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Are Yorkies Smart Dogs? – Here’s Why Yorkshire Terriers are Highly Intelligent

The Yorkshire Terrier, or “Yorkie” for short, is the most popular toy dog breed due to its affectionate personality and lively attitude. While outstanding companion and lap dogs, you may be wondering if there’s more to these dogs than just being great lap warmers.

So, are Yorkies smart? Yorkshire Terriers are highly intelligent dogs. According to canine psychologist Stanley Coren, Yorkies are “above average” intelligent dogs. In fact, they’re ranked the 34th smartest dog breed out of 138 qualifying breeds. But their true intelligence comes from their ability to understand human emotions and communicate effectively.

Though Yorkies are some of the best when it comes to obedience training and learning, they are intelligent in other ways. The Yorkshire Terrier excels in all three components of dog intelligence. Let’s examine what actually makes Yorkies super-smart dogs.

RECOMMENDED: List of 100 Smartest Dog Breeds

How We Measure a Yorkie’s Intelligence

We measure a Yorkie's intelligence based on working and obedience intelligence.

As mentioned, there’s no denying that the Yorkshire Terriers are overall a very intelligent breed as evident in the dog intelligence rankings. But how exactly did the “experts” come to this conclusion? In other words, how are we able to measure the intelligence of the Yorkie?

The smartest dog breeds list was developed by famed pHD and canine psychologist, Stanley Coren. In his research, he coined the term “obedience & working intelligence,” which measured how quickly a dog learns command. It also measures how well they retain their training.

Coren reached out to 199 North American obedience trial judges, who helped evaluate and rank dog breeds based on his criteria. This criteria measured obedience & working intelligence, which could be objectively ranked in a list of smartest dogs.

Coren’s Dog Intelligence Criteria

The criteria that Coren used for his research was met with a lot of criticism. And although it doesn’t tell the full story when measuring dog IQ, we think it’s a great starting point. Here’s what his criteria was based on:

  1. The number of repetitions needed for a dog breed to learn a new command. Obviously, the fewer the repetitions needed, the smarter the dog breed. 
  2. The success rate of a dog breed obeying a known command on the first attempt. The higher the success rate, the more obedient and intelligent the dog – at least according to Coren.

Coren received a huge response from the trial judges – much larger than he had expected. However, not every dog breed qualified for his smartest dog breeds list.

For example, only dog breeds that received at least 100 evaluations were included in his final list. This ruled out the rarer breeds where Coren couldn’t find enough dogs, and thus data. Fortunately, Yorkies were widely popular dogs and had more than 100 assessments.

In addition, only dog breeds recognized by either the American or Canadian kennel club participated in the trials. So this eliminated breeds only recognized by international clubs, along with mixed dog breeds. The good news is that the Yorkie is recognized by both clubs.

How the Yorkies Performed

Yorkshire Terriers performed better than average. As a matter of fact, they performed better than over 100 breeds in the trial, landing them in the 34th spot our of 138 breeds. Being in the top 40 isn’t easy. But what exactly does this rank mean for the Yorkie?

This meant that Yorkies were able to learn a new command with just 15 to 25 repetitions. You can probably teach your Yorkshire a new command in a just a few hours. For the most basic commands, it could take a shorter amount of time!

Not only are they quick learners, but also highly obedient dogs, as given by their obedience score. Yorkies were able to obey a known command on the first attempt with a 70% or better success rate! Few dogs are as obedient as the Yorkshire Terrier.

And if you’re curious, Yorkies are in the same intelligence class as Dalmatians, Samoyeds, Newfoundlands, Giant Schnauzers, Samoyed and Bearded Collies. Not bad company to be with. 

Yorkies vs. Smartest Dog Breeds

Though Yorkies are really smart, there’s a significant difference between their obedience & working intelligence and that of the top 10. The top ten smartest dog breeds are conveniently in a class of their own. So just how smart are the best in the class?

The smartest dogs are able to learn a new command with just 5 repetitions or less! That’s at least 3 times faster than the Yorkshire Terrier. And depending on the command, it may just take them a few minutes to learn!

What I find even more impressive is how obedient the smartest breeds are. They’re able to obey a known command on the first attempt with a 95% or higher success rate! Over 9 out of 10 times, these dogs will obey a command in the first try!

The smartest dog breeds happen to also be some of the most popular. They’re the Golden Retriever, GSD, Poodle, Rottweiler, Doberman, Labrador Retriever, Sheltie and more.

Other Reasons Why Yorkies Are Smart Dogs

Yorkshire Terriers are regarded as some of the most intelligent dogs. But there’s so much more to dog IQ than just obedience and working intelligence. Even Stanley Coren will admit this.

So, what else makes Yorkies smart dogs? The fact that they excel in both instinctive and adaptive intelligence – the two other dimensions of canine intelligence. In my opinion, these two other components of IQ are more important in identifying the true intelligence of dogs.

