Smartest Dogs

Are Bloodhounds Smart? – The True Intelligence of Bloodhounds

Bloodhound showing off his instinctive intelligence by tracking.
Written by Richard Jeng

Bloodhounds, known for their incredible noses and long hanging ears, have become one of the most recognizable dog breeds. They’re even-tempered and gentle, but can be unresponsive to training. It makes you wonder just how smart they are.

So, are Bloodhounds smart? For obedience and working IQ, the Bloodhound is ranked the 133rd smartest dog breed out of 138 dogs. But this doesn’t mean they’re dumb dogs. Rather, Bloodhounds are intelligent because of their instinctive IQ – that is, their ability to effectively track with their noses. In fact, they’re some of the best at this.

There’s more to dog intelligence than obedience and working IQ. Just because your Bloodhound is not responsive to obedience training doesn’t mean they’re not intelligent. We’ll discuss what actually makes these dogs smart.

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How We Measure Bloodhound Intelligence

The infamous list of smartest dog breeds we have today is based on one dimension of dog IQ, that is, obedience and working intelligence. In fact, it’s a popular term coined by renowned pHD and dog psychologist Stanley Coren.

While obedience and working intelligence serves a great starting point for measuring dog intelligence, it does not capture the true IQ of these animals. It’s why there’s been a lot of controversy among dog owners in Bloodhound community.

Obedience and work IQ refers to the dog’s ability to learn. How quickly can a dog learn a command or a trick? In addition, this tests the dog’s ability to retain that information. Is the recently taught trick just a short-term learning or does it stick.

Coren’s Dog Intelligence Criteria

For his intelligence trials, Coren developed a criteria to assess each dog breed. However, he didn’t do it all himself. He had the help of 199 obedience trial judges, who evaluated each dog breed based on his criteria for dog intelligence.

Coren’s criteria for dog intelligence is broken down into two parts:

  1. The number of repetitions needed for a dog breed to learn a new command. Dog breeds that needed fewer repetitions were considered more intelligent.
  2. The rate at which the dog obeys a known command on the first attempt. Dog breeds with a high success rate were believed to be more intelligent and obedient.

There are certainly flaws surrounding these intelligence trials. For example, not all dog breeds had an opportunity to participate. Only dogs recognized by the American and or Canadian kennel clubs took part in Coren’s trials, eliminating several hundred breeds.

In addition, not all dog breeds that participated made the published list of smartest dogs. Only those with at least 100 responses qualified. This eliminated recognized dog breeds that weren’t popular enough to bring in 100 dogs for the trials.

Bloodhounds, on the other hand, are both a recognized and popular dog breed. They had no trouble getting enough samples for Coren’s dog intelligence trials.

How Bloodhounds Performed

I think it’s safe to say Bloodhounds didn’t perform well. They ranked as the 133rd smartest dog breed out of 138 total breeds. In fact, they scored so low that they were placed in the lowest degree of dog intelligence category.

But what does this all mean? Bloodhounds needed at least 80 repetitions to learn a new command. In some cases, they needed 100 repetitions or more! Depending on the command, it could take a full day to teach a Bloodhound something.

This also meant that Bloodhounds had a 25% or worse success rate when obeying a known trick or command on the first attempt. They’re not the most obedient pets in the world, but there are several reasons why this could be (discussed later).

But don’t feel too bad. Some of the most popular and iconic dog breeds are in the same IQ class. For example, the Shih Tzu, Pekingese, Beagle, Bulldog, Mastiff, Basset Hound and Chow Chow all have the same degree of intelligence.

Bloodhounds vs. Smartest Dogs

There’s no denying a sizable gap when comparing the Bloodhound to the smartest of the pack. The top 10 smartest dog breeds are in a category of their own. So what’s the difference in obedience and working IQ of these two IQ class?

The smartest dog breeds is capable of learning a new command with fewer than 5 repetitions. Not only can they learn a basic command in a few minutes, but also learn at least 40 times faster than a typical Bloodhound.

What’s more, the smartest dogs are able to obey a known command (on the first attempt) with a 95% or better success rate! Compared to the Bloodhound, this class of intelligent dogs are almost four times more obedient.

Coincidentally, the smartest dogs are also some of the most popular. Breeds such as the Blue Heeler, Poodle, Golden Retriever, Labrador, Sheltie, German Shepherd and Rottweiler are all in this class. It makes sense why they’re popular – they’re easy to train!

Why Bloodhounds Ranked Low

So why did Bloodhounds rank so low for “dog intelligence?” There could be a number of factors, such as the stubborn and independent streaks of the breed. This could also be because of the inquisitive or curious nature of the Bloodhound.

However, the main reason is the structure of the intelligence test. It’s extremely difficult to standardize an IQ test for dogs because all dogs have different motivators. It’s why breeds that enjoy working for the sake of working perform well on the test.

That said, here are two other reasons that contribute to the Bloodhound’s shockingly low ranking on Stanley Coren’s intelligence test:

Distracted by the Bloodhound’s Nose

Believe it or not, the Bloodhound has the best nose in the canine kingdom. We’re not just saying this for the sake of the argument – they actually have the best noses! According to researchers, this dog breed has roughly 230 million scent receptors.

Not only do Bloodhounds have the most scent receptors among all dogs, but also estimated to have 40 times more receptors than humans. With more olfactory cells, the sense of smell increases. But what does this have to do with the trials?

A Bloodhound puppy requires a great deal of exercise. Without it, they will follow their nose into trouble again and again.

