Are Australian Shepherds intelligent dogs? Find out what real Australian Shepherd owners think.

Are Australian Shepherds Smart? The Truth on Why They’re Ranked So Low on Intelligence

If you’re still debating on keeping an Australian Shepherd, research is important. One of the most common questions I get about my Aussie is: are Australian Shepherds Smart? How smart are Aussies?

Yes, Australian Shepherds are intelligent dogs. In fact, they’re tied for the 65th smartest dog breed – according to famed researcher Stanley Coren. Although they’re technically classified as a breed with “average” intelligence, they excel in many other areas of expertise among dogs. 

Many dog owners reference Coren’s list of dog intelligence to judge how smart a dog breed is. However, following the list may not always be the best way to gauge a dog’s smarts, especially with the Australian Shepherd.

RECOMMENDED: The Owner’s Guide to Australian Shepherds

Australian Shepherd Intelligence According to Owners

Australian Shepherd owners answer the age-old question: are Australian Shepherds intelligent dogs?

In order to really gauge how smart Australian Shepherds are, we surveyed 10 real Aussie owners on the popular sub reddit for Australian Shepherds. Here’s what they had to say:

1. Nothinginparticular says [YES]: “Mine is super smart in that she’s easily trainable, knows how to get what she wants, very expressive and communicative. Also a big ditzy goofball who runs into stuff and hits her head a lot.”

2. Emgerly says [MIXED]: “We call mine the “smartest idiot you’ll ever meet.” He knows so many tricks and listens to commands so well, but fake throw a ball and he goes running EVERY TIME. One time he even jumped up on my desk and couldn’t figure out how to get back down the way he came. I can also call him by any name and he genuinely thinks it’s his.”

3. Squanchyfetuss says [YES]: “Mine was potty trained at 8 weeks. Probably the smartest boy ever. Maybe five or less accidents in 2 years since he was 8 weeks old…he’s great off leash because he walks right next to me. Best dog I’ve had.”

4. Forest1000 says [YES]: “My Lexus is too smart for her own good, most of the time. She “talks” to my kids on Facetime and will perform commands over FT. She’s learned the sound for Skype and FT calls. Runs for her Kong when someone calls to show them she can do tricks. She knows about 60 words.”

5. Adeniumesper says [NO]: “Is anyone else’s Aussie…dumb? I got him fully expecting this intelligent being, but my god. He’s so ditzy and goofy! Wouldn’t trade him for anything but goodness.”

6. Carmen315 says [YES]: “Mine is so smart and so athletic but she cannot catch anything you throw to her even if her life depended on it.”

7. Winsomedimsum says [MIXED]: “Yeah mine is probably about as sharp as a dull 4 year old human, she’ll shake your hand and she’ll play dead if you pretend to shoot her with finger guns, but she’s also scared of random objects like blankets and shadows.”

8. Schlepenheimer says [YES]: “I’ve owned..two Aussies. My Aussies have been very trainable and intelligent, but they know how to relax as well, and really seemed to love ALL people and other dogs.”

9. Becca723 says [YES]: “She’s adorable. She’s incredibly smart and loves to learn tricks. My Aussie does every thing she can to make me happy. She loooooves to cuddle.”

10. Riansettles says [YES]: “Full of life these dogs are. Unlimited energy. So smart also. Sometimes we wish we bought a dumb dog. Lol. Kidding of course. Love all Aussies.”

Owner Survey Recap

Keep in mind that this is a very small sample size. Still, out of ten real Australian Shepherds, 70% said their Aussie was very smart.

In addition, 20% has mixed feelings and say they’re probably average intelligent. The remaining 10% claims that their Australian Shepherd is not smart at all.

As you can see, the owners of these dogs tell a very different story.

Why are Aussies Ranked So Low (for Intelligence)? 

There are a number of reasons why Australian Shepherds are ranked so low on the dog intelligence list.

As mentioned, Stanley Coren the acclaimed professor of Psychology, conducted a trial to measure the intelligence of dogs. You check out his published book here. Despite so many real owners claiming their Aussie to be very intelligent, why did they rank so low on his list? There are a number of reasons.

Can’t Standardize Intelligence

Stanley Coren did his standardized intelligence test based off two very specific criteria. The first was based on the number of repetitions necessary to understand and learn a new command.

The second criterion was the percentage that the dog will obey the command on the first try. For reference, Australian Shepherds were estimated to get the command right on the first try 50% of the time.

The problem with this is that different breeds and individual dogs have different motivators. For this reason, making a standardized test can really skew results.

Given the criteria, this really seems a little bit more like an obedience test than an intelligence test. Just because your Australian Shepherd doesn’t obey the first time around, doesn’t mean they don’t understand what you were saying.

Still, the trials that Stanley conducted are a great starting point – but does not tell the whole story on dog intelligence.

Australian Shepherds’ Expertise

As you may already know, Australian Shepherds may not be the most “biddable” dogs. And as we discussed, this doesn’t mean they’re dumb dogs. However, there are other areas of dog expertise that Australian Shepherds truly excel at.

For instance, they’re some of the best herders in the world! Give them a herding job and they’ll thrive at it. Owners who use these dogs to herd say they’re the best at herding cattles. On the contrary, Border Collies are the best at herding sheep.

These fun-loving dogs also enjoy swimming – and they’re great at it! Some owners claim that they can’t keep their Australian Shepherd away from the water (here’s what they said).

Energetic Fun-loving Dogs

It’s no secret that Australian Shepherds are ultra-energetic and hyper dogs. Plus, they love to have fun. Because of their temperament and personality, Aussies probably can’t stand being still and doing obedience tests. For this reason, it’s not a surprise they performed so poorly on the trial tests.

Like we mentioned, Australian Shepherds have different motivators than other dogs. They’re not necessarily disobedient dogs either – they’ll do just about anything that you want! As long as you can keep them interested in the task at hand, they’ll comply with no problems.

The best way to do this is to turn obedience training into a game. Some dog breeds like the Border Collie (smartest dog) do extremely well because they enjoy working for the sake of working. Australian Shepherds are hardworking, but need to be assigned a job or task.

Does Australian Shepherd Intelligence Matter?

It doesn't really matter is your Australian Shepherd is considered smart or not.

Just like all dog breeds, not all Australian Shepherds may be intelligent. But does it really matter if they are? The truth is, your Aussie really doesn’t need to be that smart. Nearly all dogs are smart enough to provide what most owners need.

The most important thing is that your Aussie is loving and affectionate. Instead, ask: do Australian Shepherds get along with me (my family) and my personality? Unless you plan on teaching your dog important complicated tasks, then it’s almost pointless to have a breed like a German Shepherd or Border Collie.

Rather than focusing on a dog intelligence list that focuses on obedience and commands, focus on developing a dog for your own specific needs. There’s a lot of things that Aussies are highly capable of doing.

Do you own an Australian Shepherd? If so, let us know in the comments section below – is your Australian Shepherd smart?

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