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Are Scottish Terriers Smart? – Measuring a Sottish Terrier’s Intelligence

Scottish Terriers are feisty, independent and often, stubborn dogs. They love to do their “own thing” and can never seem to sit still. While their positive energy is something we love, owners may be wondering just how smart these terriers are.

For obedience & working intelligence, Scottish Terriers are below-average intelligent dogs. In fact, they’re the 17th least intelligent dog breed, out of 138 dogs. But that doesn’t mean Scottish Terriers are dumb dogs. While their stubbornness makes them harder to train, their intelligence lies in their incredible hunting instincts, and ability to understand or communicate with humans.

There’s a lot more to dog intelligence than just learning cool tricks and commands, especially with the Scottish Terrier. Read on to learn how we measure dog intelligence and why the Scottish Terrier is a lot smarter than you think.

RECOMMENDED: 100 Smartest Dog Breeds

Measuring a Scottish Terrier’s Intelligence

Measuring the intelligence of a dog breed can be a tricky task. After all, it’s not like we can hand them a written IQ test. However one canine psychologist, named Stanley Coren, figured out a way to measure the “obedience & working intelligence” (O&W) in dogs.

This type of intelligence is not perfect. In fact, O&W intelligence measures how quickly the dog learns commands and retains the training. And while there is likely a correlation between the IQ of a dog and how fast they learn, it doesn’t tell the full story.

The Criteria for Dog Intelligence

So, how did Coren actually measure “obedience & working intelligence” in dogs? With the help of about 199 judges from North America, Coren constructed a criteria for his intelligence trials. He then had each of these judges evaluate as many dogs as possible.

With the data collected from hundreds of obedience judges, Coren could then create a list and rank the most intelligent dog breeds. The following is Stanley Coren’s criteria:

  1. The number of repetitions needed to learn a new command. Of course, dogs that needed fewer repetitions needed to learn an unknown command were considered more intelligent.
  2. The success rate that a dog will obey a known command on the first attempt. This meant that the more obedient the dog, the higher they ranked in terms of dog intelligence.

It’s worth noting that not all dog breeds participated in Coren’s intelligence trials. Because these trials took place in North America, only dog breeds that were recognized by the American or Canadian Kennel club participated.

Among all the dog breeds that participated in the trials, not every breed made the final cut and ended up on Coren’s infamous list of smartest dog breeds. Rather, dog breeds needed at least 100 evaluations in order to make the final list.

How Scottish Terriers Performed

Unfortunately, the Scottish Terrier didn’t do too well with the dog intelligence trials. Out of the 138 dog breeds that made the final cut, Scottish Terriers were the 17th “least intelligent” breed. This ranking placed this in the “below average intelligence” class.

But what exactly does it mean to be the 17th dumbest dog? Scottish Terriers needed, on average, 40 to 80 repetitions to learn a new command. Depending on the complexity of the command, it could take a dog a full day to learn something!

In addition, Scottish Terriers would only obey a known command (on the first attempt) just 30% of the time or better. While this is low, it’s not terrible. Later in the article, we’ll discuss why the Scottish Terrier did poorly in this section.

If you feel bad for the Scottish Terrier, don’t feel bad. Some of the most popular dogs are in this class. For example, the Frenchie, Maltese, Pug, Great Pyrenees, Saint Bernard, Chihuahua and Lhasa apso are all in this same intelligence class!

Scottish Terriers vs. The Smartest Dogs

According to Coren’s intelligence trials, there’s a large gap between the Scottish Terriers and the world’s most intelligent dogs. The smartest dogs are the breeds that ranked in the top 10 of Coren’s list. But how do they compare to the Scottish Terrier?

The smartest dog breeds are able to learn a new command with fewer than 5 repetitions! That’s about 8 to 16 times faster at learning unknown commands than the Scottish Terrier. In some cases, these dogs are able to learn something in just a few minutes.

