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 when it comes to dog IQ, how do Danes compare to the rest?

So, are Great Danes smart? Great Danes are average intelligent dogs. According to Stanley Coren, they’re ranked the 88th smartest dog breed for their obedience & working intelligence. However, it’s the Danes’ hunting instincts and ability to learn for themselves make them more intelligent than they get credit for.

Many people believe Great Danes aren’t as smart as most dog breeds. We think otherwise. In reality, they’re 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

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

As mentioned, Great Danes are the 88th most intelligent dogs when compared to 138 dog breeds. Despite being near the end of the ranks, they’re still considered average. But how did they end up with this ranking? And who came up with this list? 

Famed canine psychologist Stanley Coren is responsible for our current list of the smartest dog breeds in the world. With the help of 199 obedience trial judges from both the Canadian and American Kennel Club, Coren developed a criteria for dog intelligence.

Coren’s Dog Intelligence Criteria 

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:

  1. The number of repetitions it took for a dog to learn a new (unknown) command. Dogs that required fewer repetitions ranked higher.
  2. 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.

Though Coren received an overwhelming amount of responses, only dog 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. Fortunately, Great Danes were very popular, 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.

This means that Great Danes were capable of learning a new command with between 25 to 40 repetitions. According to the 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 Aussie, Greyhound, Dachshund, Boxer and the Siberian Huskies.

Great Danes vs. 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 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 completely 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?

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 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.”

Why Great Danes Rank 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 just “average” on Stanley Coren’s intelligence trials. The first reason why they did so poorly is because, if you think about it, the trial was essentially 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 obedience and working intelligence. Different dogs have different motivators.

The Great Dane is no exception. For example, Border Collies (ranked number 1) love to work. In fact, they’ll happily do obedience training for the sake of working. It’s why they often perform the best. However, that’s not the case with Danes.

The Stubborn Great Dane

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 doesn’t 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, Great Danes can be more stubborn depending on the handler during Coren’s obedience training. 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.

Goofy, Lazy Great Danes

Though every dog is different, few owners have suggested that Great Danes just 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 long distance 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 how people can mistaken their intelligence: “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.

Reasons Why Great Danes Are 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 Great Danes highly intelligent dogs?

According to Stanley Coren, there are 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.

The Great (Dane) Hunter

In addition to obedience and working IQ, instinctive intelligence is another way to measure or look at your dog’s true IQ. According to Coren, it refers to the 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 for herding, others were bred for retrieving. Some breeds were developed 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, but rather 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.

Great Danes were able to track them down, sneak up on them and corner them. Not only did this job require intelligence, but strength, speed and bravery. All of which, perfectly describes the Great Dane of the past.

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.

Great Dane’s Adaptive Intelligence

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 true dog IQ. 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 IQ can 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 watchdogs 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.

Are Great Danes For Me?

Great Danes are fantastic with children and kids of all ages.

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.

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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.

4 Comments

  • Regarding Great Dane it must be said that it is the most loved dog breed in the world due to its shape and intelligence too.

  • I have a great dane he is 10 months old and he figured out how to open doors, escape his crate, play with light switches, turn off the tv by just continuously pawing the controller. I definitely did not teach him that!!!! But its true what they say incredibly smart but just as equally stubborn when it comes to the various commands we have taught him. He was potty trained by the first week of getting him and learned all the basic commands. It’s just having the patience to out stubborn him. Which is quite fun since he has a ”argument” for everything…

      • Exactly! The fact that a Dane doesn’t comply with your command does not constitute a lack of understanding on its part. Far from it — he or she is pondering whether they agree with the wisdom behind the command. They are not “automatic pleasers,” which one could argue makes them *more* intelligent, not less.

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