Great Danes are the wonderful gentle giants that excel as nanny dogs and guard dogs. There’s no doubt they make fantastic family dogs and superb companions. But when it comes to dog intelligence, how do Great Danes compare to the rest?
Great Danes are average intelligent dogs. And according to Stanley Coren, they’re ranked the 88th smartest dog breed for their “obedience & working intelligence.” But what makes the Great Dane a highly intelligent dog is their hunting instincts and ability to learn for themselves. In fact, their ability to track and trap wild boar requires this special type of dog intelligence.
Many people believe Great Danes aren’t as smart as they actually are. We think otherwise. In reality, they are just misunderstood when it comes to intelligence. Here’s how we measure their intelligence and what actually makes them smart dogs.
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Measuring a Great Dane’s Intelligence
Great Danes are the 88th most intelligent dogs when compared to 138 dog breeds. Despite being near the end of the rankings, they’re still considered average. But how did they end up with this ranking? And who came up with this list?
Renowned canine psychologist Stanley Coren is credited for our current list of the smartest dog breeds in the world. He coined the term “obedience and working intelligence,” which measures how fast a dog learns commands and how well they retain their training.
This one aspect of dog intelligence is how we came up with the current list of smartest dog breeds. But does it really measure a dog’s IQ? To understand this, we must first dive into Coren’s criteria.
Coren’s Dog Intelligence Criteria
With the help of 199 obedience trial judges from both the Canadian and American Kennel Club, Coren developed a criteria for dog intelligence.
With his criteria, Coren had the judges assess and evaluate as many dog breeds as they could. From there, he was able to measure dog breeds according to the term he coined: obedience & working intelligence. Here’s the criteria that he used:
- The number of repetitions it took for a dog to learn a new (unknown) command. Dogs that required fewer repetitions ranked higher.
- The success rate that a dog will obey a known command on the first attempt. According to Coren, a higher success rate meant a more intelligent breed.
Although Coren received an overwhelming amount of responses from obedience judges, only breeds with at least 100 assessments were included into his final rankings. After all, not enough data on the dogs could skew the results.
Even so, not every dog breed in the world participated in the trials. Plus, Coren had excluded mixed dog breeds and breeds not recognized by either of kennel clubs. The good news is that Great Danes were very popular and recognized dog breeds.
How Great Danes Performed
Great Danes didn’t perform too poorly, but they didn’t do too great either. Out of the 138 breeds that participated and qualified, Danes performed the 88th best. As such, their obedience and working IQ scores put them in the “average” class.
But what does this mean? It meant that Great Danes were capable of learning a new command with just 25 to 40 repetitions. According to Coren’s trials, they were also able to obey a known command on the first try with a 50% or better success rate.
Being average is absolutely fine. In fact, some of the world’s most popular dog breeds are in the same canine IQ category. These dog breeds include the Australian Shepherd, Greyhound, Dachshund, Boxer and the Huskies.
Great Danes vs. The Smartest Dogs
The smartest dog breeds in the world are conveniently the top 10. These dogs are able to learn a new command with fewer than 5 repetitions. In other words, they’re able to learn commands at least 5 times faster than Danes!
Similarly, the smartest dog breeds will obey a known command (on the first attempt) with a 95% or better success rate. Not only are they fast learners, but also highly obedient and willing to perform on command!
Though these dogs may seem much “smarter” than the Great Dane, they’re actually just really good at obeying and learning new commands. Not to take anything away from the top 10, but it isn’t a fair and accurate representation of dog IQ.
For reference: some of the dog breeds in the top 10 category include the Rottweiler, German Shepherd, Golden Retriever, Labrador Retriever and the Poodle. All of which, are some of the most popular dog breeds in America. Coincidence?
Why Great Danes Rank Low for Dog Intelligence
There are a number of reasons why Great Danes performed just “average” on Stanley Coren’s trials. The first reason why they did so poorly is because, if you think about it, the trial was an obedience test.
Make no mistake, we think there’s definitely a correlation between learning speed and dog IQ. However, it’s not fair to standardize a dog intelligence test based solely on O&W intelligence. Different dogs have different motivators. The Great Dane is no exception.
