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Are Dalmatians Smart? – Here’s What Makes Them Intelligent Dogs

Popularized by a cult-classic Disney hit, Dalmatians are iconic for their spotted coats and their outgoing yet energetic personalities. In the film 101 Dalmatians, these dogs are seen as wicked clever. But are the Dalmatian as intelligent as they’re portrayed?

Dalmatians are very smart dogs. In fact, they’re the 62nd smartest dog breed for their “obedience & working intelligence.” And according to Dr. Stanley Coren, Dalmatians are “above average” in dog IQ. But what really makes them really smart is their ability to think for themselves. Dalmatians were guard dogs that needed to make quick decisions in determining perceived threats.

Being 62nd place isn’t something to scoff at. However, we do think Dalmatians are actually smarter than their ranking. After all, measuring “canine intelligence” is a lot more complex than you’d think. Read on to learn the 3 types of dog intelligence and what actually makes them smart. 

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Measuring a Dalmatian’s True Intelligence

We measure a Dalmatian's intelligence based on 3 factors: obedience, adaptive and instinctive intelligence.

Dalmatians scored in the “above average” class for dog intelligence. And although this may sound very impressive, you may be wondering how we came to this conclusion?

Stanley Coren, renowned researcher and canine psychologist, is largely credited for building the criteria and dog intelligence rankings used in this article. However, his research methods were met with plenty of criticism, as it only measured one aspect of dog intelligence.

This type of intelligence is called obedience and working intelligence. It essentially is a measurement of how fast a dog can learn a command, in addition to how well they retain their training. It’s not the perfect measurement of dog IQ, but it’s the easiest to objectively measure.

Coren’s Canine Intelligence Criteria

Stanley Coren received a huge response from the professional dog obedience community. With the help of 199 North American obedience trial judges, Coren was able to finalize his dog intelligence rankings based on two main criteria. The criteria is the following: 

  1. The number of repetitions needed for a dog to learn a new command. Dogs with fewer repetitions needed were seen as “more intelligent” dogs.
  2. The success rate at which a dog breed is able to obey a known command on the first attempt. As you may have guessed, the higher the success rate, the smarter the dog.

It’s worth noting that not all dogs participated or qualified for these obedience trials. For example, only dog breeds with at least 100 responses qualified for his final canine intelligence ranking list. In other words, rarer breeds were excluded from the smartest dogs list.

Similarly, only dog breeds recognized by the AKC or CKC participated in the trials. That said, no mixed dog breeds participated, such as the wicked-smart Labradoodle.

There is good news, though. The Dalmatian breed is recognized by both North American kennel clubs. Dalmatians are also one of the top 100 most popular breeds in America, which meant there were enough sample sizes to qualify for the rankings.

How Dalmatians Performed

Dalmatians performed fairly well! As a matter of fact, they performed far better than most dog breeds. Coming in at 62nd place, Dalmatians were put into the “above average intelligent” class with 30 other dog breeds. Not too bad if you ask me.

But what does this actually mean for the breed? By being in the above average class, Dalmatians were capable of learning a brand new command with just 15 to 25 repetitions. This means you could teach your Dalmatian a new trick in a couple hours or so!

On the other hand, Dalmatians were able to obey a known command on the first attempt with a 70% or better success rate. In other words, Dalmatians are highly obedient dogs too!

There are many other popular dog breeds in the same intelligence class as the Dalmatians. For example: the Giant Schnauzer, Newfoundland, Yorkshire Terrier, Samoyed and the Bearded Collie are all in the same class. That’s some really good company!

Dalmatians vs. The “Smartest” Dogs

While Dalmatians are more intelligent than many other breeds, they are not the smartest. That said, how do Dalmatians compare to the smartest dogs out there? The top 10 most intelligent dogs are in a class of their own (and you’ll see why).

The smartest dogs can learn a new command with less than 5 repetitions. This is at least 3 times faster than the Dalmatian. Depending on the complexity of the command, it may take just a few minutes. These dogs are some of the quickest learns in the animal kingdom! 

On the other hand, the smartest dogs will obey a known command on the first try with a 95% or better success rate. It’s a significant difference compared to the Dalmatian’s 70% or better. The smartest dogs happen to also be the most obedient ones too!

The thing is, you’ll know every dog in the top intelligence class. For some reason, they’re also the most popular breeds. For example, these dogs included the Golden Retriever, German Shepherd, Labrador Retriever, Rottweiler, Poodle, Border Collie and more. 

2 More Reasons Why Dalmatians Are Smart

When it comes to dog intelligence, there are three components or dimensions that make up a dog’s true IQ, at least according to Coren. The smartest breeds list published by Stanley Coren was based off just obedience and working intelligence.

