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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 the intelligence of these popular dogs.

So, are Golden Retrievers smart? Yes, Golden Retrievers are highly intelligent dogs. In fact, they’re the 4th smartest dog breed (out of 138 breeds) for to obedience and working intelligence. Only the Border Collie, Poodle and German Shepherd are considered smarter than Golden Retrievers.

Based on Stanley Coren’s research and intelligence trials, we know Golden Retrievers are smart. But how intelligent are these dogs and what actually makes these golden dogs so smart compared to other breeds?

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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.

The researcher responsible for our list of smartest dogs is Stanley Coren. Not only was he a pHD but also a canine psychologist from the University of British Columbia.

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

Coren’s Dog Intelligence Criteria

Stanley Coren requested the help of nearly 200 North American obedience trial judges to help him with his intelligence trials. He asked them to help assess and rank dog breeds based on his criteria.

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. Smarter dogs, like Golden Retrievers, required fewer repetitions to learn basic commands.
  2. The success rate that a dog breed obeys a known command on the first attempt. Breeds with a high success rate we’re considered “more intelligent” as well.

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. So, they had no problems qualifying.

In addition, only breeds that were recognized by the American or Canadian Kennel Club participated in the evaluations. In other words, no mixed breeds were included in Coren’s trials. Fortunately, Golden Retrievers are recognized by both clubs.

How Golden Retrievers Performed

Golden Retrievers performed extremely well. As a matter of fact, they performed in the “top 10” category for dog intelligence. Specifically, the Golden Retriever ranked 4th among all 138 dog breeds that qualified.

This means Golden Retrievers were capable of learning a new command with fewer than 5 repetitions! But given how obedient and people-pleasing these dogs are, is it really a huge surprise?

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. Again, another testament to the obedient nature of the Golden Retriever.

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

Golden Retriever vs. “Average Dogs”

Now that we know where the Golden Retriever stands in terms of intelligence, how do they compare with the average dog? For reference, the average dogs are those ranked between the 63rd and 104th spot. 

On average, these dogs need between 25 to 40 repetitions in order to learn an unknown command. Compared to the Golden Retriever, average dogs learn at least 5 times slower!

As for obedience intelligence, average dogs will obey a known command on the first try with a 50% or higher success rate. Not nearly as obedient as the Golden Retriever, but still not bad at all.

There’s nothing wrong with being average. Some of the world’s most popular dogs fall into this “average” IQ category. For example, the Australian Shepherd, Boxer, Dachshund, Great Dane and the Siberian Husky are average.

Is Your Golden Retriever Smart?

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

Having the “experts” tell you that the Golden Retriever is smart is one thing. But what about real Golden Retriever owners?

So, we went and surveyed owners on the Golden Retriever Sub Reddit and other popular dog forums to ask them this question. Here’s what these owners had to say about their dog:

Real Owner Answers

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:Golden Retrievers are the smartest dumb dogs, if that makes any sense. But they are all good doggos.”

Other Reasons Why Golden Retrievers Are Smart

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

The current list of smartest dog breeds is flawed – it’s a one-dimensional intelligence test. While obedience & working intelligence is a good start in measuring dog IQ, it doesn’t tell the full story. However, it is the most objective way of measuring intelligence.

Even Stanley Coren will admit this. In fact, he did. According to the renowned researcher, there are two other components of dog intelligence: instinctive and adaptive intelligence. Both of which, can be argued as more important than obedience and work.

Gold Standard of Retrieving

Instinctive intelligence refers to the innate skillset or ability that a particular dog breed was developed for. While dogs are mainly companions today, they were primarily herders, hunting companions, game retrievers and guardians (plus more) back in the day.

For example, Australian Shepherds are herding dogs and their instinctive intelligence is in herding. From birth, these dogs are capable of pushing and driving livestock in directions based off pure instincts. Little to no human training is needed.

In this case, Golden Retrievers are sporting and retrieving dogs, as evident by the name. Specifically, they specialized in retrieving dead waterfowl after having been shot by the hunter. However, they can retrieve all types of small game.

Just check out this Golden Retriever in action:

This means they’re naturally superb at fetching (“retrieving”) objects from water. So if you’re looking for a great way to exercise with your Golden, playing catch/fetch or going for a swim are the perfect activity. These sports come so easily and naturally to them. They’ll love it!

Some Golden Retrievers have shown a natural instinct to fetch objects as early as 50 days old! Though every individual dog is different, most Goldens will thrive with retrieving at one point or another. Give them some time and have a bit of patience.

Golden Retriever’s Adaptive Intelligence

Another important dimension of dog IQ is adaptive intelligence, which refers to what a dog can learn to do for him or herself. Dog breeds with high adaptive intelligence are capable of learning from previous experiences.

For example, a dog with high adaptive intelligence may make a mistake but learn from it. They’ll likely never do it again, at least intentionally. But unlike instinctive intelligence, this type of intelligence may vary by dog.

Fortunately, all Golden Retrievers are known to have high adaptive intelligence. If you don’t believe us, check out these stories from real Golden owners:

My Golden is smart enough to know what it means when I grab my tennis shoes. But she’s going to be disappointed to learn I’m going to the gym before I walk her.

– Queenbeepdx (Reddit User)

Associating objects with a consequent action is another sign of high adaptive intelligence in dogs. It’s just unfortunate for her Golden that tennis shoes doesn’t always mean a walk. But given the dog’s smarts, she’s bound to learn that soon.

Check out this owner’s Golden Retriever named Riley. With just a few walks, Riley already knows where he’s “supposed” to be given a treat.

If we pass another dog and he doesn’t react, he gets a treat. The next day I can pretty much count on him looking to me for a treat when we reach that same, exact spot – whether we see another dog or not.

– Life of Riley (Golden Owner)

Riley is without doubt, a highly intelligent Golden Retriever. Although these are just a couple stories from real owners, there are plenty more where that came from. Just ask any owner and you’ll hear stories just like these!

Golden Retrievers are great at understanding situations and the environment that surround them. Because of this, they’re great with children, other pets (such as cats) and really anyone. 

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

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 intelligent dogs. However, you should never pick a dog breed based on how smart they are, at least according to the “experts.” 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 some of the best. 

With that said, Golden Retrievers are extremely friendly and affectionate dogs. They’ll play with you every chance they get. But as energetic medium/large dogs, they’ll need a moderate amount of exercise – at least 1 hour of activity each day!

Golden Retrievers are also some of the most loyal dogs you can find. Mostly because of their eagerness to please, they’ll thrive best in a family oriented environment. 

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. Read More.

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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