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Are Mutt Dogs Smarter than Purebreds? – Here’s What Scientific Studies Say

If you’re bringing home a dog, you’ll have plenty of options. And if you’re considering a mutt dog, then you have unlimited options to choose from. However, most people avoid mutts because they believe purebreds are smarter. But are mutts really smarter?

There’s no conclusive scientific evidence to prove mutt dogs are inherently smarter than purebreds, or vice versa. However, there are a few unofficial studies that suggest mutts may be more adaptive, intelligent, and trainable than their purebred counterparts.

Dog intelligence is complex. There are several ways to measure dog intelligence and various factors that may influence how “smart” a dog is. In this article, we’ll look at these studies and examine why mutts are probably superior in intelligence.

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How Dog Intelligence is Measured

The current method of measuring dog intelligence is fairly simple. But at the same time, it has a lot of flaws. The main flaw being that it only measures one aspect of dog intelligence, that is, obedience and working intelligence (o&w).

According to Stanley Coren, the canine psychologist who developed the criteria, o&w intelligence is an excellent way to measure how quickly a dog learns commands – in addition to how well the dog retains its obedience training.

Here’s Coren’s criteria for his dog intelligence (o&w) trials:

  1. The number of repetitions needed for a dog to learn a new command. Fewer repetitions means a most intelligent dog.
  2. The success rate in which a dog obeys a known command on the first attempt. A higher success rate correlate with higher intelligence.

This is the criteria that gave us the infamous 100 smartest dog breeds list.

However, there was just one problem. They didn’t let mutt dogs participate in the intelligence trials. It is why we can’t say for certain whether mutt dogs are smarter, even if this trial measured just one aspect of dog intelligence.

The good news is that there are other documented studies, though unofficial, that we can refer to, when comparing the intelligence of mutts and purebreds.

The Science Fair Study of Mutts & Purebreds

In a recent 2013 study conducted during the California state science fair at the University of Southern California, research students tested the “adaptive intelligence” and “obedience & working intelligence” of mutt dogs compared to purebreds.

In summary, adaptive intelligence refers to the dog’s ability to learn for itself or solve problems. On the other hand, a dog’s obedience and working intelligence refers to the dog’s ability to learn commands. Both aspects are important.

The results from the California State Science Fair study showed that mutts performed better on the intelligence tests and were, on average, smarter than purebred dogs.

The method the students used to measure dog intelligence was significantly different than how Stanley Coren measured intelligence in his trials. In fact, the students used 4 methods to test IQ, and were given a grade of A, B or C, depending on what they did.

The 4 Intelligence Tests:

  1. Researchers placed a treat under a coffee can in front of the dog.
    • A = the dog retrieves the treat
    • B = shows interest, but ultimately gives up
    • C = no interest (ignores)
  2. The researchers dropped a treat on a table above the dog’s line of sight.
    • A = dog continues to look upwards at the treat
    • B = the dog looks at the ground to see if the treat fell, before looking back up at the table
    • C = if the dog continues looking and searching for the treat on the ground
  3. Two chairs are placed on the ground in front of the dog with a small opening in the middle. Then, a treat is dropped on the other side of the chairs.
    • A = the dog immediately runs around the chair to retrieve the treat
    • B = dog hesitates but eventually runs around the chairs
    • C = the dog tries to get the treat by going through the space between chairs
  4. Researchers tested how many commands a dog knew.
    • A = dog understands over 25 commands
    • B = dog understands 10 to 25 commands
    • C = dog knew less than 10 commands

The Result: Mutts Are Smarter

The results showed that Mutts were smarter, though by a thin margin. In the trials, thirteen mutts and thirteen purebreds were tested, giving us a total of 26 dogs tested of various breeds. All 4 tests were given to each dog.

The letter grades were each assigned a numerical points value, where “A” was given the most points and “C” was given the least. Points from mutt dogs and purebreds were added up respectively. In the end, the mutts had a higher score.

Overall, mixed dog breeds scored 463 while purebred dogs scored 417, giving mutts a slight edge in the test. However, there are flaws with this test.

There were no mention of the actual breed of the dogs. Some breeds will have much higher or lower o&w intelligence. So if they compared mutts against the lowest-scoring dogs in o&w category, the slight edge could easily be explained.

Mutts May Be Better At Problem Solving

In a recent 2010 study published in the journal Applied Animal Behavior Science, a group of researchers from the University of Kentucky studied and compared the problem-solving abilities of domestic dogs and chimpanzees.

The study, titled “A comparison of the problem-solving abilities of domestic dogs (Canis familiaris) and chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes), was never published online. However, the print media has details of a study that gives us a lot of insight to this question.

While the main goal of the study was to compare problem solving of dogs and chimpanzees, both mutt dogs and purebreds participated in the study. So, we also get to see how mixed breeds compared to purebreds at problem solving.

