Is Your Dog Smart? 9 Signs of Dog Intelligence

english bulldog puppy sitting by a chess board

Some dog breeds are known for their high intelligence while others have a reputation for not catching on to things quite as quickly. But, dogs are individuals, there are exceptions to every rule, and intelligence can be shown in a variety of ways. Is your dog smart? Here are some signs of dog intelligence to help you answer the question:

1. They Quickly Learn Tricks and Commands During Training

A dog that quickly learns tricks and commands is generally showing one of the signs of dog intelligence. However, this isn’t the end-all, be-all of dog intelligence. Many dogs understand commands and simply choose not to respond because something else suits them better, they’re bored, they’re having a stubborn streak, or they just don’t see the point of performing for you at the moment.

Another thing that indicates intelligence in dogs is the ability to learn and interpret when tricks or specific actions are rewarded. If your dog stops responding to a command they used to complete successfully once you no longer provide a reward or treat for it, they may be smart enough to recognize that responding to that command no longer benefits them the way they want.

At the same time, a dog that responds to a command from over a year ago with no practice is showing skill with long-term memory. Some of the smartest dog breeds are those that pick up on things quickly and retain that information for long periods of time.

2. Your Dog Recognizes Guests

When your dog recognizes a new guest after only one or two visits, it can be a sign of dog intelligence. A friendly greeting is a sign of recognition as is your dog bringing a toy to a guest who has previously played with them, especially if it’s the specific toy the guest used previously.

Sometimes this is just a coincidence and is the sign of a very friendly dog. But, it can also indicate better memory skills and a good long-term memory. Dogs who tend to forget new people and objects tend to have poorer long-term memory or just get too distracted when they get excited.

3. They Use Their Paws to Their Advantage

A dog that knows how to use their paws to their advantage is often showing signs of dog intelligence. They may use their paws to fetch things from beneath furniture, flush the toilet, open the door, swipe things off the table, and more.

Just because your dog may wait for you to retrieve their toy or help them out doesn’t mean they aren’t smart. Dogs that use their paws just tend to be better at doing things for themselves and thinking outside the box in order to get what they want.

4. Your Dog Shows Signs of Adaptive Intelligence

If your dog seems to give thought to things that will have negative outcomes and then avoid them, they may be showing signs of adaptive intelligence. If they have been sprayed by a skunk before and you’ve had to de-skunk your dog or they had an encounter with a porcupine they didn’t like and they avoid engaging with those animals in the future, this could be a sign of adaptive intelligence. It’s even more impressive if they’ve learned what to avoid by watching others or picking up on cues from you.

Essentially, they’ve either learned their lesson or they’ve evaluated the consequences on their own and then adjusted their behavior accordingly. The same thing applies to dogs that make connections with certain cues on their own. A dog that recognizes you’re leaving for a trip when a suitcase comes out and reacts to that cue means that they’re capable of making and remembering connections.

The same is true for a dog that learns what the word “vet” means. Whether they are excited about that or decide to hide when they hear it all depends on how much training and socialization you’ve done with vet appointments. It can be hard to keep those visits a positive and rewarding experience for your dog, but it can be done.

5. They Figure Out Challenging Toys or Puzzles Quickly

For many dogs, challenging games and puzzle toys can offer mental stimulation and keep them entertained for hours. If your dog tends to figure out puzzle toys in a matter of minutes or finishes a “challenging” game quickly, they’re showing signs of dog intelligence.

The same is true for dogs that quickly figure out the “trick” to treat-giving toys. For these dogs, you may want to avoid continued use of those toys to avoid overeating and potential weight gain that could cause issues later.

6. Your Dog Tries to Communicate With You

Dogs are always giving us cues in an attempt to communicate their needs and wants. As humans, we don’t always understand. A dog that goes to the door and barks likely wants or needs to go outside. A dog that brings you a leash likely wants to go for a walk. If they bring you a toy, they’re probably trying to initiate playtime.

Most dogs need to be trained into these cues during house training, but some come up with their own over the years. Dogs that try different cues on their own and then repeat the ones that work are not only showing adaptive intelligence, but are also showing social intelligence by trying to find communication that works. Sometimes, this results in our dogs training us!

7. They Tend to Get Into Trouble

If your dog tends to get into trouble, they may just be bored and need you to provide mental stimulation and/or more exercise. Destructive behaviors like chewing on things they shouldn’t, getting into the trash, and more can be signs of boredom. They can also be signs of stress or anxiety, so it’s important to pay closer attention to your dog to figure which it is.

But, dogs that are destructive due to being bored are also usually intelligent – they’re just finding ways to entertain themselves that you don’t necessarily like. By giving them more attention, giving them more exercise, and/or redirecting that boredom into something more preferable, you can often turn a destructive behavior into a constructive one easily. Oftentimes, dogs in these situations are understimulated and are looking for a job to do. This is particularly true for working dogs.

Digging can be another one of these “troublesome” behaviors. There are a lot of reasons why dog dig. Some dog breeds are just more prone to digging than others, but being bored and trying to find a job to do are some other reasons why dogs dig. Oftentimes, you can redirect the behavior. If digging is instinctual, you can often direct it to a particular area of the yard that is dedicated to being your dog’s area to dig.

8. Your Dog is an Escape Artist

Escaping can sometimes be a sign of separation anxiety, especially when paired with a lot of destruction, distress, or injury to your dog in trying to escape. This is different from a dog who is a talented escape artist because they prefer to be free and roam about.

These dogs usually will not injure themselves in a frenzy to get out like dogs with separation anxiety sometimes tend to do. Instead, they’ll use their brains and figure out how to get out by jumping the fence, digging under it, unlocking a fence, opening a door, and more.

9. They Show Signs of Emotional Intelligence

A dog that senses when you are sad and tries to make you feel better is showing signs of emotional intelligence. They may cuddle with you when you are crying or feeling down. They may bring you their toys when you are sad to try and cheer you up. They may simply sit and refuse to leave your side until you feel better. All of these actions and more are signs of dog intelligence.

So, is your dog smart? Probably, and paying attention to how they are smart can help you better manage bad habits, train them, figure out new activities they’ll love, and make them happier overall.