Dog Training Smartest Dogs

Are Great Danes Smart? Here’s Why They’re Intelligent Dogs

Are Great Danes intelligent dog breeds? Here are reasons why they are.
Written by Richard Jeng

Great Danes are the wonderful gentle giants that excel as nanny dogs and guard dogs. There’s no doubt they’re fantastic family dogs and superb companions. But, are Great Danes smart dogs? And how smart are they?

Great Danes are average intelligent dogs. According to Stanley Coren, they’re ranked the 88th smartest dog breed for their obedience/working intelligence. However, they excel in adaptive and instinctive intelligence. 

Though a lot of people believe they aren’t as smart as most dog breeds, we think otherwise. Great Danes are just misunderstood when it comes to dog IQ. Let’s further examine Great Danes and what actually makes them smarter than most people think. 

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Measuring a Great Dane’s Intelligence

Here's how we measure a Great Dane's intelligence.

As mentioned, Great Danes are the 88th most intelligent dog breed. But how did we end up with this rank? And who came up with this list? 

Famed canine psychologist Stanley Coren first asked all the North American obedience trial judges to help with his research. To his surprise, 199 judges from the Canadian and American Kennel Club responded

The obedience judges tested and ranked each breed based on two criteria:

  1. The number of repetitions it took for a dog to learn a new (unknown) command.
  2. The success rate that a dog will follow a known command on the first attempt. 

Though Coren received an overwhelming amount of responses, only dog breeds with at least 100 assessments were included into his final rankings. He also excluded mixed dog breeds and breeds not recognized by the two kennel clubs.

How Great Danes Performed

Great Danes didn’t perform too poorly, but they didn’t do too great either. Out of 138 dog breeds, Danes performed the 88th best. Their performance in obedience/working intelligence put them in the “average intelligence” category.

This means that Great Danes were able to learn a new command with just 25 to 40 repetitions. According to the intelligence trials, they were also able to obey a known command on the first try with a 50% or better success rate.

For reference, other popular dog breeds in the same dog IQ category include: Australian Shepherds, Greyhounds, Dachshunds, Boxers and Siberian Huskies. Not bad being mentioned with these dogs.

Danes vs. The “Smartest” Dog Breeds

The smartest dog breeds in the world are those in the top 10 of the list. These dogs are able to learn a new command with less than 5 repetitions. Similarly, they will obey a known command (first attempt) with a 95% or better success rate. 

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 dogs, but it isn’t an accurate representation of dog intelligence (in our opinion). 

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 the world. 

Owners: Is Your Great Dane Smart?

We asked real owners whether they thought their Great Danes were smart.

One of the best ways to gauge a dog breed’s intelligence is by asking real owners. We surveyed the popular Great Dane Sub Reddit forum for responses to this question. Here’s what the Danes owners had to say:

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. 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.”

5. 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.”

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. Getmeowtofhere says [YES]: “My 6 month old Dane, Dobry, is very smart, playful, and energetic!”

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.”

Dane Owners Survey Recap

Surveying 10 Dane owners is a very small sample size. However, real answers and examples can give us a decent understanding of what owners think. With that said, half of the Dane owners thought their dog was actually pretty smart.

On the contrary, just 2 Dane owners believed their dog was “dumb.” Similarly, three owners experienced mixed results. In other words, sometimes their Danes would do something smart and other times, not so much. 

Why Danes Ranked Low in Intelligence

The reason why Great Danes rank so low on the intelligence tests is because they're stubborn.

There are a number of reasons why Great Danes performed “average” on Stanley Coren’s intelligence tests. First of all, Coren’s trials were based primarily on obedience and working intelligence. This means the more obedient the dog breed, the better they performed and the higher they ranked.

Though we think there’s a correlation between learning speed and dog IQ, it’s not fair to standardize an intelligence test based on obedience. Different dogs have different motivators. For example, Border Collies (ranked number 1) love to work and they’ll happily do obedience training for the sake of working. 

The Stubborn Dane

The Great Dane is a very stubborn dog breed. So, it makes sense that they don’t comply in obedience training as well and often as other dog breeds. 

One Dane owner couldn’t stress this enough, sayingDanes are stubborn. Incredibly stubborn. I have yet to meet a more stubborn breed. The key is being more patient and stubborn than them.”

But just because a Great Dane doesn’t obey your commands doesn’t mean they don’t understand what you are saying. They’re certainly smart enough, but they don’t always want to do your bidding just because you say so. As stubborn as they may be, they’re perhaps equally independent-minded. 

The key to getting past a stubborn Dane is to be patient and use positive reinforcement with training. As long as you shower them with love and have a little patience, they’ll surely come around! 

Goofy, Lazy Dogs

Though every dog is different, many owners have suggested that Danes just have a longer maturation period. They’ll reach full adult size around month 18, but will still be a goofy puppy at heart. This goofiness is often mistaken for low intelligence.

One owner told us thatGreat 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.” 

Great Danes certainly aren’t the most active dogs in the world. If you’re looking for a long distance running buddy, try a Husky or Australian Shepherd instead. They very much enjoy lounging around and relaxing instead of obedience training.

One Dane owner chimed in, explainingAs for weak-minded/low energy…yes, they are comfortable with just lazing around, however, they are comfortable doing work as well. I think they can be great working dogs, and by no means are they “dumb” or dense.

Why Great Danes Are Intelligent

Great Danes are smart because they have a great understanding of the environment and situations.

Great Danes are more intelligent than you think. Plenty of happy owners will agree with me. But if not with obedience/working intelligence, what actually makes Great Danes smart dogs? Mainly, instinctive and adaptive intelligence. Let me explain.

The Great (Dane) Hunter

In addition to obedience intelligence, instinctive intelligence is another way to measure a dog’s IQ. Instinctive intelligence refers to the skillset that the dog was originally bred for.

For example, a herding dog’s instinctive intelligence is, well, herding. They’ll usually have the intrinsic ability to round up the livestock, keep them in packs and guide them toward a specific area. This skill was not taught, but requires intelligence to perform.

In this case, Great Danes were bred to be skilled hunters, meaning their instinctive intelligence is hunting. For years, they’ve been some of the best wild boar hunters in the dogdom. 

They’re able to track them down, sneak up on them and corner them. Not only does this job require intelligence, but strength, speed and bravery. All of which, perfectly describes a Dane.

The Ultimate Watchdog

Another component of dog intelligence is adaptive intelligence. This refers to the ability of a dog to learn for him or herself. Given experiences from the external environment, are they able to learn and solve problems?

Although instinctive intelligence is roughly the same among all Great Danes, adaptive intelligence can vary widely. Still, more often than not, Danes exhibit great adaptive intelligence. 

There’s a reason why Danes are such great nanny dogs and guardians of the home. They can be very protective, but it’s a big part of why they’re such adept watchdogs

Without adaptive intelligence, it’ll be difficult to become the guardians that the Dane is known for today. Learning what type of people are “good” and “bad” or what dangerous situations are, all requires high adaptive intelligence

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 companion and friend

Always pick a dog breed based on their temperament and personality. Instead of asking if Danes are smart, ask if their personality matches yours. These dogs are patient, friendly and dependable. If you think they’re right for you, go for it! Great Danes are some of the best family dogs.

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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.

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