For example, Border Collies (definitively ranked number 1) love to work. In fact, they’ll happily do your bidding and obedience training for the sake of working. It’s why they often perform the best. However, that’s not the case with Danes.
A Great Dane’s Stubbornness Is Not Low intelligence
The Great Dane is, without question, a very stubborn dog breed. And according to Hills Pets, individual Great Danes can be “stubborn leaners.” That’s exactly what they are at times. Danes won’t mindlessly obey orders for the sake of it.
So, it makes sense that they don’t always comply in obedience when compared to other dog breeds like the Border Collie. But just because a Great Dane doesn’t always obey you does not mean they don’t understand what you’re saying.
Danes are stubborn. Incredibly stubborn. I have yet to meet a more stubborn breed. The key is being more patient than them.– Danny B. (Owner)
As stubborn as they may be, they’re perhaps equally strong-willed and independent-mined. Even so, Great Danes are still extremely loyal dogs. They have a lot of love and respect for their owners. After all, they’re known to be dependable nanny dogs.
That being said, Danes can be more stubborn depending on the handler. For example, a Dane will likely respond much better to their owners than a random obedience judge he or she barely knows.
The key to getting past a stubborn Great Dane is to be patient and use positive reinforcement. As long as you shower them with love and train in a consistent manner, they’ll come around! In actuality, they’re highly capable learners.
Being Goofy and Lazy is Not Low Intelligence
Though every dog is different, few owners have suggested that Great Danes have a longer maturation period. Oh, and we don’t mean just physically. It’s a large part of why they seem to love playing and thrive on human interactions.
The typical Great Dane will reach full adult size around month 18, but will still be a goofy puppy at heart. This “goofiness” can often mistaken for low intelligence. In other words, they may want to play instead of doing their daily obedience.
Great Danes take up to two years to fully mature. It’s a bumpy road some times. They are known to have a strong ‘tween’ timespan.– Danny B. (Owner)
In addition, Great Danes aren’t the most active dog breeds in the world. If you’re looking for a running buddy, try a Husky or Aussie instead. However, Great Danes do enjoy lounging around and relaxing instead of obedience training.
One Dane owner chimed in, explaining: “They are comfortable with just lazing around, but, they are good doing work as well. I think they can be great working dogs, but by no means are they dumb or dense.“
2 Reasons Why Great Danes Are Actually Smart
Great Danes are smarter than most people give them credit for. Plus, plenty of happy owners will agree with me. But if not with obedience & working intelligence, what actually makes the Great Dane a highly intelligent dog?
According to Stanley Coren, there are actually three components of canine intelligence. The other two he’s referring to are instinctive and adaptive intelligence. Both of which, Great Danes have and thrive at. Let me explain.
1. Great Danes Have the “Hunter’s Intelligence”
In addition to obedience and working intelligence, instinctive intelligence is another way to measure or interpret your dog’s true IQ. According to Coren, this refers to the special skillset or ability that the dog was originally bred for.
In the past, all dog breeds were bred for a specific purpose or job. While some dogs were bred to herd, others were bred to retrieve. Some breeds were bred for hunting and most toy dogs were developed for companionship.
For example, a herding dog’s instinctive intelligence is, well, herding. They’ll have the ability to round up livestock, keep them in packs and guide them toward a specific area. This skill was not taught. Rather, it is a skill that tapped into their instinctive intelligence.
My Great Dane really seems to exhibit strong hunting instincts. When he plays with other dogs, he looks like he is chasing prey.– James Spader (Danes Online)
In this case, Great Danes were bred to be skilled hunters, which means their instinctive IQ is in hunting. For years, they’ve been some of the best wild boar hunters in the dogdom. Given how vicious wild boars are, Danes were fearless.
Wild boars are dangerous, fast and deadly. Great Danes were able to track them down, sneak up on them and corner them. Knowing where to run to cut them off and how to lead them to the hunters does require this special type of intelligence.
However today, the aggressiveness has been well-bred out of these dogs. It’s why they’re often referred to as “nanny dogs.” And while it’s possible for their hunting instincts to be inherited, there’s less of a chance of it happening.