And when it comes to obedience, the smartest dogs are just as incredible. They have a success rate of 95% or better, when asked to perform a command on the first attempt. That’s nearly obeying every single time they’re asked to!

So who are the smartest dogs? Coincidentally, they’re also some of the most popular dogs in America. For example, the Golden Retriever, German Shepherd, Labrador, Doberman, Rottweiler, Poodle and the Border Collie top the list.

Why Scottish Terriers Rank Low for Intelligence

There’s a reason why Scottish Terriers ranked so low in the list of smartest dog breeds. And no, it’s not because they’re “dumb dogs.” Rather, the “intelligence test” that Stanley Coren set up was not ideal for the Scottish Terrier.

Let me explain. A dog IQ test that measures obedience & working intelligence is essentially an obedience test. All it really measures is how good a dog breed can be at learning commands and tricks. But not all dogs enjoy this task.

Different dog breeds were bred for different purposes. And as a result, they have different motivators. A dog breed, like the Border Collie, was bred for hard work – specifically for herding. These dogs will work for the sake of working.

If presented something to learn, you can bet a Border Collie would find enjoyment in the process. After all, they’re some of the world’s best working dogs for a reason. So it’s no coincidence that that Border Collie is the smartest dog breed, at least according to Coren.

However, just because a dog doesn’t obey your command, does not mean he or she doesn’t understand what you are trying to say.

1. Stubborn and independent dogs score lower

According to Dog Time, the Scottish Terrier is notorious for being a stubborn and independent dog. While most terriers are known to be stubborn, the Scottish Terrier is especially headstrong. This would have been a problem.

Now imagine a Scottish Terrier during one of these intelligence trials. If the dog doesn’t want to do the obedience training, the dog will likely simply stop. The judges may interpret this as “low intelligence” as they aren’t able to understand.

However, if you know the Scottish Terrier, you know that they’re just disinterested in obedience training. In fact, there are plenty of real Scottie owners will testify that they are intelligent dogs, but training was a bit hard to do.

“The Scottie stubbornness shows itself on walks when Bentley wants to check out something and won’t leave it until it has been good and smelled.”

– Freeway323 (via Reddit)

Scottish Terriers are not only stubborn and independent, but also dominant. They like to assume the role of the alpha in the pack (family). They don’t like being told what to do and will often challenge the owner to prove they can make them do something.

It’s no coincidence that some of the lowest ranked dog breeds are also some of the most stubborn and independent dog breeds. Rather, I would argue that independent dogs are actually smarter because they can think for themselves.

2 Reasons Why Scottish Terriers Are Smart

So far, we’ve only looked at one component of dog intelligence – obedience and working. But according to Stanley Coren, there are two more dimensions of IQ. In fact, the other may be even more important for measuring true dog intelligence.

There’s also instinctive intelligence and adaptive intelligence. Unlike obedience & working intelligence, these two components are very difficult to objectively measure. However, these two areas are where the Scottish Terriers shine.

1. Scottish Terriers Are Intelligent Hunters

The second component of dog intelligence is called “instinctive intelligence.” This refers to the special ability or skill that the dog was bred for.

In the past, all dog breeds were bred for a specific role that benefited humans and society. They weren’t just a companion for humans. That said, have you ever wondered what Scottish Terriers were bred for? What was their purpose?

There were Border Collies that were bred for herding. But also Dobermans that were bred for guarding and protection. Scottish Terriers, on the other hand, were bred for hunting. To be specific, they were vermin hunters that took down rats, badgers and foxes.

But does this really require intelligence? Let’s look at the Border Collie for example. They’re some of the best herding dogs. They know exactly how to position themselves to push flocks in a desired direction or keep them close. This requires a special type of intelligence.

Similarly, Scottish Terriers need to know how to sneak up on their prey and trap them during a chase in order to be excellent hunters. Their ability to understand prey movement and cut them off for a capture is a skill that involves high instinctive dog intelligence.

If you own a Scottish Terrier, you may already know they have a high prey drive. These prey instincts are all part of why they’re such intelligent dogs. But for many owners, it may seem like they’re “dumb” dogs that keep chasing squirrels.

