5 min read


Can Dogs Be Dumb?



5 min read


Can Dogs Be Dumb?


We all think that our doggo is the most amazing little creature to ever grace this planet (because, obviously, they are). Their smushy little faces and loving attitudes are what make them man's best friend. But every dog owner has experienced that moment when, despite their perfections, there has been something they've done where you ask yourself "...are they really THAT dumb!?" 

Whether it's pretending to be oblivious after rooting through the trash or running right into a glass door, life with dogs is always entertaining. Whatever that moment is that made you question your dog's (ahem) intelligence, all of us have wondered how much is really going on upstairs. 

Well, how "smart" your dog actually depends on their breed, training, human and canine interaction, and age. In short, while dogs can't necessarily be considered "dumb" there are specific behaviors and traits that make certain dogs more responsive to commands and more aware of their surroundings than others. What you may think is "dumb" is actually just an under-stimulated, unfulfilled pup. It all just depends on your pupper's unique (and perfect!) makeup!


Signs Your Dog May Be Under-Stimulated (Not Dumb)!

Intelligence in dogs depends primarily on breed, training, and the amount of interaction they had with other dogs and humans early in life. Whereas we humans see "dumb" as dogs that don't really understand training commands, responding to us calling them, and doing other things like never learning to not go through the trash, these can actually be signs that your dog is under-stimulated, or just a matter of their breed. 

For example, your dog may bark randomly at objects that don't move, or seem, well, not worth barking at. That may just be a sign that your dog needs to spend more time with other pups, and get his or her gossip time in! Dogs bark - it's in their genetic makeup - and if we don't give them an appropriate outlet to do so, they're going to bark at times that seem inappropriate.

Your dog may also chew on your shoes, table legs, or other random objects throughout your house that aren't for puppies! Since "standard corrections" don't work, many people take this as a sign that their dog is a little bit dimmer than most. That simply isn't true! 

Many dogs that have these problems are just under-stimulated - again, it's in dog's genetic makeup to chew and teeth - in these instances, your dog may not have the appropriate toy for them to gnaw on, or they may just be bored! Try to take your pooch out for a run. Get them tired, slobbery, and happy enough, and they'll stop chewing - guaranteed!

Body Language

Here are some signs you may notice if your dog needs more stimulation. He or she may not be the smartest pup in the world, but they definitely aren't dumb (maybe just a little bored)!

  • Alert
  • Barking
  • Chewing
  • Jumping Up
  • Pacing

Other Signs

Here are some other times a dog may seem "dumb", but it's actually attributable to other things, like a dog's upbringing, his breed, and more:<br/>

  • Not Responding To "No" Or Their Name
  • Misbehaving Just To Get Attention
  • Running Into Doors, And Other Entertaining Behavior


The Science Behind Intelligence In Dogs


Basically, we humans see dogs that are difficult to train as "dumb", but that just isn't true. Some dogs are easier to train while others are harder--it has nothing to do with intelligence, but rather on the genetic makeup of that dog's specific breed. 

Historically, dogs that are harder to train - those ones that don't seem to get it when you say "no", or the ones that seem to stare out the window for hours at a time - are the ones that may have been taken out of hunting long ago. 

That means that throughout the years, characteristics that are useful for hunting, including alertness, obeying and understanding commands quickly have been bred out of your pup. These breeds of dogs, like pugs, beagles, and Mastiffs, are the ones that will be happy to sit on your lap (or try to, in the case of bigger ones!) all day, needing little stimulation. They're not dumb, they're just happy to be around you!

Other breeds of dogs which are easier to train are also the ones that are more active, since their hunting "instinct" hasn't been completely bred out of their genetics yet! That means that although your dog may learn tricks quickly, there may be other things that they do that seem, well, rather dumb, like chewing, going through the trash, and other naughty habits. 

These types of dogs, like German Shepherds, Poodles, and Border Collies, are easy to train, but also need a lot of stimulation. They catch on quickly to commands, but also need a lot of time outside, interacting with other dogs, running around, and all around just exerting their energy.

It's also important to note that all dog breeds are best at certain things. For example, Retrievers, like Labs and Goldens, are best at (obviously) retrieving. German Shepherds are best at protecting. Border Collies are best at herding. Shih Tzus are the best at being companions (really! they're bred to be companions to be pet and loved!). Teaching a dog something that isn't compatible with their breed may make it harder for a dog to learn that trick or trait, making you think your dog is dumb. They're not, it just may not be in their nature to learn what you're trying to teach them!

We also need to remember that as smart as we think our dog is, they are just dogs! There are going to be things that our dog just doesn't get. While they may understand commands, they won't ever become fluent in English. While they may get that certain times of the day mean they get food, they'll never learn to read a clock. We may get frustrated with our little guys for not understanding something that seems simple to us, but to them, it may seem like rocket science! So when training your pup or disciplining them, remember to be patient and loving. They don't try to frustrate us, they may just not get it!

What You Can Do To Train Your (Not Dumb!) Dog


For those of us with dogs whose breeds are a little slower to learn, there are ways we can help our pups to understand our commands. For example, some dog breeds, such as Beagles, Mastiffs, Bulldogs, and Chihuahuas, need more repetition when learning new tricks. 

Sometimes, you need to do something over 100 times or more for your dog to understand! That doesn't mean that they're dumb in any way, their breed just has a slower response time. Don't give up on your pup! If you keep repeating the action, they'll learn it, just stick with it and show lots of praise!

For those of us with dogs that are quicker to learn, we have to take the good with the bad. That means that your dog may pick up new tricks quickly, but will probably also need a lot more activity in their lives! Don't get frustrated when they tear something up or seem too excited indoors. Try to get them toys that stimulate their minds, and make sure to take them on lots of adventures to get rid of all that excess energy! 

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Written by Katherine McCormick

Veterinary reviewed by:

Published: 01/26/2018, edited: 04/06/2020

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