However, there’s much more than that. The other two components of dog’s intelligence is instinctive and adaptive intelligence. Both of which are just as important, if not more. The problem is that these other two components are a lot more difficult to measure objectively.

It’s incredibly difficult to create a “standardized test” for adaptive and instinctive IQ. But even so, it’s important to learn and understand these IQ types in order to fully grasp dog intelligence.

The Guard Dog’s Intelligence in Dalmatians

Instinctive intelligence refers to the skill or ability that the dog was bred to do. And yes, all dogs were bred for a role or job in society. For example, Australian Shepherds were bred to be one of the world’s greatest herding dogs and the instincts still show.

The innate ability for these dogs to herd livestock without human intervention and or training requires instinctive intelligence. Aussies instinctively know how to round up sheep into a group and drive them towards a direction – all by themselves!

Knowing how to run at sheep and knowing how they’ll react in their movements requires a very special type of dog intelligence, that is, instinctive intelligence. And while this can somewhat be measured in herding trials, it’s not as clear-cut and objective as O&W intelligence.

So what were Dalmatians bred for and what’s their instinctive intelligence? Dalmatians, believe it or not, were first bred to be carriage dogs with guarding instincts.

In the 17th century, Dalmatians ran alongside carriages to help guide and protect them from various threats they may encounter along the sparse roads. From there, they evolved into firehouse dogs that ran alongside old fire trucks instead of carriages.

They were the original carriage dogs for many reasons. Dalmatians are athletic, have high endurance and are always alert. Some say they have an affinity towards horses, who they often work with. But the most crucial aspect is their ability to read situations.

Like all top guard dogs, Dalmatians need to be excellent at reading situations and analyzing perceived threats. In the world of guarding, danger can happen fast and dogs need to be smart enough to quickly assess and react. This is what Dalmatians have.

The Dalmatian’s Adaptive Intelligence

The last dimension of dog IQ is adaptive intelligence, which refers to the dog’s ability to learn for itself. Is the dog able to learn from old mistakes and experiences? Generally, the better the dog is at problem solving, the higher their adaptive intelligence is.

The biggest problem is that we can’t really measure and quantify adaptive intelligence. There really is no objective way of measuring this, though we can make open-ended conclusions from reading some of the owner anecdotes and stories.

All Dalmatians have roughly the same instinctive intelligence. However, adaptive intelligence can vary among dogs of the same breed. Fortunately, most Dalmatians have been known to show high adaptive intelligence as described by the owners.

One Dalmatian owner tells us,

My Dalmatian has been able to figure out whenever I’m planning to leave my house. He picks up the smallest signs of me trying to leave and gets nervous.

– Reddit User

She continues by explaining, “for example, if I’m in another room and I pick up my keys, the sound will trigger him. If i put on sunscreen, the smell will trigger him. He’s too smart for his own good!

In this example, this Dalmatian learned the cues that are associated with consequent actions. This is learning from his past experiences and “mistakes.” It’s a clear cut sign of adaptive intelligence in this Dalmatian.

Of course this is just one example of high adaptive IQ in Dalmatians. There are so many examples and stories of high adaptive intelligence in Dalmatians all around the internet. In fact, you can ask any owner yourself and you’re very likely to hear many similar stories!

Is Your Dalmatian Smart?

If you want to know just how smart Dalmatians are, the best way is to ask real owners. We surveyed the popular Dalmatian Subreddit forum for responses to this question.

Real Owner Answers:

1. Thisismysfaaccount says Yes: “I done a lot of reading on Dalmatians before we picked ours up. He’s very intelligent at 3 months he already has a repertoire of tricks under his collar. He can sit, lay down, give both paws, Hi-5, come on command and heel.”

2. S18m says Yes: “They’re super intelligent dogs and quite curious too! Oh man, this got me feeling nostalgic thinking about when mine was a little pupper.”

3. Underachieving19 says Yes: “Dalmatians are a noble breed with a long heritage. They’re brave, loyal and INTELLIGENT dogs. Wouldn’t get any other dog breed.”

4. Schoolpaddled says Yes: “Border Collies are smart and eager to please. Dalmatians are smart and eager to be pleased.”

5. Anonymous says Yes: “To tell you the truth they are very smart but extremely stubborn. She is too stubborn to do tricks because she knows I’ll give her the treat regardless. She doesn’t play because she thinks she will get in trouble.”

6. Jlachaus1 says Yes: “Biscuit is really smart. She knows sit, shake, lie, put em up, go home (go to her crate), give me a hug, kisses. She only learns when she wants to though.”

7. Notpoundpuppy says Yes: “Dalmatians are very smart as long as you train them properly. Deuce knew how to sit, lay down, roll over, begging pose, shake, fetch, and go home (when he was crated).”

8. Forest_cat_mum says Yes: “So many people think that Dalmatians are just going to be biddable, quiet dogs, when they’re such active, smart, high-energy dogs that they need a good schedule!”

