Smartest Dogs

Are Springer Spaniels Smart? – The Springer Spaniel’s Intelligence

The intelligent Springer Spaniel on the hunting field.
Written by Richard Jeng

Springer Spaniels are one of the most popular spaniel-type dog breeds for a reason. Always cheerful and affectionate, the English Springer Spaniel will gladly be a lap dog or an active companion. But is there more to this spaniel’s intelligence than meets the eye?

So, are Springer Spaniels smart? The Springer Spaniel is a highly intelligent dog breed. In fact, this breed is the smartest among all spaniel-types. And according to canine psychologist Stanley Coren, they’re the 13th smartest dog breed for obedience and working intelligence. Combined with their high instinctive IQ in hunting and ability to learn for themselves, Springers are all-around smart dogs.

The Springer Spaniel checks all the boxes when it comes to high dog intelligence. But what actually makes this spaniel such a smart dog. Read on to learn about how we measure dog intelligence and the real reasons they’re intelligent.

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Measuring Springer Spaniel Intelligence

The primary method of measuring dog intelligence involves obedience training. The faster a dog can learn and/or obey commands, the more “intelligent” they are. We call this obedience & working IQ. It’s a term coin by canine psychologist, Stanley Coren.

Of course, there are limitations to this method of measuring dog intelligence. It’s just that this aspect of dog IQ is the easiest to objectively measure. So while this type of measurment is not perfect, it’s not a bad place to start out.

Coren’s Dog Intelligence Criteria

The measurement of obedience and working IQ is based on Coren’s dog intelligence criteria. It’s a set of instructions and standards he developed to measure intelligence.

And with the help of 199 obedience trial judges in North America, Coren was able to collect enough data to help formulate his list of smartest dogs. The criteria is based on the following:

  1. The number of repetitions needed for a dog to learn a new command. Dogs that needed fewer repetitions to learn an unknown command ranked higher on the list.
  2. The success rate that a dog will obey a known command on the first attempt. Dogs that were the most obedient were considered the smartest too.

A notable problem with this test is that not all dog breeds were included. That is, only breeds that are recognized by the AKC and/or Canadian Kennel Club participated in the trials. In other words, no hybrids and fewer international local dogs.

And among all the dog breeds that participated, not all of them qualified for the list of smartest dogs. In fact, only those with at least 199 responses could be included.

However, the Springer Spaniels are recognized dogs with high popularity. Thus, they easily qualified to participate and had enough responses to make the final list.

How Springer Spaniels Performed

Springer Spaniels are among the smartest dogs, coming in as the 13th smartest dog breed. They’re just sitting outside the prestigious top 10 category. Rather, they’re categorized as “bright dogs” along with some of the most intelligent canines.

So what does this mean? It means that Springer Spaniels are capable of learning a new command with just 5 to 15 repetitions! In just 30 minutes to an hour, these spaniel dogs may be able to learn a new command, depending on the complexity.

In addition, the English Springer Spaniel will obey a known command (on the first attempt) with an amazing 85% or better success rate. This means that few dog breeds are as obedient as the highly trainable and responsive Springer Spaniel.

Springers aren’t alone, though. Some of the brightest (and most popular) dogs are in the same IQ class. For example, both Welsh Corgis, the Pomeranian, Schnauzer, Weimaraner, Bernese Mountain dog and the Cocker Spaniel are all just as bright.

Springer Spaniel vs. Average Dogs

Compared to dog breeds classified as average intelligent, Springer Spaniels performed much better in the trials. Even so, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with being average. They just need more time, patience and consistency.

For example, the Australian Shepherd, Husky, Shiba, Cavalier King Charles, Havanese, Jack Russell Terrier and Greyhound are all in this same category. What’s more, these dogs are some of the most popular and loving dogs!

That said, the average dog breed needed about 25 to 40 repetitions to learn a new command. This means that Springer Spaniels are at least twice as fast as learning than the average dog. And in some cases, they’re 8 times faster!

Though when it comes to obedience, the average dog has a 50% or better success rate for known commands on the first attempt. This isn’t bad, but they’re not nearly as obedient as the Springer or other breeds from the “bright dogs” category.

Other Reasons Why Springers Are Smart

There’s more to canine intelligence than just obedience and working intelligence. The truth is, not all dog breeds respond the same for obedience training. If you think about Coren’s trial, it’s essentially an obedience test for dogs.

Some dogs are naturally stubborn or strong-willed, thus making obedience training harder. But that does not mean they aren’t intelligent. Even Coren will admit that there’s so much more to a dog’s true IQ, and that obedience and work IQ isn’t perfect.

In fact, the two other components of dog intelligence is instinctive and adaptive intelligence. Both of which, may be more important than obedience and work. The bad news is that these components are much more difficult to objectively measure.

Springer Spaniel’s Hunting Intelligence

The dog’s instinctive intelligence refers to the special ability or skill that the dog was born with. In other words, what was the original job of the dog. Believe it or not, all dogs were bred for a task and role in society. Simply put, they helped humans.

For example, Golden Retrievers were bred for retrieving. Hence, the name. Hunters in the marshland would shoot down birds. But instead of swimming or taking a small boat to pick up the shot game, the hunters would rely on the retrievers bring the game back.

Golden Retrievers are able to do this with little to no human training. They’ll naturally start retrieving on the field. It’s why they’re great at playing catch! This ability to perform this unique task requires a special type of dog intelligence, that is, instinctive intelligence.

I’ve had all kinds of other spaniels. Springers and Cockers are the two best by a mile. But Springers are often a bit more biddable.