– The American Bloodhound Club

Can you imagine if your sense of smell was that sharp? You’ll likely become distracted multiple times throughout the day with amazing and interesting scents coming your way. In fact, this is the case with the inquisitive Bloodhound.

Coren’s intelligence trial was essentially an obedience test. And with obedience training, a lot focus is needed to perform well. Too many distractions with the Bloodhound likely led to poor performance in the trials. It doesn’t mean they’re dumb dogs.

Stubborn Bloodhounds

Make no mistake, the Bloodhound is a stubborn dog. And like with most stubborn and independent dog breeds, they’re notoriously difficult to train. That said, it’s not a coincidence that the “dumbest” dog breeds also happen to be the most stubborn.

According to Dog Time, Bloodhounds are the definition of stubborn. Not only do they need plenty of exercise, but also consistency and patience in training. They need a firm handler and tend to respond better when a loved one is training them.

That being said, Coren’s intelligence trials used a random obedience judge that the Bloodhounds had no prior history with. This could have very easily affected their motivation to work, as they’re more willing to obey with their family.

In addition, the stubborn nature of the Bloodhound probably didn’t help. But just because a dog does not obey you doesn’t mean they don’t understand you. So if the Bloodhound didn’t feel like training that day, the performance would surely suffer.

Reasons Why Bloodhounds Are Smart

The bloodhound is another dog breed often overlooked for their work with the police force.

So far we’ve only discussed just one component of dog intelligence, that is, obedience and work. But in reality, dog intelligence is more complicated than that. In fact, even Stanley Coren is willing to admit that there’s more to it!

With that said, the two other dimensions of dog intelligence is adaptive and instinctive intelligence. And while both may be more crucial in measuring dog IQ, both are also less objective. In other words, there are no perfect ways to measure this.

Bloodhound’s Tracking Intelligence

Instinctive intelligence refers to the special ability or skillset that the dog was bred for. This is the IQ type where Bloodhounds really shine and rise above the rest. Plus, we have plenty of evidence that suggests their high instinctive IQ.

All dog breeds in the past were bred for a specific purpose or role that benefited humans in society. Some examples include herding, guarding, tracking and even companionship. In other words, every dog had a “job” to do.

This Bloodhound is no exception. In fact, they were bred to be some of the best tracking dogs in the world. With their incredible noses, they’re able to pick up cold trails and successfully track down the target. Few dogs can do this.

Bloodhounds have the best sniffer of any dog so make sure you have a secure place. Once their nose goes to the ground they rarely look back and have no road sense.

– Fade (Dog Forums)

The incredible nose isn’t the only thing that makes the Bloodhound the world’s best tracking dog. The long ears and wrinkled skin actually collects scent molecules and sweeps them to the nose for a more effective method of tracking.

They’re so good at this job that a Bloodhound became the first dog whose “evidence” is admissible in a court of law (in the United States). But why is this a type of intelligence? How can such a talent be a part of their IQ?

Bloodhounds are born with the ability to track with little to no human intervention or training. The Bloodhound are adept at understanding where scents are coming from based on factors such as the wind direction and odor strength.

Bloodhounds can also quickly analyze odors and differentiate them from other odors easily. It’s why a Bloodhound has become one of the most widely used tracking dog. All of this requires a special type of intelligence – the instinctive intelligence.

Bloodhound’s Adaptive Intelligence

The final component of dog intelligence is adaptive intelligence, which is the hardest to measure in dogs. This type of IQ refers to the dog’s ability to learn for itself without the help of humans (like in obedience training).

Dogs with high adaptive intelligence tend to be good problem solvers. In addition, these dogs are likely to learn from past experiences and mistakes.

While all individual dogs within a breed have roughly the same instinctive intelligence, this is not the case for adaptive intelligence. This type of intelligence can vary greatly and depends on your dog. But in most cases, Bloodhounds score well in this IQ category.

For example, we have a Bloodhound owner explaining to us how smart his dog is:

It only took our Bloodhound one mild burn with the oven to never get too close to it again. When we cook, we don’t even need to tell him to stay away anymore.

– Yappsody (Dog Forums)

The owner explains that their Bloodhound only needed one bad experience to learn. Only one mild burn and he never got too close to the oven again. Not only is the dog learning for himself, but also learned this very quickly (first try!).

Another owner tells us a story about his clever Bloodhound, saying:

Our hound can’t be away from us ever. Now he has learned how to open the door when were in our rooms!

– Pat Win (Dog Forums)

Yes, Bloodhounds are loving and affectionate towards their owners. But this hound took it to the next level by learning how to opens doors so they’re always in sight! The dog has likely see the owners turn the knob several times and learned to copy it.

These are just two examples of high adaptive intelligence in Bloodhounds, though you can bet there are plenty more. Unfortunately this is a very objective dimension of intelligence and we can only rely on anecdotes and stories to showcase it.

However, if you asked any Bloodhound owner, you’ll likely hear many more stories just like these!

Does Intelligence Matter?

No, not really. All dogs are smart and capable of learning the necessary basics. And while these dogs are not the easiest to train, it is possible with consistency and patience. They will be stubborn, but in due time, they will learn.

Instead of picking a dog breed based on intelligence, pick one based on their temperaments and the fit with your lifestyle. In the home, Bloodhounds are gentle and docile, with an even temper. They are ideal for kids, but also seniors!

And if you plan to hunt, these are the perfect companions for you! Never let these “experts” tell you whether your Bloodhound is intelligent or not. Bring one home today and you won’t regret it!


Do you own a Bloodhound? What are some of the smart things that they do? Let us know in the comments section below!

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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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