So why not use these other two IQ dimensions instead? The problem with both instinctive and adaptive IQ is that they are a lot more difficult to measure – at least in an objective way. Even so, it’s important to understand these two if we’re talking about dog intelligence.

The “Hunter’s Intelligence” in Yorkies

Instinctive intelligence refers the the innate ability or skill that was bred into the dog. For example, what was the original intention for the dog breed? What were they bred for? In the past, all dogs were bred for a specific purpose or role that helped humans.

For instance, Shelties are some of the best herding dogs in the world. The innate ability to round up sheep, guide them in formations and push them around, requires instinctive intelligence. They were not taught this, they just knew how to do this.

On the other hand, Yorkies were originally bred to be be hunters. Yes you heard right – these little dogs were at one point in time, hunting dogs. To be specific, Yorkies were bred to be ratters (vermin hunters) in mines because they’re small enough to reach into small crevices

Well yesterday after her potty break she runs to investigate and sniff. I am standing on the porch half awake, calling her, begging her really…All of the sudden I hear her freak out and she is shaking a BIG FAT RAT!

– LuvTaycieGirl (Yorkie Talk)

In addition, Yorkies actually participated in actual hunts by burrowing underground to chase after badgers and/or foxes. This is instincts. Even today, some Yorkies may have the tendency to chase down small rodents despite the breed being mainly lap dogs.

But how is hunting a type of intelligence? Well, Yorkies (and other vermin hunters) need to have an sense of where the rats are going. In a head-on chase, it’ll be very difficult to catch the rat. However, the Yorkie is skilled in learning how to cut off the rat in its path.

In other words, hunting is the instinctive intelligence of the Yorkshire Terrier. And because they’re exceptionally good at it, we can probably conclude they have incredibly high instinctive intelligence. 

The Yorkie’s Adaptive Intelligence

Adaptive intelligence is the last dimension of dog intelligence, and refers to the ability of the dog to learn for itself. Does the dog learn from previous mistakes? Is the dog good at problem solving? All these questions pertain to the adaptive intelligence in dogs. 

All Yorkshire Terriers have roughly the same instinctive intelligence. However, adaptive intelligence can vary quite a bit among individual dogs. Just because your neighbor’s Yorkie has outstanding adaptive IQ does not guarantee that your Yorkie will have too.

The good news, though, is that Yorkies generally show high adaptive intelligence. And while there is no objective way of measuring this, we can count on owner stories and anecdotes to prove our point.

For example, one owner tells us a story:

Today was bath day and I gave Jewels her bath first. When I went to get Chachi, he was no where to be found. He was hiding because he knew he was next.

Clearly, this Yorkshire Terrier is able to learn from his previous experiences. Chachi had made the association of the bath tub with the undesirable consequence of getting a bath.

Another owner explains how great at communicating his Yorkie is, saying:

When I accidentally close the inside door where Cooper can’t come in through the Doggie Door, he will go to the door and bark, and then come to us and bark.

The same owner tells us that his Yorkie will “bark at his food and water bowl when he is out of either.” He adds, “I know he has a million human words that he just wishes he could speak.

Dogs and humans don’t speak the same language, of course. But this owners’ Yorkie has learned how to get what he wants through verbal cues. Most owners seem to agree on this special ability in their Yorkie. After all, Yorkies are top lap dogs and companions for a reason.

These are just a few stories of how intuitive and adaptable these dogs can be. Ask any Yorkshire Terrier owner and you’ll surely hear the same kind of stories. 

Is Your Yorkie Intelligent?

Sometimes, to find answers to questions like these, it’s better to ask the people with the real-life experience. We’re talking about real Yorkshire Terrier owners.

So, we decided to survey the Yorkie Subreddit and Yorkie Talk to ask real owners this question. Here’s what they had to say to this question.

Real Owner Answers

1. Irishhawk says Yes:I think Yorkies are incredibly smart, intuitive dogs. My dog seems to be very good at observing my behavior and he can predict my next moves.

2. Archie says Yes:I find it scary just how smart these little yorkie dogs are. Living with Buddy is like having a room mate who bosses me around on a daily basis.

3. Jenniferleigh says Yes:I always knew Yorkies were smart, but it wasn’t until I had one that I realized how smart they really were.

4. Mscat says Yes:My Suzi responds to certain words which makes her understand what I am saying. I have heard that Yorkies are hard to train because they are strong willed. But, that does not mean that they are dumb.

5. Deandarra says Yes:My yorkie is far smarter than any dogs that i’ve owned…and i’ve owned a lot. Even compared to my lab, which is supposed to be way smarter.”

6. Jayreddmethod says Yes:I’m not sure if my Yorkie is a genius…but training her for tricks/commands was the easiest thing ever. Potty training a little more difficult, but not bad at all.”

7. Katyyorkie says Yes:Buster is very smart. He only needs to be asked one time to do something. Family and friends are amazed at the things he can do especially when is only asked one time.

