Smartest Dogs

Are German Shorthaired Pointers Smart? – The Guide to GSP Intelligence

The intelligent German Shorthaired Pointer dog.
Written by Richard Jeng

German Shorthaired Pointers, or GSPs, have quietly become one of the 10 most popular dog breeds in America. They’re highly affectionate and trainable, making them great dogs to own for all. But, just how smart are these dogs?

So, are German Shorthaired Pointers smart? The GSP is a bright and intelligent dog, often touted for their obedience and willingness to learn. For obedience and work intelligence, GSPs are the 19th smartest dog breed, out of 138 breeds! But what really makes them intelligent is their ability to adapt on the field and their sharp instincts in tracking birds.

The German Shorthaired Pointer’s intelligence goes beyond just commands and tricks. Not only are they excellent at reading human emotions, but also thrive when tasked to perform on the field. Read on learn about the GSP’s true dog IQ.

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Measuring the GSP’s Intelligence

When it comes to dog intelligence, there are few methods of measuring IQ. The first method is a way of measuring “obedience and working intelligence” – a term coined by Stanley Coren. This IQ refers to a dog’s ability to learn and obey.

Coren, a pHD and canine psychologist, had the help of 199 obedience trial judges in North America for his intelligence trials. Using the criteria that Coren formulated, each judge assessed as many dog breeds to collect data for the pHD.

Coren’s Dog Intelligence Criteria

The dog intelligence criteria is broken down into two parts. The first being the speed at which a dog breed can learn a command. The second is the ability of the dog to obey that command. That said, the measured criteria is the following:

  1. The number of repetitions needed for a dog breed to learn a new command. Dogs that needed fewer repetitions ranked higher on the intelligence list.
  2. The success rate in which the dog obeys a known command on the first attempt. Dogs with a higher success rate were considered more intelligent.

It’s worth noting that not all dog breeds participated in Coren’s trials. Only dog breeds with a breed standard in the American or Canadian Kennel Club participated. However, the good news is that the GSP is recognized by both clubs.

In addition, not all dogs that participated qualified for the final intelligence list. That said, only dog breeds with at least 100 responses qualified. Rarer dog breeds did not have enough samples to qualify, though GSPs were popular enough.

How the Pointers Performed

German Shorthaired Pointers performed exceptionally well. So well, that they were categorized as “bright dogs” or “excellent working dogs.” In fact, they ranked as the 19th smartest dog breed for obedience and work intelligence.

But what does this actually mean? According to Stanley Coren, this meant that the Pointer is capable of learning a new command with just 5 to 15 repetitions. Depending on the complexity of the trick, a GSP could learn something basic in 10 minutes!

However, after the German Shorthaired Pointer isn’t just a fast learner. After learning the command, the GSP is capable of obeying the command on the first attempt with an 85% or better success rate. Only few dogs are more obedient!

As a result, the German Shorthaired Pointer is part of a spectacular intelligence class. To name a few, the Corgi, Pomeranian, Bernese Mountain dog, Weimaraner, Cocker Spaniel, Vizsla and Schnauzers are all part of this class!

Pointers vs. Least Intelligent Dogs

There’s no such thing as a dumb dog. But make no mistake, there’s a sizable gap between the least intelligent dog breeds and the GSP. In fact, there’s 3 whole IQ classes that separate the two. So how do the two intelligence classes compare?

The “least intelligent” dog breed is capable of learning a new command with 80 to 100 repetitions. In other words, the German Shorthaired Pointer is at least 5 times faster at learning basic commands than the dogs that rank at the bottom.

Plus, GSPs are more obedient too. Those categorized as the least intelligent have a success rate of 25% or worse when obeying a known command on the first attempt. That said, the GSP is at least 3 times more obedient!

Like I said, the least intelligent dogs aren’t dumb. They just have different motivators and may not do so well with obedience. Some of these dogs include the Beagle, Shih Tzu, Basset Hound, Bulldog, Pekingese, Chow and Mastiff.

Other Reasons Why Pointers Are Smart

So far we only talked about obedience and work intelligence. However, there’s so much more to dog intelligence than just this. Even Stanley Coren admits that there are other dimensions of dog IQ, such as instinctive and adaptive intelligence.

While obedience and work IQ gives us a great starting place, it just doesn’t tell the full story. Since we can’t give dogs a written IQ test, it’s become the most objective way to measure dog intelligence. Both instinctive and adaptive IQ aren’t.

So what are these two other components of dog intelligence? And how do the German Shorthaired Pointers stack up with these IQ dimensions? Read on to learn more.

The Gun Dog Intelligence

Instinctive intelligence refers to the innate ability or natural skillset of the breed. In other words, what was the dog bred for? Yes – all dogs were once bred for a specific role in society, whether it be herding, hunting, guarding or companionship.

As a result, all dogs still retain those instincts engrained into their ancestors many generations ago despite not “practicing” their skillset. Even today, you’ll see many dog exhibit many of those habits of their past working-dog ancestors.

But is this really intelligence? The short answer is yes. For example, Border Collies were bred as top herding dogs. Their instincts to efficiently push and drive livestock is something they’re able to do with little human training. This in instinctive intelligence.

He’s in hunting mode 99.9% of the time. If you are expecting the laid back lab disposition, you are in for a rough ride with a GSP.

– Darenative (NC Hunt and Fish)

Similarly, Pointers were bred as hunting companions. Specifically, they’re bird dogs that have been bred for hundreds of years to track and find birds. However, throughout the years, they’ve evolved into gun dogs that “point” to many small game.

