Dog Training Smartest Dogs

Are Bernese Mountain Dogs Smart? – Here’s What Makes Them Highly Intelligent

Bernese mountain dogs are some of the smartest dog breeds in the world.
Written by Richard Jeng

Bernese Mountain dogs are some of the best dogs in the world. Not only are they big fluffy dogs (which we all love), but also great companions and the ultimate “nanny dogs.” They certainly have the brawn, but does it come with the brains?

So, are Bernese Mountain dogs smart? Bernese Mountain dogs are “bright dogs” according to canine psychologist, Stanley Coren. Out of 138 qualifying dog breeds, they ranked the 27th smartest for obedience & working intelligence. They’re also capable of quickly learning from past experiences, while having instincts for various dog roles.

The Bernese Mountain dog, affectionately nicknamed the “Berner,” is an intelligent dog breed for many reasons – other than the fact that they’re quick learners. Let’s further examine how we measure their intelligence and what actually makes them smart dogs.

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Measuring a Bernese Mountain Dog’s Intelligence

We measure a Berner's intelligence based on their working/obedience intelligence.

No matter how you look at it, Bernese Mountain dogs are highly intelligent dogs. From both the infamous dog intelligence trials and owners’ anecdotes, we know they’re smart. Though, how exactly did Coren conclude that they’re the 27th smartest breed?

Stanley Coren is a renowned canine psychologist, pHD and researcher from the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. He’s most famous for publishing his book, “The Intelligence of Dogs,” which has received its fair amount of criticism and praise.

Coren’s Dog Intelligence Criteria

Coren reached out to all North American obedience trial judges at the time. Of which, about 199 obedience judges replied. Given his criteria, the judges evaluated and ranked as many dog breeds as they could, including the Berner. His criteria included:

  1. The number of repetitions it took for a dog breed to learn a new command. The fewer repetitions needed to learn a command, the higher they ranked for canine intelligence.
  2. The success rate at which a dog breed will obey a known command on the first attempt. A higher success rate meant a more obedient and intelligent dog.

Though Coren received a surprisingly positive response, not all dog breeds made it to his final intelligence ranking of dog breeds. Rather, only dog breeds that received a minimum of 100 responses qualified.

In addition, only dog breeds that were officially recognized by the American and/or Canadian Kennel Club participated in the obedience trials. Fortunately, Bernese Mountain dogs made the cut and performed exceptionally well.

How the Bernese Mountain Dog Performed

The Bernese Mountain dog performed extremely well in the obedience trials. Good enough to be classed as a “bright dog,” beating out over 100 dog breeds.

This meant that a Bernese Mountain dog was able to learn a new command with just 5 to 15 repetitions. With that speed, you would be able to teach your Bernese Mountain dog a new trick in an hour or less!

Furthermore, Bernese Mountain dogs showed that they were ultra-obedient dogs during the trials. As such, they were able to obey a known command on the first attempt with an 85% or better success rate!

And if you’re curious, some of the world’s most popular dog breeds in the same class include the Pomeranian, both Welsh Corgis, Cocker Spaniel, Vizsla and Miniature Schnauzer. If you ask me – not bad intelligence class to be in!

Berner vs. “Average” Intelligent Dogs

Bernese Mountain dogs easily beat out over 100 dog breeds for obedience & work intelligence. And for reference, average-intelligent dogs sit two classes below the Berner. But how do these mountain dogs compare to the “average” dog?

The average dog needed 25 to 40 repetitions to learn a new command, making them quite a bit slower at learning tricks. In other words, the Bernese Mountain dog is at least 5 times faster at learning than the average breed!

On the other hand, the average dog breed will obey a known command on the first attempt with at least a 50% success rate. Not too bad, though not nearly as great as the Bernese Mountain dog.

And just for reference, there’s a lot of popular dog breeds in the average class. Some of which, include the Siberian Husky, Shiba Inu, Greyhound, Great Dane, Boxer and Dachshund. All of them are considered average, yet they’re still smart dogs.

Owners: Is Your Berner Smart?

If you want to know just how smart these dogs are, it’s best to ask real owners themselves. So, that’s what we did. We surveyed the popular Bernese Mountain Dog Subreddit for answers to this question. Here’s what they had to say:

Real Owner Answers

1. Skjori says Yes:So far Dougal is proving that he is a VERY smart dog. When I got him on Saturday, he had absolutely no manners. As of today, he now sits at the door to be let out and also to be let back in.

2. Justice4m1 says Yes: “My berner is exceptionally intelligent..they know the exact moment that they messed up and are about to get in trouble. Don’t think they feel guilty.. but they know.

3. Tubateach says Yes:You’re right about the smart part. All of my research said that Berners are not good training dogs but our Moses learned tricks and commands like a champ.”

4. Hikarithegardevoir says Mixed:If with intelligence you mean “how quick they learn commands” then yes, otherwise their intelligence may vary. My Berner has made me wonder “how can you be so smart yet sometimes be so.. not very smart.

5. Sebassyion says Yes:We’ve only had her for 3 days but in that time she’s learned to pee and poo outside, is already on a sleeping schedule, and has learned to sit…their intelligence is stunning.

6. Sitcomreader89 says Yes:I’ve owned many dogs in my life, and i’ve never been as amazed at how quickly it took for my Bernese mountain puppy to be house broken. They’re sooo smart and it’s amazing.