– Tom Ness (Oahe Kennels)

Springer Spaniels also have an instinctive intelligence. These dogs are “bird dogs” bred to flush out bird game from trees and shrubs. Combined with their incredible noses, Springers are incredible at finding game and drawing them out.

But what really makes them intelligent is that they never put birds outside of the hunter’s gun range. They have a good understanding of where to “drive” birds – almost like that of a herding dog. This is what makes the Springer highly intelligent.

And according to the AKC, Springer Spaniels are one of the 8 best bird dogs in the world. That said, there’s no denying that the Springers have extremely high instinctive intelligence. Just check out this Springer Spaniel in action:

Springer Spaniel’s Adaptive Intelligence

The final component of dog intelligence is called adaptive intelligence. And unlike instinctive IQ, this is not a “talent” bred into the dog. Rather, it’s about what the dog can learn for itself. In addition, this is something that varies great among dogs of the same breed.

How well does a dog learn from his previous mistakes? Are they good problem solvers? All these are good questions when analyzing the adaptive intelligence of a dog breed. Of course, this IQ is not very easy to objectively measure.

Instead, we have to rely on anecdotes and stories from owners. For instance, this owner describes just how smart her Springer Spaniel is:

They are very, very intelligent and has quickly learnt how to get what he wants through being “naughty.”

– Cinnamontoast (Pet Forums UK)

This Springer Spaniel wants more attention from her owner. So, she’s discovered that being naughty will get the owner to “pay attention” to her. This is how the dog learned from previous experiences and a clear sign of high adaptive IQ.

Another owner explains to us just how quickly his Springer Spaniel learns, saying:

My springer somehow learned how to turn the cabinet knob and get to the treats. I swear he’s only seen me open it up a few times. Anything for the treats!

– Rapidspringers (Dog Forums)

His Springer Spaniel is definitely a problem solver. Not even a cabinet door can stop this dog from getting to his favorite treats! The owner continues by saying, “he jumps on the door knob to knock it open.” Once again, another clear sign of high adaptive IQ in Springers.

Sure, these are just two examples of high adaptive IQ seen in Springer Spaniels. However, there are so many more stories just like these. A quick search through forums will reveal all the incredibly smart things that this spaniel breed can do.

Is Your Springer Spaniel Smart?

The Springer Spaniel is used by law enforcement to tracking drugs and explosives.

Not all Springer Spaniels may be smart. In addition, some will be more intelligent than others. So to truly answer this question, we turn to the people that would know best: real Springer Spaniel owners.

As such, we surveyed the popular Springer Spaniel Subreddit, among other various dog forums, in order to ask owners this very question. Here’s what they had to say.

Real Owner Answers:

1. Masterbumblebee says Yes: Ours is too smart for his own good. We can ask him to go get his leash, bowl, toy, or blanket and he’ll do it. He’s started to freak out when we spell out the word walk to each other. We didn’t intentionally teach him any of this.

2. Geraldsmom says No:Anyone else’s springer as dumb as a box of rocks? well, after 8 years of life he finally learned how to give me his paw!

3. Obieseven says Yes:I had a border collie but my Springer did beat her in some things, i.e., when wanting to come in from the porch. The Springer was smart enough to go to a window where he could see me sitting inside.

4. Freshpicked12 says Yes:10x smarter than a Golden, but also 10x the energy level. Springers are anything but docile. I wouldn’t say they are easy to train, but they are very eager dogs.

5. Okhnyc says Yes:She’s also smart like you couldn’t believe – at about 6 months old, she was blind retrieving to hand using only a clicker and she was rock solid with her obedience training.

6. Metalheadsprings says Yes:What makes Springers so smart is that they’re willing to give it all in their training. Extremely good focus and so eager to please you that they’ll obey and thus need a lot less motivation.

7. Jmez says Yes:I had one growing up. Great bird dogs. No real tricks for basic obedience. They are very smart dogs, depending on the line can be hard headed. There are several books on spaniel training.

8. Sldmtn says Yes: Here’s my one year old bundle of energy, Carly. She’ll be lucky to live past the chewing stage but other than that, she’s a great dog and very smart. Instinctually drawn to birds like no dog I’ve ever seen.

9. Islandspringers says Yes:Springers are better at learning and training than any other dog breed I’ve owned. And I’ve owned many smart dogs including the GSD, Golden, Corgi and Rottweiler.

10. Internintraining says No:He’s not the brightest dog in our pack but he’s so friendly like a velcro dog. Takes him a while to learn commands but at least he puts in the effort.

Does Intelligence Matter?

So does intelligence really matter in your Springer Spaniel? Not really. All dogs are smart enough to give you what you need: basic obedience and affection. If you’re looking for a companion, there is no reason to pick a “smart” dog.

However, if you need a hunting companion (specifically a bird flushing dog), then the Springer Spaniel will be perfect thanks to their high instinctive intelligence. Otherwise, any dog will be fine.

Instead of asking how intelligent a dog breed is, it’s always better to ask yourself which dog breed fits your lifestyle and personality more. What do you want to do with your dog? That said, Springers fit the active lifestyle much better due to their high energy.

English Springer Spaniels are loving and playful with a vibrant attitude that’s guaranteed to cheer you up when you feel down. Springers will comfort you and shower you with affection, especially if you show them some love back.

Bring home a Springer Spaniel and you won’t regret it!


Do you have a Springer Spaniel? And is your Springer Spaniel smart? Let us know in the comments section below. We would love to hear what you think.

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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.

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