6 Proven Methods to Make Your Dog Smarter

Dr. Mark is a veterinarian. He has been working with dogs for more than 40 years.

Though the Internet might try to tell you otherwise, any dog can be trained to be smarter.

How to Make Your Dog Smarter

Is it natural for dogs to learn new words and odd behaviors? It might not be easy, but it can definitely be done. All dogs have a basic level of intelligence based on their nature:

  • They are easy to house train because it is natural not to mess up their home.
  • They are easy to train for bite-inhibition because it is natural to respect the leader.
  • They are easy to obedience-train when we ask them to perform natural movements like “sit” and “lie down.”

A dog is more attuned to his owner and easier to train when he is socialized. The more you talk or give hand signals to your dog and work on giving commands, the more likely your dog will learn new commands. A lot of people consider assistance dogs intelligent, but anyone who prepares them knows they have to be very well socialized. If not, they are never going to be selected as assistance dogs.

My dog practicing kinhin, Zen walking meditation, as she helps collect seaweed for my garden

My dog practicing kinhin, Zen walking meditation, as she helps collect seaweed for my garden


6 Tips for Raising an Intelligent Dog

  1. Practice physical manipulation every day. This is most important when your puppy is very young, but daily handling will make your dog more willing to accept changes and willing to learn new commands
  2. Socialize your dog. This is especially important during the sensitive period before 16 weeks. It will help your dog if you take him out more often and expose him to new situations. A young puppy learns quickly, but even older dogs need to be socialized.
  3. Start training your dog as early as possible. Start as soon as you bring your puppy home. Early training will make your dog more trainable later and increase this type of intelligence.
  4. Provide continued exposure to tests and problems. Buy food bowls that make him use his intelligence to eat, and continually test his intelligence.
  5. Introduce new tricks and other commands during training. All dogs can learn new tricks, so keep looking for new things to teach him as he gets older.
  6. Give your dog lots of praise. Giving your dog positive reinforcement when he displays intelligent behavior will help perpetuate that behavior.
Early touching may make a puppy more willing to learn and perhaps more intelligent.

Smart Puppies and Early Obedience Training

Almost every one of us wants a dog that is considered smart. The path to intelligence should start early. Puppies can be touched and manipulated even before they are able to hear or see, and that mild stress (like holding the puppy away from his littermates for 15 seconds) makes their brains work harder and will lead to a more intelligent dog.

As soon as a puppy is about five weeks old, he will be able to learn basic obedience commands if taught in very short sessions. If your puppy is already eight weeks old when you bring him home, training should begin from the first day. For example, always say his name when he walks towards you, thus improving recall.

There may be some genetic limits, but the more you teach your dog and stretch his thinking, the more intelligent he’ll become. Also, focus on teaching your puppy the four basic commands that every dog should learn at an early age.

Early Socialization Is Key

Part of making your puppy more intelligent is exposure to novel situations through adequate socialization. The sensitive socialization period lasts until a puppy is about four months old; during that time, he needs to be exposed to many new things to increase his adult intelligence.

Take your dog out (on a leash, of course) so that he sees things like bicycles, joggers, loud trucks and busy streets, other dogs, and any other novel situations that you may have in your area.

Continued Intelligence Training for Dogs

Concept Practice
Expose your dog to tests and problems. Try a problem-solving food dish, calling your dog while he is blindfolded, etc.
Introduce new tricks and commands. Teach your dog to back up, climb stairs, etc.
Praise intelligent behavior. Let your dog know that you are pleased with him when he does display intelligent behavior.

Intelligence Scores: Will This Really Make My Dog Smart?

Recently, I discussed this subject with a misguided young man who wanted to select his dog based on the breed’s intelligence score. Intelligence scores, of course, are determined by humans and are a human method of deciding which breed is the most intelligent. For some, most intelligent means most trainable. But in my eyes, most trainable does not mean most intelligent.

Some breeds are considered more intelligent because they are easier to train than others. Border Collies, Poodles, and German Shepherds are easy to train and rank high on many intelligence lists. When I was young, the German Shepherd was considered the most intelligent breed since they had won most of the obedience awards at dog shows. Later, a Border Collie was made famous since he could remember over 200 words and knew how to string some of the words together. Labrador Retrievers are also popular in this area because they have made the list of “The 10 Most Intelligent Dog Breeds.”

What happens when you take an “intelligent” dog breed and ask it to do something contrary to its breed intelligence? Can you teach a Border Collie to kill chickens like a Siberian Husky? (Okay, maybe that’s not the best example, but anyone who has owned a Siberian will realize why that is one of the first things I thought of.) Can you teach a French Bulldog to point out birds in the field and retrieve them without damaging the flesh? Can you teach your German Shepherd to run rabbits like a Beagle?

My dog, a Pitbull cross, is intelligent enough to shepherd the rabbits and collect coconuts on the beach. I have also trained her as a seizure alert dog, and she also acts as a full-time therapist. Her main job is to guard my house.

Is my dog more intelligent?

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