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Are Golden Retrievers Smart? Here’s Why They’re Highly Intelligent Dogs

We know Golden Retrievers are intelligent dogs, but how smart are they actually?
Written by Richard Jeng

Bringing home America’s favorite family dog is an exciting moment. Golden Retrievers are friendly, affectionate and highly devoted dogs. However, potential owners always question, are Golden Retrievers smart? How smart are Golden Retrievers?

Yes, Golden Retrievers are highly intelligent dogs. In fact, they’re the 4th smartest dog breed (out of 138 breeds) according to renowned canine psychologist, Stanley Coren. Only the Border Collie, Poodle and German Shepherd are considered smarter.

Based on Coren’s research and intelligence trials, we know Golden Retrievers are smart. However, how intelligent are they? 

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Measuring a Golden Retriever’s Intelligence

Golden Retrievers ranked the 4th smartest dog breed based on Stanley Coren's intelligence tests.

To truly understand how smart these dogs really are, we need to understand how Stanley Coren measured the intelligence of dog breeds. They ranked number 4, but here’s they came to this conclusion.

Stanley Coren requested North American obedience trial judges to help him with his dog IQ trials. He asked them to help assess and rank dog breeds based on his criteria. Nearly 200 judges from the North America responded. 

Coren’s dog intelligence trial criteria was based on two factors:

  1. The number of repetitions necessary for the dog breed to learn a new command.
  2. The success rate that a dog breed obeys a known command on the first attempt.

Only dog breeds with a minimum of 100 responses were included in Coren’s final rankings. As the third most popular dog breed in America, Golden Retrievers received an enormous number of responses. 

How Golden Retrievers Performed

As you may have guessed, Golden Retrievers performed extremely well. As a matter of fact, they performed in the “top 10” category for dog intelligence. Golden Retrievers ranked 4th among dogs in their IQ class.

This means Golden Retrievers were able to learn a new command with less than 5 repetitions! What’s even more impressive is that they were able to obey a known command on the first try with a 95% or better success rate.

To put things into perspective, other popular dog breeds in this class include, the Rottweiler, German Shepherd, Labrador and Poodle. Even popular Golden Retriever mixes like the Goldendoodle are on par.

Golden Retriever vs. “Average Dogs”

Now that we know where the Golden Retriever stands in terms of dog IQ, how do they compare against the average dog? The average dogs are breeds that rank between the 63rd and 104th spot

On average, these dogs need between 25 to 40 repetitions in order to understand and learn a new command. Furthermore, they’re able to obey a known command on the first attempt with a 50% or higher success rate

Though these numbers are much lower than those in the “top 10” category, it’s still pretty impressive for the average dog. For reference, popular “average” dogs include: the Australian Shepherd, Boxer, Dachshund, Great Dane and the Siberian Husky.

Owners: Is Your Golden Retriever Smart?

We asked real Golden Retriever owners whether they thought their dog was smart.

Having an “expert” tell you the Golden Retriever is one thing, but how about real Golden Retriever owners? We went to survey owners on the popular Golden Retriever Sub Reddit and asked them this question.

Here’s what these owners had to say about their dog:

1. Theincapableact says [YES]: “My Golden Retriever’s name is Darla and she’s been an amazing addition to our home. She’s so sweet and intelligent and just wants to cuddle all the time.”

2. Hyrulesamurai says [YES]: “Goldens are too smart. When I tell Frank to drop his ball for me to throw it, he drops it and steps on it.”

3. Jaydeeos says [YES]: “Well, they are generally pretty smart. Our Golden Retriever is an ex guiding dog, we got her when she “retired” so to say. She can be stubborn as hell though.”

4. Ponderingwaterbridge says [MIXED]: “My childhood golden was dumb as rocks, but I loved her and she loved me. My current Golden is brilliant! She learns the title we give a new toy within a minute and will go retrieve the specific one that we ask for.”

5. Frogdude2004 says [YES]: “My Golden Retriever has an incredible vocabulary, but won’t step over a tupperware on the floor if it’s in his way.”

6. Mcquotables says [YES]: “Goldens are very smart. But do you mean “can they learn tricks/commands?” That’s a different kind of smart. For both, Goldens are very, very smart. Often too smart for their own good.”