7. Mapleneko says Yes:He’s a really smart cookie! (Was already mostly potty trained at 9 weeks and already knows a decent handful of commands)He’s just terrified of the particular cat..”

8. Climbtheladd3r says Yes:I’ve had Oakley for a week now and she surprises me everyday with how smart and loving she is. ALWAYS wants to be near you curled up.”

9. Thesfsmethod says Yes:According to the so called experts, Berners are pretty smart, but I actually think they deserve to be on the top 10 list of intelligent dogs.”

10. Adogsbestfwend10 says Yes: “I don’t think there’s a single soul that doesn’t think Bernese mountain dogs are smart dogs. I trust my dogs with my children…

Other Reasons Why Bernese Mountain Dogs Are Smart

Bernese Mountain dogs are smart because they are obedient dogs, quick learners and have high adaptive intelligence.

There are a lot of reasons why Berners are smart dogs. However, the rankings that Stanley Coren published was based on just one component of dog IQ. That is, obedience & work intelligence, which doesn’t tell the whole story.

There are two other dimensions of canine intelligence: adaptive and instinctive intelligence. But because they’re much harder to objectively measure, the current smartest dog breeds list is solely based on obedience & working.

Big, Versatile Farm Dog

Instinctive intelligence refers the the innate ability or skill that the dog was bred for. In the past, all dogs were bred for a specific task or role. We call it purpose-breeding, which created shepherds, herders, retrievers, guard dogs and more.

For example, Australian Shepherds were bred for the purpose of herding livestock on farms. As a result, they’re some of the best herding dogs to come out of America. Similarly, Labradors or Goldens were bred to retrieve shot waterfowl from lakes.

But he fact that these dogs are born with instincts to round up livestock and drive them in a particular direction, or instinctively bring back a dead animal, is impressive. After all, this is the dogs’ instinctive intelligence.

Bernese mountain dogs were bred to be a multi-purpose farm dog. In other words, they were great herding dogs, guardians, cart-pulling dogs and more! They helped around with everything on the farm and were essential assets to farmers.

With that said, Bernese Mountain dogs are the jack-of-all-trades when it comes to instinctive intelligence. They have innate abilities to perform so many various task, which certainly adds to their overall dog intelligence.

Don’t believe Berners have the instincts to herd? Check out this pup:

The Berner’s Adaptive Intelligence

The final dimension of canine intelligence is adaptive intelligence, which refers to the ability of the dog to learn for his or herself. Here’s a good question to ask: is the dog able to solve problems and learn from previous experiences and mistakes?

While all individual Bernese Mountain dogs have roughly the same instinctive intelligence, their adaptive intelligence can vary. However, most Bernese Mountain dogs tend to show a great deal of adaptive IQ as told by owners. For example, one owner explains:

My Berner has become so good at figuring out what we plan to do, I feel like he’s always one step ahead of me.

She continues, sayingif I plan to leave the house i’ll need to get ready (put on socks, sunscreen, etc.). By the time i’m done, the dog will be waiting for my by the door hoping I take him out.

Clearly, the Bernese Mountain dog described by the owner has high adaptive intelligence. From the dog’s previous experiences, the Bernese learned when the owner was going to leave the house and what signals led up to the leaving.

And of course, the dog wants to leave with the owner. So, he solves this problem by waiting patiently by the door and asking politely.

This is just one of the many great stories of why Bernese Mountain dogs have high adaptive intelligence. Plus, it’s why Berners have become popular “nanny dogs.” After all, it takes a smart dog to handle and tolerate the roughness of kids.

Smart Toys for Smart Berners

One of the biggest complaints of owning a smart dog breed, such as a Berner, is that they require a lot of mental stimulation. Not every owner has enough time to provide enough mental exercises.

Fortunately, there’s an easy fix for highly intelligent dogs. Keep them occupied with dog puzzles and smart toys. Here are just a few of my dog’s favorites.

My Aussie loves the StarMark Bob-A-Lot. It’s a bobble feeder that dispenses treats or kibbles when the device is tilted a certain way. It’s a clever way to sneak some mental stimulation during meals!

I highly recommend checking this out at Amazon! Also, make sure to get the large size for your Bernese Mountain dog. Read the thousands of raving reviews and you’ll know why we recommend this.

If you want another option, I’d check out the OurPets IQ Treat Ball. It’s a similar concept to the bob-a-lot, but you roll the ball instead of tilting it.

I’ve tried this out with my puppies and it worked great until they got a bit too old. But if your Bernese is still in the puppy stage, I would highly recommend checking it out here.

There are a ton of great smart dog toys and puzzles that you can get for your Berner. I haven’t tried them all so, unfortunately, I’m not able to give more recommendations.

Getting a smart dog requires a lot of work. So if you plan to bring home a Bernese Mountain Dog, you need to see if you have the capability to care for these dogs.

Never ask how smart a dog is, but rather if the dog breed’s personality and temperament matches yours. If you still want to raise a Berner, they’re worth the work!

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About the author

Richard Jeng

Richard has been raising dogs his whole life, including a Poodle, Pomeranian, Corgi and Australian Shepherd. He's always working with animal shelters and dog rescues because of his passion for all dogs. Fun fact: his all time favorite breed is the German Shepherd. Read More.

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