Pointers have some of the best noses. They’ll naturally start sniffing for some scents on the field. If something catches his attention, the GSP will then “point” to the game by freezing his body with one paw up, all while pointing his nose towards the scent.

In domestication, a Pointer may point to just about anything. It can be a squirrel, his tennis ball or any other intriguing smell. However, this certain type of intelligence really shines when they’re on the field and tasked to find small game.

The Pointer’s Adaptive Intelligence

The last dimension of dog intelligence is adaptive intelligence. This type of IQ may be the hardest to measure in dogs. Adaptive IQ refers to the dog’s ability to learn for him or herself. This can include problem solving and learning from past mistakes.

And unlike instinctive intelligence, adaptive intelligence is something that can vary greatly in dogs of the same breed. This will really depend on your individual dog. However, the good news is that most GSPs are known to have high adaptive IQ.

The only way we can gauge this type of dog intelligence is through stories and anecdotes. That said, we searched the web for examples of high adaptive intelligence to prove our point. For example, this one owner explains:

Brady our GSP is the most energetic, active and wild dog we’ve ever met. But it’s funny that on days where I feel sick or under weather, he takes it down a notch or two.

– Lisbonretail (Dog Forums)

The ability to understand human emotions and react accordingly is a sign of his adaptive intelligence in Brady the GSP. Through past experiences, he’s probably learned all the subtle signs and cues of the owners when feeling sick.

Another owner explains to us just how smart his German Shorthaired Pointer can be:

We threw away chocolate but our GSP dug through the trash and ate it all up. It was obvious we wasn’t feeling well and he threw it all up. He never dug through the trash again.

– Serum500 (City Data)

Chocolate isn’t great for dogs. And in large doses, it can be fatal. Fortunately, this GSP survived and came out with a lesson learned. Learning from past mistakes, which this dog clearly did, is another clear sign of high adaptive intelligence.

These are just two examples of high adaptive IQ in Pointers. There are plenty more of these stories and anecdotes all over the internet. And if you ask any GSP owner, they’ll likely share many stories just like these!

How Smart is Your Pointer?

As we’ve discussed, the Pointer’s intelligence may vary depending on the individual dog. Not all dog owners are big on obedience training anyway. That said, only real owners get to experience the full spectrum of intelligence in the GSP.

So to answer this question, we surveyed real German Shorthaired Pointer owners on various dog forums to ask them this very question. Here’s what they had to say.

Real Owner Answers

1. Taquitos says Very Smart:They fit your bill for the most part… but they are smart smart smart, and have energy up the wazoo. My GSP runs through the woods everyday for about 2 hours along with walks and he is still rearing for more.”

2. MN Bonasa says Very Smart: So I just wanted to comment on what a cool dog these are. she makes me laugh everyday, very loving, very intelligent dogs, just really impressed with them. I already want another.

3. Justcobadge says Smart: There’s no doubt a GSP is smart, especially when it comes to training. But they are not smarter than my German Shepherd – that’s for sure.

4. Leaven837 says Very Smart:Ever wonder why the GSP is such a popular dog? Smart dogs are easier to train and thus, are more popular with families. My pointer is so smart and I get embarrassed when I tell other owners what he can do.”

5. GSPmo01 says Smart:I think the biggest reason is their versatility, smarts and trainability. I am bias but at 8 weeks old a well breed GSP has all the natural ability in almost all areas of hunting and with proper socialization will make a great family pet.”

6. Lakemriver says Average:Yes my pointer is smart but I don’t think he’s super smart. He’s great at obedience training and loves practicing it, but sometimes I scratch my head at all the goofy stuff that he does.”

7. Neveronceagain says Very Smart:Easily the smartest dog I’ve ever owned, and I have owned a lot of proclaimed intelligent dogs like the Golden, Lab and Rottweiler. They just don’t compare to my GSP.”

8. Nextdoorgsp says Smart:It depends on how you view these dogs. If obedience training, they are above average, but when it comes to hunting they’re the smartest in the biz! Intelligence on the field is their specialty.

9. Birddog1968 says Smart:No need for indoor high energy behavior, They are smart enough to know wild time only happens outside. Stereotypes really are just that…..fiction.

10. Quirky says Smart:GSPs are extremely intelligent and loving animals. I have 2 young kids and they are brilliant with them. They can be a little unruly when on walks if they get a scent of something. They tend to throw a deaf one and refuse to come back.”

Does a Smart Pointer Matter?

There’s no denying the intelligence of a Pointer. However, does it really matter that they’re able to learn commands quickly? Sure, it can make life a little easier in the beginning, but it really does not matter. All dogs are smart enough.

Never let these “experts” tell you how smart your dog’s breed is. The truth is all dogs, including all Pointers, are intelligent enough to provide you with what you need.

Instead of asking how smart a GSP is, it’s better to ask what the GSP’s temperament is. Does their personality match you and your lifestyle? Are they a great fit for what you want? This is what truly matter when deciding on a dog breed.

That said, German Shorthaired Pointers are affectionate and loving. In fact, they love to be the center of attention in their family. They love people so much that they can even come off as a little clingy at times. They’re great velcro dogs!

So if the GSP seems like a good fit for your family, I highly suggest bringing one home. You won’t regret it when it comes to the German Shorthaired Pointer!


Do you own a German Shorthaired Pointer? Leave a comment below and tell us about all the smart things that your dog does!

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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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