7. Poppapie says [YES]: “I have recently adopted a Golden Pup (female) and we are first time pup owners. Lucy is wildly smart and extremely cute. However, she does have the habit of nipping/biting her and I.”

8. Nekomori says [NO]: “They are great dogs, but I don’t call them idiots in a mean way. They are happy sweethearts, but they’re pretty dumb sometimes and we love them more for it.”

9. Keto_and_me says [YES]: “In general Goldens are smart and fairly easy to train. Most are food motivated so lots and lots of treats! If he is a little scared or traumatized it may be challenging but most do come around.”

10. Thatonecooldude says [MIXED]: “Goldens are the smartest dumb dogs, but they are all good doggos.”

Golden Owner Survey Recap

In general, Golden Retriever owners believe their dogs are smart. These is a small sample size of 10 owners, but it really tells us a lot. For instance, only one owner thought their Golden was dumb, though sweet and cheerful. 

On the other hand, 7 owners believed their Golden Retriever is smart. And just two owners experienced mixed results with Golden Retriever intelligence. 

Reasons Why Golden Retrievers Are Smart

There are reasons other than obedience that makes the Golden Retriever intelligent dogs.

There are a number of reasons why Golden Retrievers are considered intelligent. Not only are they ultra obedient dogs, but they have all the qualities that make them a truly smart dog. 

The Understanding “Good Boy”

Golden Retrievers are some of the best family dogs in the world. In fact, they’re the third most popular dog breed in America. But why does this make them smart?

Golden Retrievers are adept at understanding situations and the environment that surround them. Because of this, they’re great with children, other pets and just about anyone. 

They’re also great at understanding human emotions, providing cuddles and kisses when needed. They’ll know when you’re down and sad, but also when you’re happy and excited.

Golden Retriever’s Adaptive Intelligence

Aside from obedience working intelligence, there are two other types of dog intelligence. The first is adaptive intelligence, and refers to what a dog can learn to do for him or herself.

For example, a dog with high adaptive intelligence may make a mistake but learn from it. They’ll likely never do it again. However, a dog with low adaptive intelligence will continue to commit the same mistake. These dogs simply don’t learn from past experiences. 

Fortunately, Golden Retrievers are know to have high adaptive intelligence. They understand what the concept of “cause and effect” and can react to something based on previous encounters / experience.

Instinctive Intelligent Dogs

The other type of dog intelligence is instinctive intelligence, which refers to the inherent skill sets that specific dog breeds were bred for. For instance, Australian Shepherds are herding dogs and their instinctive intelligence is in herding. 

Golden Retrievers are sporting and retrieving dogs, as evident by their name. This means they’re naturally outstanding at fetching objects. This is why playing fetch with your Golden Retriever comes so easily. You don’t need to teach them to fetch, they’ll usually just do it naturally. 

Some Golden Retrievers have shown a natural instinct to fetch objects as early as 50 days old! Though every dog is different, most Goldens will thrive in retrieving at one point or another. 

Why Get a Golden Retriever?

You should get a Golden Retriever because of their personality and not because they're smart dogs.

We already know Golden Retrievers are smart dogs. However, you should never pick a dog breed based on how “intelligent” they are. All dogs are smart enough for you and your needs.

Unless you plan on using your dog for a specialized task or job, there’s no need to pick one of the smartest dog breeds. But if you just want a great companion and family dog, Golden Retrievers are one of the best. 

With that said, Golden Retrievers are extremely friendly and affectionate dogs. They’ll play with you every chance they get. As energetic large dogs, they’ll need a moderate amount of exercise – but not as much as a German Shepherd.

Golden Retrievers are also some of the most loyal dogs in the world. Because of their eagerness to please, they’ll thrive best in a family oriented situation. 

If after reading all this and you still believe that the Golden Retriever is right for you – you should definitely bring home one! There’s a reason why they’re one of the most popular dogs in the world.

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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.

2 Comments

  • More than their intelligence in reference to how they can be trained and all that. They also have a very high EQ. Golden retrievers seem to be able to read when their humans aren’t feeling that great.

    • Yup, you’re right. But unfortunately, these tests/trials measure just one dimension of IQ, which is completely different from EQ. There’s currently no objective method of measuring EQ with dogs, though I do believe Golden Retrievers excel in this aspect.

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