2. The Adaptive Intelligence of Scottish Terriers

The final component of dog intelligence is called “adaptive intelligence,” which refers to what the dog is able to learn or do without human intervention. Can the dog learn from past mistakes and experiences? Is the dog capable of learning for itself?

And unlike instinctive intelligence, adaptive intelligence in dogs can vary a lot. In other words, even within the same dog breed, the difference in adaptive intelligence may be drastic. It all depends on the individual dog.

Unfortunately, this is the most difficult type of intelligence to measure. There actually is no objective way to measure this. Instead, we have to rely on anecdotes, testimonies and stories from real owners to really gauge the adaptive IQ in Scottish Terriers.

Here’s what one Scottie owner had to say:

Our 2 y/o scottie learned how to open up our treats cabinet by pulling on the grocery bags we hang on door knob of the cabinet. I couldn’t believe it! All from watching us do it time and time again.

– Sittersscottie (Scottie owner)

One way to tell whether a dog has high adaptive intelligence is by seeing if they’re able to quickly learn from the past, or keep making the same mistakes. This owner’s Scottie was able to solve his problem of “getting more treats” by watching his owners.

Dogs with low adaptive intelligence would not be able to figure out how cabinets can be opened, no matter how many times they’ve seen their owners do it.

Another Scottie owner said this:

They’re tricky dogs. They make you think they don’t understand anything, but the second you turn away, they’ll get into trouble by digging through the trash can.

– Teafusicom (Scottie owner)

It’s likely this Scottish Terrier understands that he isn’t allowed to flip and dig through the trash can. But because they’re stubborn, what do they do? That’s right – anything they want!

But the fact that this dog waits for his owner to look away before doing something he doesn’t want his owner to see, shows high adaptive intelligence. He’s learned that he may get yelled at for digging trash, so he’s smart enough to avoid it.

Of course, these are just two examples of high adaptive intelligence in Scottish Terriers. There are plenty of more stories just like this. Take a quick search through forums or just ask any Scottie owners. They will tell you the same types of stories!

So, Is the Scottie For Me?

Scottish Terriers are active and lively dogs that can make a great companion for those that have the time and dedication for them. As we’ve learned, they require a bit more patience, consistency and firmness when it comes to obedience training.

Owners say they’re silly dogs that have a humorous side to them. Really, there’s never a dull moment if you’re with a Scottish Terrier.

In addition, we see a common theme among all owners: they’re highly intelligent dogs that are stubborn. That said, we don’t suggest the Scottish Terrier for first-time owners. Because they like to assume the alpha role, it can be tough for novice trainers.

Never let an intelligence test where the “experts” tell you whether your dog is smart or not. What matters more is that the dog fits your personality and lifestyle. If you decide to bring home a Scottish Terrier, you will have no regrets!

Do you own a Scottish Terrier? Are they smart? And what things to they do that make you think they’re smart or dumb? Let us know in the comments section below.

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Tuesday 12th of December 2023

Currently we have 2 Scottish Terriers that own us. Two others before these. They are the most stubborn, exasperating, and headstrong dogs that we have had in our family. With that said, they are funny, full of energy, loving, and yes smart dogs. They know what time Mom is suppose to get up in the mornings and never allow me to sleep in. They know what cows and cats are and you can never utter those words around them. They love people and understand that small children need to be handled with extra care. When they are running through the house they understand the concept of hide and seek. One will stop the chase and turn around and go the other direction to create a sneak attack. All in all, I would say they are a pretty intelligent dog breed. Do they handle commands well. Not on your life.


Tuesday 10th of October 2023

I’ve had dogs all of my life & now in my eighties, I have my 4th Scottie. Wouldn’t have any other. They are independent, smart, extremely curious & funny! Timmer loves to play with his best friend Archie who is a Pitt Bull. Timm knows exactly where his treats & food are - & the difference between the two

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