds that excel in herding as a canine sport.
In this video, a German Shepherd shows its ability to herd sheep in a style called “tending,” which the breed apparently excels in:
If honed properly, the German Shepherd’s innate protectiveness can be used to safeguard both people and property.
They’re perfect for this role not only because they’re naturally protective of their family but also because their intelligence, loyalty, and respect for their handlers make them more controllable even in intense situations.
Just take a look at how 5-year-old Valentina and her personal protection dog Cujo work together in a training scenario where they demonstrate how they would work together in case of a kidnapping attempt:
The German Shepherd’s intelligence combined with its even temperament allows them to excel as service dogs.
Among their most useful functions are as seeing-eye or guide dogs for the visually impaired, support for those with seizure disorders, assistants for those with mobility impairments, and therapy dogs for those with mental challenges.
If you haven’t seen a German Shepherd service dog at work, check out how Lotus the GSD helps Asia deal with severe anxiety.
Actors for Entertainment
GSDs have excelled as actors in movies, TV shows, and commercials. That’s because they’re easy to train for atypical roles and tricks. Plus, they have a strong work drive, which allows them to excel on set.
Among the most popular German Shepherds are Strongheart, Lady Jule, Rin Tin Tin, and Hobo from Canada’s The Littlest Hobo. More recently, a GSD also starred as Rex in the beloved Austrian-Italian TV series Inspector Rex.
Here are a few scenes taken from Inspector Rex, which shows just how well the German Shepherd was trained to act in uncommon shooting scenarios:
Sports and Trials
The German Shepherd breed performs excellently in several canine sports and trials. They don’t just dominate activities like Schutzhund, which was developed for their breed. They also excel in sports like dock diving, flyball, and agility, which show off their incredible athleticism. Their intelligence, trainability, and eagerness to please also allows them to shine in obedience trials.
If you haven’t had the chance to witness a GSD perform in in obedience trials, check out Zakanja Bitter ‘N’ Twisted and his handler Jenny Gould show off at the Crufts Obedience Dog Championships.
Intelligence is in the German Shepherd’s nature. Not only are they constantly listed among the top smartest dog breeds around the world, but they also prove their superior intellect in everyday situations.
Although their brainpower means owning them requires more commitment than other breeds, it is also what makes them the ideal working dog as well as the perfect companion.