How Smart Are Huskies? Everything We Know About Their Intelligence

© iStock.com/Elayne Massaini

Written by Mandy Trotti

Updated: September 22, 2023

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Huskies are known for their beautiful coats, incredible sled-pulling abilities, and love of talking. They are also one of the most popular dog breeds in the United States because of their gentle and athletic nature. But how smart are huskies? Below we explore their intelligence and how they compare to other popular breeds.   

Exploring the Intelligence of Huskies

How smart are huskies? To understand the answer, we must first know how intelligence is measured in dogs. Regarding dog intelligence, there are three categories: instinctive, adaptive, and working and obedience intelligence. These categories measure the different skill sets that every dog possesses. However, each dog breed is naturally more gifted in at least one category than others. Huskies are athletic and have strong survival skills and a strong prey drive. They are also independent problem solvers famous for escaping from their crates. But how are these skills incorporated into their intelligence? We dive into these important skills and how they reflect the different types of intelligence in huskies.

Siberian huskies sitting up in the snow

Huskies are intelligent pack animals and affectionate pets.

©iStock.com/Автор

The Cognitive Capabilities of Huskies: Understanding Their Problem-Solving Skills and Brain Size

We can’t yet answer the question, “How smart are huskies?” But understanding their cognitive capabilities is a great start. They have an average-sized brain for a medium-sized dog. However, their brains may be smaller than their ancestors. Regardless, their cognitive capabilities are strong, making them intelligent and energetic pack animals and affectionate pets. 

The Chukchi people originally bred and raised Siberian huskies in northeastern Asia. They were companion dogs and sled dogs. But at the beginning of the 20th century, this wonderful breed gained attention for its consistent success in Alaskan sled races. 

In 1925, Siberian huskies gained fame by saving people in Nome, Alaska. At the height of the diphtheria epidemic, teams of sled dogs fought through blizzards and extreme cold to bring life-saving medicine almost 700 miles to the isolated city. The most famous Alaskan Husky is Balto, who belonged to the musher Leonhard Seppala. Balto and a team of sled dogs raced to Nome to stop the spread of the disease. A monument to Balto is mounted in the Cleveland Museum of Natural History to honor the brave canine hero.  

Guiding sleds require huskies to communicate, be familiar with their surroundings, and understand directions. Although they often have a guide, it’s possible that guides lose their sense of direction with only their sled dogs to help get them back home. These accomplishments highlight the skills that make Siberian huskies an intelligent dog breed.

Below we explore their intelligence further by covering how they exhibit other forms of intelligence and where they rank compared to other dog breeds and get closer to answering the question “How smart are huskies?” 

Sled dogs running in a race wearing paw protection

Siberian huskies were originally bred to be companion and sled dogs.

©iStock.com/Jeff Manes

Huskies’ Learning Aptitude: How Quick and Adaptive Are They?

Although Siberian huskies are working dogs, they excel in adaptive intelligence. Adaptive intelligence measures a dog’s ability to learn from and adapt to their environment. Independent-minded dogs, such as the Siberian husky, quickly solve problems without human interference. 

When the climate began to change, the semi-nomadic Chukchi people expanded their hunting grounds and helped huskies develop into skillful sled dogs. As a result, Siberian huskies were trained to travel long distances across the frozen wastelands, hauling light loads behind them. This unique skill taught huskies to pace themselves and use their energy wisely to complete tasks and survive in the wild. Their endurance and athletic capability come from adapting to their environment.  

Today, huskies have a reputation for cleverly escaping from their enclosures by any means possible. Huskies are curious by nature and have a strong prey drive. These strong instincts can make them unpredictable, which is frustrating for training purposes, but is a sign of their intuitive or instinctive intelligence. They respond to a combination of their environment and their pack to do what is needed to survive or get what they want. 

Now that we have insight into the capabilities of huskies, we can answer the question, “How smart are huskies?”