The Food Retrieving Test

This study compared problem-solving abilities of dogs and chimpanzees by using a task that required them to retrieve food from a container that could be opened using a simple tool.

So, what was the result? The researchers found that both dogs and chimpanzees were able to solve the task with relative ease. However, dogs were more efficient at solving the problem and required fewer attempts to retrieve the food.

What’s even more interesting was that the study found mixed dog breeds scored higher on a measure of problem-solving ability when compared to purebred dogs.

Researchers didn’t have a conclusive answer for the discrepancy. However, one theory was that genetic diversity commonly found in mutt dogs may have given them a wider range of cognitive abilities. But again, we have no proof of this.

Overall, the results of this study suggest that both mutt and purebred domestic dogs have advanced problem-solving abilities. In addition, their cognitive abilities may be influenced by their breed and genetic diversity.

However, it’s important to note that dog intelligence is a complex trait that’s influenced by a variety of factors. It isn’t accurate or fair to compare the intelligence of different breeds or individual dogs based solely on their breed or ancestry.

Is “Problem Solving” and Intelligence the Same?

Although problem-solving isn’t exactly the same as intelligence, it is a component of overall dog IQ and intelligence. Dogs that are better at problem solving are often viewed as more intelligent.

According to Stanley Coren’s theory, there are three main aspects of dog intelligence:

  1. Obedience & Working Intelligence (how fast a dog learns and retains its learning)
  2. Adaptive Intelligence (how a dog learns for itself and solves problems)
  3. Instinctive Intelligence (the intelligent skill or ability the dog is inherently born with)

Problem-solving abilities are often considered a key aspect of dog intelligence. Many experts, including Stanley Coren, recognize that a high level of adaptive intelligence, which includes problem-solving, is an important characteristic of intelligent dogs.

Mutts Are Not Consistently Smarter Than Purebreds

Although we have some evidence that suggest mutts may be better at problem solving, they still do not consistently outperform purebreds on intelligence tests. One such study that shows this was a 2008 study titled “Breed Differences in Aggression.”

This study’s primary goal was to examine whether various breeds played a part in aggression in dogs. But at the same time, the study evaluated the relationship between aggression and intelligence.

The researchers used a standardized IQ test to measure aggression in a sample of 62 purebred and 62 mutt dogs. In addition, the dogs’ intelligence was also evaluated using their own unique criteria for a standardized dog intelligence test.

The Standardized Intelligence Test:

  1. Touch task – measures a dogs’ ability and quickness of learning a new task.
  2. Detour task – measures the dogs’ ability to solve problems and adapt.
  3. Stay task – measures a dogs’ ability to follow commands, such as “stay.”
  4. Water task – measures the dogs’ ability to learn from past experiences and mistakes.
  5. Food task – measures a dogs’ ability to learn by observing other dogs and humans.
  6. Novel object task – measures the dogs’ ability to interact with new stimuli in the environment.

The Results

The results of the study found that there were significant breed differences in aggression. In other words, some breeds exhibited higher levels of aggression than others.

However, the study also found that purebred dogs did not consistently outperform mixed-breed dogs on measures of intelligence. The researchers believe intelligence of individual dogs was more influenced by their environment and training, than by their breed.

Furthermore, researchers concluded that breed, whether mixed or purebred, is not a reliable predictor of aggression or intelligence in dogs. Other factors, such as genetics, environment, and training, are more important in determining a dog’s behavior and cognitive abilities.

Are Mutts Really Smarter Than Purebreds?

The short answer is no. There is no conclusive scientific evidence that suggests mutts are smarter than purebred dogs, or vice versa.

But what are some of these studies that we just covered? Although some studies point to mutts being smarter, not all do. That being said, the studies aren’t conclusive.

It’s also worth noting that the two studies published in the journal of Applied Animal Behavior Science did not set out to test for dog intelligence of mutts versus purebreds as their primary study. So, it may not be the most accurate to refer to a small portion from of the studies.

But if you ask real dog owners, most tend to agree that mixed dogs are more trainable. But being more trainable does not necessarily mean more intelligent. Again, there are many components that make up the complex idea of dog intelligence.

Does it Matter?

No, it really doesn’t matter. Whether you decide on a mixed breed or a purebred, it won’t change much. Dogs are smart, period. Both a mutt and a purebred dog will be smart enough to get through the basic training that’s sufficient for most people’s needs.

Instead, I suggest picking a dog breed based on the temperament and personality. If you go into a shelter and find a mutt that seems perfect for you and your lifestyle, then go for it! Intelligence in dogs will not matter unless you plan to train them for specialized skills.


So, do you own a mutt (mixed dog) or purebred? Tell us just how smart your dog is! Let us know in the comments section below.

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Sarwar Abdullah

Tuesday 17th of January 2023

In conclusion, whether a dog is a mutt or purebred does not define their intelligence, and each individual dog should be judged on their own merits. 💕

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