9. Lionessbelieve1 says Yes: “My Dalmatian is also incredibly smart. We taught her a ton of great tricks very quickly. I’m not sure why people think they’re stubborn, mine loved training…as I’m sure your Dal will be.”

10. Divinedogman says Yes: “Dalmatians are more clever than you think. My dog loves to play dumb to get treats. She’ll conveniently “forget” the “wait” command and go for the treats.”

Smart Toys for Smart Dalmatians

The problem with smart dogs is that they may be more difficult to raise. Some owners prefer “dumber” dogs because they require less mental stimulation.

Though this may be somewhat true, there are ways to provide a ton of mental stimulation for your Dalmatian. Obedience training is great, but you can’t simply be spending all that time with it.

The next best solution is to provide dog puzzles and smart toys. Here’s a few of my favorites that I know Dalmatians will love. The first one is Nina Ottosson’s Outward Hound Dog Puzzle.

It’s a fairly basic dog puzzle, but it’s provided my dogs with a ton of entertainment. When they were pups, they’d spend 30 minutes figuring this out. It’s a great way to keep them distracted if you need some free time. I Highly recommend checking it out at Amazon here.

I’m also a huge fan of the StarMark Bob-A-Lot Interactive Dog Toy. It’s simple in design – a bobble device where you hide treats. Your Dalmatian will need to bob it for treats to be released. 

It’s a great way to deliver meals to your Dalmatian that helps with their smart personalities. Chances are, they’ll be very into it. Make sure to get a size large at Amazon.

There are so many great smart dog toys you can get for your Dalmatian. However, these are just my dogs’ favorites.

As long as you keep them entertained with toys, playtime and training, you won’t have a problem with an intelligent dog.

If you’re still debating about bringing home a Dalmatian, look into their personalities and temperaments. Never raise a dog because they’re “intelligent.” As long as they’re suited for you and your family, they’ll thrive!

Give these dogs a chance and you won’t regret it! Do you own a Dalmatian? Are they intelligent dogs? Leave us a comment in the section below!

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Pat Dicus

Saturday 8th of April 2023

Our 1yr old Dalmatian is super smart, he can open all the doors in the house, opens his cage door and goes inside when he is told. He was shaking hands when a month old. He hides behind a certain chair when he sees his ear cleaning drops and will refuse to interact with you for 24 hrs if his feelings are hurt…


Thursday 29th of September 2022

I've owned Dalmations since 1968 and both raised litters and rescued many. I've never had a Dalmation that was not very trainable, even those rescued from horrific situations. My children were raised with them - a boy Dal for my son and a girl Dal for my daughter. They slept in the tents with them when we camped and I never worried that anyone or anything would harm them with the Dals there. Their ability to learn on their own and predict what you, their master, will be doing is exceptional. My current rescue Dal was trained in only a few tries to stay in our gate when cars entered or left. She will not eat food from the coffee table even hours after you tell her to "leave it". I will never have anything but a Dalmation. But it is true that they are so loving and sensitive to their owner, usually one person out of the family, and so clever that you must be persistent in training them. They will totally win your heart. But please, whatever dog you get treat it gently with love and give it the best of care. They are all so very special.


Tuesday 15th of February 2022

Once upon a time I had a Dalmatian. She was raised with my family and was very smart. I didn’t realize how smart till I read your article on the reason they are good carriage dogs. How their protection instinct kept them close to their horse & carriage. l often rode my horse in the woods without a care in the world along with K-D, my Dalmatian. Then I heard a coyote yapping in the woods. Next thing I know it’s standing in the trail in front of us. Should of been no big deal. Usually you walk towards them they run away, but not this one. I told K-D to sit stay & she got in front of me & sat n stayed. Then the coyote started calling in it’s pack, now there’s howling all around us. So I started slowly backing my horse, called K-D to come & we slowly walked away till we were able to move more quickly. I always thought K-D was responding to her OB training. But now I realize she was in her protective mode and wasn’t going to leave Mugzie & I. ❤️


Sunday 26th of December 2021

I bred dalmatians for many years. Some pups were bought by Busch Gardens. Of course I taught them many tricks. My first would not just fetch my slippers or shoes or sneakers, but put whatever I was wearing back in the closet. And I didn't want him running the house, so I taught him to "go slow". But more importantly, they could fend for themselves for weeks on end if need be. Just show them where the food and water is. This was pretty useful when I got a very rare illness and was nearly paralyzed for 2 months, unable to do more than drag a bag of food out and rip it open. Of course, they had their own door, too.

kathy barlow

Monday 15th of November 2021

my dalmation, is clever, soft, beautiful in nature! just a ‘human being’! she is 10 years old, still full of ‘beans’! the most beautiful dog you could ever imagibe!!!

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