Cute beautiful red husky dog in the forest landscape of a coniferous winter forest.

Huskies adapt to their environment to survive and get their way with their leaders.

©Konstantin Zaykov/Shutterstock.com

Intelligence Ranking: Where Do Huskies Stand Among Other Breeds?

So, how smart are huskies? According to leading canine psychologist, Dr. Stanley Coren, huskies ranked 74th out of 138 dog breeds he tested for intelligence and obedience. This score puts them in the category of average intelligence. According to the obedience tests, huskies need 25-40 repetitions to learn a new command. That means a husky can take a few hours to understand and retain a new order depending on its complexity. During the test, they also obeyed a known command on the first try 50% of the time. 

That’s not bad. Other popular breeds in the same intelligence class include dachshunds, boxers, and Great Danes. However, the top 10 most intelligent dogs are in a league of their own. These highly-intelligent dog breeds can learn a new command within five repetitions or less. They also successfully obeyed a known command on the first try 95% of the time. The most intelligent dog breeds in this class include the border collie, poodle, German shepherd, Rottweiler, and Labrador retriever.   

Although huskies aren’t at the top of the list of the most intelligent dog breeds, they are still bright. However, their stubbornness can get in the way. In fact, the Siberian husky is on the list of the top 10 most stubborn dog breeds. Oftentimes, independent-minded dogs’ intelligence gets overlooked because they don’t always show off what they can do. Rather than seek the approval of their handlers, huskies are determined to test the dominance of the pack. As a result, they didn’t perform as well in Coren’s tests despite being intelligent, effective communicators. 

A husky-like dog jogging on a natural dirt/grass trail. A man dressed in white knee socks, black shorts, and a grey long sleeved shirt is frame right holding a retractable leash with a blue casing/handle. A child dressed in a multi-colored plaid dress and a light blue sleeveless tank top with black design is running behind them Golden grasses and trees with green leaves complete the scene.

Huskies require a lot of exercise and attention to be happy.

©iStock.com/TRAVELARIUM

Unlocking the Huskies’ Intelligence Potential: Training Techniques and Mental Stimulation

Most Siberian huskies are intelligent but also stubborn and mischievous. Their willingness to challenge the leader of the pack can sometimes overshadow their intelligence and make them appear lazy. But this doesn’t mean they don’t understand you. There’s a good chance your husky knows what you’re asking but has other priorities. However, this may be a sign to take a break from training or find new ways to engage them.   

Now that we know the answer to the question, “How smart are huskies?” It’s time to figure out how to unlock their intelligence through training and mental stimulation. 

Training

No two huskies are alike. As a result, it’s important to find a training system that works for you and your dog. Their effective communication skills can make training easier. If you teach them new commands or tricks it is important to remain patient and firm in your expectations. It’s also important to be consistent and use positive reinforcement.

Training a husky isn’t impossible, but it may be more difficult than training a dog who is instinctively eager to please. Taking your time with repetitions and using strong motivators will make training easier. Food is one of their primary motivators, but you can also use one of their favorite toys. The best thing to do is test training methods or rewards to see what aligns with your dog’s personality and temperament.   

Mental Stimulation

Like all working dogs, Siberian huskies need a lot of mental stimulation to be happy and healthy. Some of the most popular activities include nose work, interactive puzzles, playing hide and seek, or teaching them new tricks. Huskies require a lot of care and attention. Otherwise, they can become stressed or bored. Incorporating mentally stimulating activities into their daily routine will minimize hyperactivity and bad behavior and improve their intelligence.

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About the Author

Mandy Trotti is a writer at A-Z Animals where her primary focus is on pets and travel. Mandy has been writing professionally for three years and holds a Bachelor's Degree in English Literature from the University of South Florida, which she earned in 2022. A resident of Florida, Mandy enjoys going on walks with her rescue beagle, visiting botanical gardens, and watching the sunset on the beach.

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