8. Jenncannm says Yes:Pippa is one of the most intuitive yorkies i’ve ever met. She has a very high understanding of whats going on and is super obedient!

9. Sierrapadre_ says Yes:They don’t look it but they’re sneaky smart. When you least expect them to understand, they use it to take advantage of the situation! My Yorkies too smart for his own good.”

10. Jensencosmos says Yes:My yorkie may be a little stubborn and strong willed, but in no scenario can I call her dumb. She’s very understanding on what’s happening, beyond just commands and tricks.

Smart Toys for Smart Yorkies

Smart dogs aren’t for everybody. In fact, some owners suggest that it’s “easier” to raise a less intelligent dog. Much of this is because smart dog breeds need a lot of mental stimulation, Yorkie included.

Without enough mental stimulation, it could potentially lead to some destructive behavior. While Yorkies may not be able to do much damage, it’s still essential to provide them with their needs.

Unfortunately, not all owners have the time or energy to provide this for their smart dogs. However, a great way to help out is to provide smart toys and dog puzzles for your Yorkie.

Smart toys and puzzles will keep your dogs entertained as they try to “figure out” the toy. As long as you’re supervising or they’re in a crate, it’ll let you catch your breath. Here are some of my favorites. 

The Outward Hound Interactive Plush Toy is fantastic for Yorkies. My miniature Aussie absolutely loves this. Plus, it’s a really cute plush toy. It’s a hide and seek toy where the dog has to figure out how to take out the squirrels. 

If you want this, make sure to get a small size for your Yorkie. It’s one of the highest rated dog toys on Amazon for a reason. 

Another fantastic dog puzzle that my dogs and I love is the Nina Ottosson Dog Puzzle. It’s highly interactive and requires your Yorkie to move away / slide parts to get to the treats! It’ll keep them entertained for quite a while. 

I’d highly recommend checking it out at Amazon here. They have a few different variations but I went with this one because it seemed a bit more challenging.  

Finally, I recommend the StarMark Bob-A-Lot. Hide your treats (or kibbles) in there and watch as your Yorkie learns to bob the toy in a certain direction.

Not only can it keep your Yorkie mentally active, but it’s also has a dual chamber for both kibbles and treats! Make sure to get a small size at Amazon.

When you’re debating whether to bring back a Yorkie, don’t make your decision based on how intelligent they are. Instead of picking dogs by intelligence, you should be picking them based on temperaments.

Does the dog fit your needs and personality? Yorkies are the ultimate companion and lap dogs. Though small, they have a huge personality. Bring one home and you won’t regret it!

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Becky

Tuesday 9th of February 2021

My male dog Stitch is not quite a year old. I cannot keep him entertained. I bought three interactive toys supposed to take days or weeks to figure out and he has them done in a minute, maybe two. If I won't play fetch with a particular toy, he will go get a different one to see if that makes a difference. He has taught our 8 year old German Shepherd that he is NOT too small to place with. They play keep away, come and get me, wrestling until the GSD begs to go outside to get some peace and quiet. I know he is trying to tell me things and I am too stupid to understand his language! He is learning mine instead.

Richard Russ

Monday 9th of November 2020

My little man Sam, he's 13 years old and he is the smartest little dog that I've ever seen. He will let me know when he wants a treat, you let me know when he wants to eat, go outside, someone's at the door, one day I was at a friend's and I was drinking water in a bottle, and he kept knocking over my bottle and he did this for like three times and I said to him what do you want do you want to drink ? Then He barked at me I got him a bowl of water and yes that is what he wanted! Freak me out! Is a very intelligent dog I talk to him like he's a human and he listens.

Jo

Saturday 17th of October 2020

We have a yorkie, Penelope, and a German shepherd, Willow. If Willow has something Penelope wants Penelope will go to the garden door and start barking. Willow will drop what she has to go see what Penelope is barking at then Penelope will run and get what it was that Willow dropped. Whenever she barked I'd go to the window to see what she was barking at and there was never anything there. It was then I realized she was distracting Willow away from the item.

Allan Sabiski

Wednesday 25th of March 2020

Evie is a 10+ year old yorkie that I swear is human. She has saved me from getting hit by 2 bikes and a car. Saved toddler John from getting hit by a car, when I had sciatica she would sense when I was in pain and find a place for me to sit, my wife and I were talking about how extensive her vocabulary is. She jumps down and yawns, I say big yawn, she yawns, I say big yawn. This went on for a few minutes until I got distracted. I can go on, and on. About 5 years ago, Evie was walking dragging her leash and little John picks up the leash and we think its cute. All of a sudden she pulls him off the road. Car comes around the corner.

Mary Hohl

Tuesday 28th of January 2020

My ten month Yorkie was shown not to pull ornaments off the Christmas tree. She did fine the first day but day two she backed her body into the tree and and kept shaking the tree until and ornament fell which she would grab and learn. She does these types of skills to get what she wants without disobeying me. Too smart !