2. The Great Dane is Excellent At Reading Situations
The final component of dog intelligence is adaptive intelligence. This refers to the ability of a dog to learn for him or herself. In my opinion, this may be the most important aspect of dog intelligence. But unfortunately, it’s hard to measure.
Given their experiences from the environment, are they able to learn and solve problems? Does the dog highly adaptable to environments and situations? All of these are great questions when addressing a dog’s adaptive intelligence.
Although instinctive intelligence is roughly the same among all Great Danes, adaptive intelligence can and will vary greatly. Still, more often than not, Great Danes tend to show high adaptive intelligence through their actions.
Neighborhood kids would come to play with him & I’d tell ’em just tell him to go home when you’re done. Sure enough, he’d be knocking on the door in a few hours.– MyDaneBaby (Danes Online)
There’s a reason why Great Danes are such excellent nanny dogs and guard dogs of the home. They can be protective, but adaptive intelligence is a large part of why they’re such capable or reliable watch dogs and guardians.
Combined with socialization, learning which type of people are “good” and “bad” requires much adaptive intelligence. In addition, determining what situations are potentially dangerous or not is not something any dog breed can do.
As a matter of fact, this is why nearly all guard dogs are known for their high adaptive IQ. And if you asked any Great Dane owner, you’ll be sure to hear numerous stories about how these dogs are intelligent outside of obedience training.
Is Your Great Dane Smart?
One of the best ways to gauge a dog breed’s intelligence is by asking real Dane owners. Not all Great Danes are highly intelligent dogs, according to some owners. Some will inevitably seem smarter than others.
So, we surveyed the Great Dane Sub Reddit and other popular dog forums for responses to this question. Here’s what the Danes owners had to say.
Real Owner Answers:
1. Eabyars says Yes: “We’ve got a 3.5 month old Great Dane puppy from a great breeder. He’s highly intelligent, independent, and a total spitfire.”
2. Chubrubs says No: “I have two Danes. I love them to pieces. But, they are dumb. I have had dogs all my life, always wanted Danes. We got them. Compared to every other dog I have ever had, they are just complete airheads.”
3. Bambihelton says Mixed: “I’ve met a few smart ones. I have the derpiest one of all, I swear. As a 12 week old puppy, she took off running and jumped straight down into a 10 ft carport. She didn’t hurt herself, thankfully.“
4. Getmeowtofhere says Yes: “My 6 month old Dane, Dobry, is very smart, playful, and energetic!“
5. Itdood says Yes: “Now we have our Dane, Lucy. I can’t say I think of Lucy as being a dumb dog, probably because I’m comparing her to Gizmo who was the cutest idiot I’ve ever met. Lucy was house broken within days of getting her. She responds well to our spoken commands.“
6. Witchyitchy says No: “Every dane is different but mine is dumber than rocks. I love her but her goofiness along with absolutely no desire to please can make training pretty slow and hard.“
7. Richie159 says Yes: “Just got my baby great dane yesterday. His name is Norman. He is a huge dork and is a lot smarter than my other dogs. I already love him like crazy.”
8. Mrcyiwon says Yes: “My dane is extremely bright, troublesome in fact. He’ll find ways of circumventing rules, barriers, or other situations. It’s made training great, though.“
9. Notoriouskib says Mixed: “I have see my pup do some really smart things I’ve also seen him do an overwhelming amount of odd things. I just love him for who he is.”
10. Ieatchips says Mixed: “In certain situations my Dane can be quite dense… he can be confined with only a baby gate leaned flimsily against a doorway and constantly has a dopey-eyed look.”
Is the Great Dane For Me?
So is a Great Dane for you? Never pick a dog breed based on their “intelligence.” The truth is all dogs, including Danes, are highly capable of providing you with what you need in a canine companion and friend.
Always pick a dog breed based on their temperament and personality. Instead of asking if the Great Dane is smart, ask if their personality matches yours. Don’t let these “experts” tell you how smart a dog breed is, let alone influence your decision.
These dogs are patient, friendly and dependable. They check all the boxes when it comes to great family dogs. So if you think they’re right for you, go for it! Great Danes are some of the best companion dogs you can find.
Do you own a Great Dane? What do they do that makes you think they’re smart? Let us know in the comments section below!
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