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Training the Highly Intelligent Dog

The truth is, if you’ve got a puppy genius on your hands, then he is likely pretty hard to live with at times. They figure out how to maneuver around obstacles you put up to keep them out; they get into things you didn’t think were even possible and they are constantly on the go looking for their next task to conquer. Doggie geniuses are amazing and exhausting! If you have a pup like this, training is a wonderful solution. Not only will you be teaching your dog the behaviors that you prefer, but you’ll also be feeding his mind and keeping him happy with jobs to perform.

Canine Intelligence: It Might Not Mean What You Think   

I’ve heard it from clients many times “My dog is the smartest I’ve ever seen!” And sometimes the opposite, “He’s the sweetest but has the smarts of a rock.” While owners certainly know their dogs best, these statements may not be fully accurate. Canine intelligence isn’t measured by how well your dog obeys. Intelligence in dogs is measured by their vocabulary understanding and cognitive capacities.

We, as humans, often impart human traits onto our dogs. In fact, many talk about dog’s abilities similarly to how they speak about toddlers. While this can definitely help you describe your dog, much of what we naturally accept as intelligence is actually not measuring true brain power in pups.

Head of the Class Dog Training LLC 

Winchester, VA

Whether you think your dog is genius level or just a big ball of goofy love, let’s talk about training options. At Head of the Class Dog Training, we offer something for everyone — from group puppy classes to one-on-one behavior-focused lessons and agility to senior fitness. Give us a call today!

~ Lisa

Lisa Marino, CPDT-KA, KPA-CTP, PMCT, has taken her varied teaching experiences and applied them to helping owners understand and train their beloved four-legged family members. She has more than four years’ experience leading group dog training classes at Best Paw Forward in Hartland, WI, and opened Head of the Class Dog Training LLC in Winchester, VA in 2012, where she conducts group classes and private lessons, as well as helps owners to modify their dogs' problem behaviors. Lisa earned her CPDT-KA in 2012, is a 2015 graduate of the prestigious Karen Pryor Academy and is a Pat Miller Certified Trainer.

Obedience vs. Intelligence

Let’s start with the definitions of each word:

Intelligence: 1. capacity for learning, reasoning, understanding, and similar forms of mental activity; aptitude in grasping truths, relationships, facts, meanings, etc. 2. manifestation of a high mental capacity

Obedience: 1. the state or quality of being obedient. 2. the act or practice of obeying; dutiful or submissive compliance:

Do you see the difference? Intelligence involves reasoning and dipping into mental abilities. And while learning dog obedience does take some intelligence, it’s often the product of your dog being dutiful and obeying after many, many repetitions. Frequently when we call a dog “smart,” what we actually mean is he is highly trainable or contains a mixture of obedience, intelligence and the desire to please you.

Canine Intelligence Studies

In recent years, the desire to study and measure canine intelligence has really taken off. From Yale to Berkeley, dogs can now go to college and earn their doggie degrees by participating in college-sponsored studies. (If you’re wondering, it takes four trips to Yale to earn the doggie bachelor degree!)


Even dog food companies are getting in on the action. Purina’s Pro Plan Bright Minds food line has partnered with Duke University’s Canine Cognition Center to launch the Dognition program. Owners pay $19 and receive a questionnaire and video instructions to gather information about their dog. They then submit the data via Dognition’s website, and, in return, receive a cognitive profile of the pet, based upon comparisons with other dogs. More than 25,000 owners have already participated.