Labradors are friendly, social and energetic dogs. They’re composed of all the best qualities of a family dog. As a result, they’re the most popular dog breed in America (for several decades straight!). But are Labradors smart? Just how smart are Labs?
The Labrador Retriever is one of the most intelligent dog breeds. In fact, they’re ranked the 7th smartest dog when it comes to obedience and working intelligence (out of 138 breeds). Furthermore, they have high instinctive and adaptive canine intelligence.
Not only are Labs super-obedient dogs, but they’re very adaptable and have great instincts. Let’s examine what actually makes Labradors some of the most intelligent dogs.
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How We Measure a Labrador’s Intelligence
As we mentioned, the Labrador Retriever ranks in the top 10 for canine intelligence. But how did we come to this conclusion? Who did the study?
The modern smartest dog breeds list is largely credited to pHD and canine psychologist, Stanley Coren. Though he led the study, he had help from 199 of the best obedience trial judges in North America.
Coren’s Dog Intelligence Criteria
Based on Coren’s dog intelligence criteria, the trial judges assessed and ranked as many dog breeds as they could. Here’s what he based his trials on:
- The number of repetitions needed for a dog breed to learn a new (unknown) command. The most intelligent dog breeds needed fewer repetitions to learn.
- The rate that a dog breed will obey a known command on the first attempt. The higher the success rate of the dog, the more intelligent (and obedient) they were.
Stanley Coren received a huge response from the judges – much larger than he had expected. However, not all dog breeds that were evaluated made his final intelligence list.
Only dog breeds that received at least 100 evaluations qualified for Coren’s final list. Because of the Labrador’s popularity, they easily qualified.
Furthermore, only purebred dogs recognized by the American and/or Canadian Kennel Club participated in the trials. Consequently, mixed dog breeds were excluded as well.
How Labradors Performed
The Labrador Retriever performed exceptionally well. So well, that they made the top 10 smartest dogs list. Conveniently, the top 10 is also the smartest group.
Being in the top 10 meant that Labradors are able to learn a new command with fewer than 5 repetitions. It’s super quick and easy teaching your Lab new commands and tricks!
Labradors are also some of the most obedient dogs in the world. They will obey a known command on the first attempt with a 95% or better success rate!
Labradors are in the same company as some of the brightest (and most popular) dog breeds. Top 10 dogs also include the Border Collie, Poodle, Dobermann, Rottweiler, Golden Retriever, German Shepherd and more.
Labs vs. The “Average” Dog
Yes, Labs are highly intelligent and obedient. But how do these smart canines compare to your everyday, “average” dog breed?
The average intelligent dog breed is capable of learning a new command with 25 to 40 repetitions. This means that a Labrador is at least 5 times faster in learning commands.
In addition, average dogs will obey a known command (on the first attempt) with a 50% or better success rate. Not bad, but not nearly as great as the Labrador Retriever!
There’s nothing wrong with average intelligent dogs. They’re some of the most common and adored dog breeds. Some of which, include the Australian Shepherd, Husky, Great Dane, Boston Terrier, Dachshund and the Boxer.
Owners: Is Your Labrador Smart?
Sometimes, the best way to gauge a dog breed’s true intelligence if by asking real owners. We surveyed the popular Labrador Subreddit to ask owners this question. Here’s what they had to say:
1. Shipch88 says YES: “My lab is incredibly smart. He even knows us by our real names or nicknames. I’ll tell him ‘go to grandma’ and he’ll run to my mom every time.”
2. Klinquist says YES: “When Targa (our Labrador) wants attention, he’ll grab something that we seem to like. There’s no doubt labs are smart.”
3. Decayurvin says YES: “Never underestimate the intelligence of a Lab. They’re take advantage of you if you lower your guard. But they’re friendly nonetheless.”
4. Thiem22 says YES: “Meet our Labrador Luna. We just adopted her on National Dog Day! She’s so incredibly smart, energetic, cuddle-friendly and always a bundle of joy.”
5. Ultimatepwerteam says YES: “Labs are just goofy dogs. They do some questionable things, but in actuality they’re ultra smart dogs.”
6. Laurenkay16 says YES: “My new Lab puppy, Chief, is the smartest dog i’ve ever owned! I’m super ecstatic to watch him grow up!”
7. Terrencedaman9 says MIXED: “Brutus, my new Lab is smart, but just sometimes. He really does some questionable things, but I think he should be above average…”
8. Xtionna1 says YES: “Our Labrador named Cricket is the smartest and sweetest dog my husband has ever owned. We brought her home not knowing she would be our soul mates. We all adore her so much.”
