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How Smart Is Your Dog?

Find out where yours ranks among the10 brightest breeds -- and whether smarter dogs make better pets.

Do Smart Dogs Make Better Pets?

You might think a smart dog will do what you want it to do. Not necessarily.

"Smart doesn't mean easy," Coren says.

"A Doberman is going to get bored and destroy your sofa and vase collection if you're out of the house for 8 to 10 hours a day, while an English bulldog may take 8 hours to figure out you're gone," Coren says. "You'll come home and he'll greet you and your pottery is still on the shelf."

A border collie is bred to work all day, so if it doesn't have an opportunity to work or exercise, it will be miserable, says Chris Redenbach, an Atlanta-based dog trainer who runs The Balanced Dog training program. "Typically, it'll come out in other areas, like destructiveness, running away, nipping at kids."

Having a smart dog "is like having a very smart kid," Redenbach says. "They're always into something and will get into trouble if they're bored.

Coren says his beloved beagle, a breed that scored low in obedience tests, is perfect around Coren's nine grandchildren because he doesn't seem to mind -- or remember -- them pulling on his ears.

Veterinarian Sophia Yin, an animal behaviorist in Davis, Calif., tells people to seriously evaluate the amount of energy they have compared to the breed they want to get.

"Are they the type of person who can exercise it a few hours a day? How much time are they willing to invest in training the dog, because the more energetic the dog is, the more training he might need," she says. "When they think they want a smart dog, it's a huge misconception. They don't need smart; they need attentive." 

Can You Teach a Dumb Dog New Tricks?

If your canine seems clueless, it may be that it has been bred to be more independent or not so eager to please its owner, Yin says.

Training will require more patience and the right kind of motivation, whether it's praise, petting, or treats.

"For breeds, instincts make a difference, but for the basics - 'sit,' 'come,' 'down' - they'll all learn at the same rate. With good technique, the difference might be a month," she says.

Her Australian cattle dog, for example, stays at her side when they're out and loves a pat on the head. Her Jack Russell terrier, a high-energy breed that didn't make the smart list, has to be rewarded lickety-split with a treat or he'll lose interest in learning. A pat on the head just won't do it.

The beagle, a breed trained to work independently, probably needs more training time, Yin says. And the bulldog, which scored well below average on obedience tests, can learn quickly -- as long as he doesn't feel pushed around or punished.

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