Dogs Are Smarter Than You Think: Here’s Why

Written by Marisa Wilson
Updated: January 24, 2023
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Dogs have been man’s best friend as far back as anyone can remember. Just how smart are dogs? Some people believe dogs can fetch and be cute, but research has gone much further to prove otherwise. We’re learning more and more about our canine companions every day. It’s always helpful to learn everything you can about what you love. You can get to know their potential and find out ways to help them improve their intelligence with this helpful article.

Why Dogs are Smarter Than You Think

Why do some people underestimate dogs? Until the 1900s, there was no way to understand how dogs’ brains work or what they were able to comprehend. In the 20th century, there were several studies, including taking images of different dog brains and comparing them. Studies have shown that dogs display many behaviors associated with intelligence, such as:

  • Demonstrate a theory of mind by engaging in deception.
  • They have advanced memory skills.
  • Capable of reading body language in humans
  • Responding to hand gestures like pointing
  • follow voice commands
  • They can feel simple emotions such as pain, excitement, love, and anger. 
  • A developmental milestone that occurs during a human baby’s life is called object permanence, which dogs understand.
  • Dogs can differentiate between other dogs regardless of the other dogs’ appearance or traits.
  • Voice-response areas exist in the brains of dogs that show a similar response pattern to that in humans.
  • Dogs can recall, to a certain extent, past events.
  • They can learn the names of objects and collect the item from several choices.

Ability to Understand Human Speech

Dogs have receptive language that is comparable to 12 to 18-month-old infants. Their mental capabilities are on the same level as a two-year-old human! On average, a dog can learn around 165 words. Dogs that are above average are capable of learning up to 250 words. While commanding your dog to do tricks, you can use any language as part of your training. It’s entirely possible to train your dog in several languages to do the same tricks or commands. While their language abilities are substantial, their level of understanding is beneficial to humans for plenty of reasons.

Intelligent Breeds

Border Collie

Border Collies can fetch sheep and corral them, which requires a high level of intelligence. This is due to them having a high and adaptive IQ. Border Collies can “fast map” like humans. Fast mapping is forming a vague hypothesis of a new word after only hearing it once.

Golden Retriever

These dogs have a keen ability to read humans and have incredible communication skills. Golden Retrievers make excellent choices for working as service dogs and hunting dogs. They are also great for emotional support due to their responsiveness to human emotions. Not all dogs have this strong of ability, but neither do some humans. 

German Shepherds

German Shepards can learn and retain new skills with alarming speed and consistency. One outstanding job this dog can train to do is find bombs. If that doesn’t prove that dogs are intelligent, there’s no way to change your mind. Humans needing assistance from a dog speak volumes about how brilliant they are.

How Dogs Help Humans 

Dog’s brains can vary based on multiple factors such as breed and genetics. How smart are dogs? They are smart enough to aid humans that need assistance in their daily lives. For example, a dog can guide someone with vision impairment to the store. They protect the human from walking into a wall or something more dangerous like a car or ledge. The dog is taught intelligent disobedience, which means it will not obey a command if it sees a danger the human missed.

Aside from seeing-eye dogs, they have other uses, such as helping someone who has Epilepsy. They are trained to get help by retrieving a phone or pressing a life alert button. Another excellent example of how intelligent dogs are is that law enforcement needs their assistance. Dogs have been used for years to help find people in the wake of disasters, search for drugs and even restrain bad guys. Dogs can be trained to detect scents and follow them to the source, detect when a person is in distress, and locate hidden items. 

3 Toys to Boost Your Dog’s Intelligence

If you want to improve your furry companion’s intellect, you can get a few simple toys for them. Toys are excellent for encouraging independent play, so they can still be learning when you aren’t training your dog.

1. Pet Zone IQ Treat Dispenser Ball Dog Toy

This toy offers the ability to adjust difficulty levels. It’s great for finding a starting point of where your dog already is and still getting several uses out of the toy while your dog learns and makes advancements. The interactive obstacles aid in mental and physical exercise.

Best Treat Dispenser
Pet Zone IQ Treat Dispenser Ball Dog Toy
  • Help dog to eat slower
  • Difficulty can be adjusted
  • Easy to clean
  • Stimulates your dog during playtime
Check Chewy

2. TRIXIE Flower Tower Activity Strategy Game Dog Toy

This fun strategy game is great for dogs to develop problem-solving skills. The game has multiple levels that change the hiding places and require different techniques for getting a treat. It can also be configured in several ways that will make it an excellent tool for stimulating their brains.

Best Strategy Game
TRIXIE Flower Tower Activity Strategy Game Dog Toy
  • Develop problem-solving skills
  • Require different techniques
  • Can change the difficulty level
  • Comes with non-skid rubber feet
Check Chewy

3. Nina Ottosson by Outward Hound Casino Puzzle Game Dog Toy

If your dog is already advanced, try a level-three difficulty toy like this. Keeping your dog stimulated mentally is crucial to encourage their brains to remain sharp. It is a simple setup that will promote learning and be fun too.

Best Advanced Toy
Nina Ottosson by Outward Hound Casino Puzzle Game Dog Toy
  • Level-three difficulty
  • Very easy to clean
  • Suitable for all dogs
  • Mental stimulation for your dog
Check Chewy

The photo featured at the top of this post is © Ksenia Raykova/

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About the Author

Creepy-crawly creatures enthrall Marisa. Aside from raising caterpillars, she has a collection of spiders as pets. The brown recluse is her favorite spider of all time. They're just misunderstood. You don't have to worry about squishing the creatures as her catching, and relocating abilities can safely move stray centipedes or snakes to a new location that's not your living room.

FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

How can I ensure my puppy will have the best brain development?

Besides starting training as soon as your puppy can, spending time playing with your puppy and holding them will significantly help. The pup should also be given a diet that includes DHA in their dog food. Check with your vet at your pup’s check-up to ensure the diet is appropriate for your pet, and ask about any supplements they recommend for their brain development.

How can I help make my adult dog smarter?

If you want to improve how smart your dogs are you can do several things for them, such as:

Allowing them to watch other dogs do the tricks you want them to learn
Keep adding new commands or tricks during training times
Give praise because positive reinforcement will encourage intelligent behavior
Incorporate toys that require problem-solving skills, such as the ones from the three dog toys listed above. 

How big is a dog's brain?

The size of a dog’s brain is equivalent to that of a tangerine. This means that the dog has a lot of surface area and not as many folds or tissue as humans or high-level thinkers would have. The human brain-to-body ratio relies on how brains compare to body size. Humans have a 1:40 brain to body ratio, while dogs have a 1:125 ratio.

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