9. Guvner76 says YES: “We lost our Labrador, Hunter, 5 years ago. Not only was he the smartest dog, but smartest animal i’ve ever met. So smart that he didn’t need commands anymore.”
10. LazyLarry0199 says YES: “I’ve owned so many dog breeds in the world and my current lab is by far the most intelligent and obedient. I’ve had Goldens, a German Shepherd, Australian Shepherd and two Huskies.”
Other Reasons Why Labs Are Smart
There are many reasons why Labs are highly intelligent dogs. Coren only measured obedience and working intelligence because it’s the most objective way to measure dog intelligence.
However, the other components of dog intelligence are adaptive and instinctive intelligence. Both of which, are just as important, if not more.
The Ultimate Water Retrievers
Instinctive intelligence refers to the innate skill or ability that the dog was bred for. In the past, dog breeds were bred for certain jobs and roles.
For example, Poodles were bred to be water retrievers. The innate instincts to swim and retrieve objects and game from the water requires this special type of intelligence.
Likewise, Labradors were also bred to be water retrievers. In fact, they were originally used for fishing by local fishermen.
Labs are the ultimate water dogs. Not only do they have water-resistant double coats (to provide insulation in the cold waters), but also short fur that keeps them buoyant in the water.
Believe it or not, these dogs also have webbed toes. This allows to to swim quickly and efficiently when retrieving in water. Labs were used to recover escaped fish or pull nets to the boat.
Labrador’s Adaptive Intelligence
On the other hand, adaptive intelligence refers to the ability for the Lab to learn for him or herself. Does your Lab excel at problem solving? Do they learn from their previous mistakes?
All of these are excellent questions when assessing a dog breed’s intelligence. Fortunately, most owners describes Labs as having high adaptive intelligence.
For example, one Lab owner says:
It took our dog just 4 months to learn how to open his gate. He’s seen us unhitch the slide on the door so many times that he’s picked up on at! Now we have to block the gate with a chair.
The fact that this Lab was able to learn how the locking mechanism worked in such a short time requires high adaptive intelligence. Another Labrador owner tells us:
The door knob for my office room is a little bit broken. You just need to push it a little and it opens. The moment my Lab figured this out, he’s been coming in non-stop to check up on me. He doesn’t do this with any other doors.
These are all great examples of high adaptive intelligence in Labrador Retrievers. Though these are just two examples, you can certainly find dozens of these type of stories easily.
Just ask any Lab owner and you’ll be hearing anecdotes just like these!
Smart Toys for Smart Labs
Not everyone prefers a smart dog. In fact, owning a highly intelligent dog breed (such as the Lab) comes with extra responsibilities. That’s why many owners prefer “dumber” breeds.
Labradors are smart, so they require a lot of mental stimulation. This can come in the form of daily obedience training or dog puzzles. Without enough mental activities, Labs can exhibit destructive behavior.
Not all owners have the time or commitment to spend an hour a day with obedience training. Fortunately, there are other ways to provide great mental stimulation for Labs.
My favorite way is to provide plenty of smart toys and dog puzzles for your Lab. They provide the essential stimulation, but also keeps them busy when you’re busy.
Here’s a few of my dogs’ favorites. I highly recommend the Nina Ottosson Dog Puzzle. It comes with three variations, but I went with the Hide n’ Slide because it looks to be the most interactive.
Hide your Labs favorite treats and they’ll go to work on this puzzle. It can take them some time in the beginning, but they’ll get better at it. I recommend checking it out at Amazon here.
Another one of my dogs’ favorite smart toys is the StarMark Bob-A-Lot Feeder. It’s a bobble feeder that requires your dog to tilt it in a direction to release treats.
It comes with two chambers, so you’re able to put both treats and meals in there. It’s also a great toy if your dog eats too fast. This will certainly slow them down during meals.
If you’re interested in checking this out, I highly recommend getting it at Amazon.
These are just the toys and puzzles that I’ve personally used and can recommend with confidence. You don’t need to choose these, but it’s important that you get your Labrador something.
Are Labradors for Me?
When selecting the dog breed of your dreams, it’s important to pick a breed based on temperament, fit and personality. Many owners make the mistake of picking a breed because “they’re smart.”
All dog breeds, including the Labrador Retriever, are intelligent enough for you. Unless you need a dog for a specific job (like herding), then it doesn’t really matter.
In my opinion, the fitment of the dog breed with you and your lifestyle makes more sense. Fortunately, the Labrador Retriever is one of the most adaptable dogs. They can seamlessly fit in nearly situation. They’re the most popular dogs, after all.
If you’re looking for a wonderful dog breed that’s affectionate, friendly and entertaining – you can’t go wrong with a Labrador.
Give these amazing dogs a try and you won’t regret it!
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