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I’ve worked with my fair share of tail chasing, mouth breathing, and floor licking dogs, so when it came time for me to get one of my own, I really wanted to get a “smart” dog, so I went with a Standard Poodle.
Don’t get me wrong; he’s great and I love him. He can do all the normal tricks and it wasn’t that hard to teach him, but he certainly doesn’t have the mind-blowing level of intelligence that the Poodle breed has earned.
Still, though, I know he’s a cut above the rest, and certainly miles more intelligent than some of the dummies I’ve met in the past. But that kind of got me wondering what factors make a dog smart or…not so smart.
Maybe you’re wondering…why is my dog so stupid?
Breed, personality, history, and physicality all impact a dog’s perceived intelligence level. While some dogs may seem dumber than others, labels like “stupid” are counterproductive – just like with people. So long as your dog is in good health, you can engage with them in some fun activities to help equip them with more “smarts.”
Let’s take a closer look!
Is “Stupid” Really The Right Word?
“Stupid” is one of those words that I don’t like in any circumstance, but least of all when it comes to dogs.
It seems like it’s used as a catch-all phrase thrown around by fed-up owners generalizing about weird dog behavior they cannot explain.
If it was your child or your friend, you wouldn’t just say “well, they’re stupid” and leave it at that. Since your dog is kind of both, you should afford them the same understanding that you would give to a person.
Now, that said, the behavior of some dogs can certainly seem, well, dumb. And indeed, just like with people, there are degrees of intelligence.
But, barring a health disorder, very few dogs are just plain old stupid, and fewer still are beyond teaching.
We’ll get into all of this and more, but before we do, take a minute to check out this hilarious and still informative video of a pet-parent running her three dogs through a standardized dog “IQ test.”
Comedy aside, it gives a great peek into some of the troubles that come along with these types of tests and why “smart” is such a relative term:
Reason #1 – Breed
Most articles about dog intelligence speak in general terms about how some breeds are considered incredibly intelligent, like Border Collies, Poodles, German Shepherds, and Rottweilers while some that are famously less intelligent, like Shih Tzus, Afghan Hounds, and Bulldogs.
Most of these metrics are based on obedience which means that the breeds considered to be the most intelligent are usually the ones that can learn new tricks the fastest.
It’s important to keep in mind that these data end up being incredibly skewed because of the way that people measure them.
Sure, a Border Collie can very quickly learn to sit, stay, and bring you another beer; an Afghan would never be able to do that because it was never bred to take such specific directions from people.
Breeds like Afghans, Basenjis, and Blood Hounds typically top most lists of stupid dog breeds. However, what these lists are calling “stupid” is more often than not just independence. They just were not bred to respond to human commands like that.
An Afghan may be a great independent problem solver (at least when it comes to chasing squirrels and rats), but it will not be as trainable as a German Shepherd.
Unfortunately, that means a lot of people end up calling these breeds dumb.
Breed plays a major role in defining the traits that dogs are good at, but it does not necessarily indicate that one breed is smarter than another.
It may just mean that your dog is of a breed that is not predisposed to do the behaviors that we expect “smart” dogs to excel at.
Nevertheless, you will have to factor in your dog’s breed if you are trying to understand why they are not so quick to pick up what you’re putting down.
Reason #2 – Personality: Stubborn or Dumb?
Just like with people, a dog’s personality can be made up of a near-infinite number of combinations of traits.
If you think your dog may be stupid or dumb, be sure to ask yourself: Am I sure they aren’t just stubborn or lazy?
There are a ton of scenarios where a dog with certain personality traits may seem stupid to their owner. They may be average or even above-average intelligence, but their failure to do something that we expect makes us think that they are stupid.
A dog who refuses to lie down for a treat when you ask them to may just be stubborn.
A dog who is utterly disinterested in their new food distributing toy may just be too lazy to bother figuring it out.
You care enough about your dog to worry about their intelligence, so you should take the time to get to understand their personality and separate it from their actual intelligence level.
Reason #3 – Training
Let’s revisit this scenario described in the section above: You and your dog are standing across from one another, you with a treat, them, standing and staring with rapt attention.
You asked them to sit. They continue to stand, still with rapt attention.
You repeat “sit” and then repeat it again, all the while your dog continues to stand and stare.
Exasperated with your stupid dog, you give up, give him a treat, and walk away shaking your head.
This is a classic example of bad training.
By giving your dog the treat even when they refused to sit, you have removed your dog’s motivation to learn.
Why would they bother trying to figure out what you’re saying when all they have to do is wait?
Heck, they may think that they need to stand perfectly still in order to get the treat!
Be sure to take precise, well-thought-out steps when you are training your dog.
When you make a mistake while training, you are actually teaching them the incorrect behavior, which can be more harmful than doing nothing at all.
That’s not to say that doing nothing is at all positive.
Many dogs who have never received training will find it very difficult to learn new things and to problem-solve later in life.
If you have adopted your dog, even if it was a long time ago, keep in mind that what they were trained, or not trained, before you got them still impacts their intelligence and ability to learn new tasks now.
Reason #4 – Socialization
Your dog’s socialization, especially when they are puppies, plays two important roles in making a dog be or seen more stupid.
First, lots of social interactions with both other dogs and humans is an incredibly stimulating experience for your dog.
They feel new things, smell new smells, and engage with the world in a slightly different way than before.
Regular socialization helps dogs to understand the world that they will live in for the rest of their lives.
They’ve met a baby before, so it’s no surprise to meet one again. They’ve met all sorts of dogs, so why would they freak out when they saw one again?
Regular socialization will not only make them more intelligent, but it will also give them tools to communicate and, therefore, seem more intelligent.
Socializing with your dog gets them used to your voice, your inflection, conversations with other people, and a whole number of other behaviors and social cues.
When you call out their name, using that particular “come here” voice, a well-socialized dog will understand that you want them to come, even if they don’t understand exactly the words that you’re saying.
A dog who has less socialization may not understand your tone of voice or your body language. When you stare at them in the face holding a treat, asking them to sit, it may not be a matter of training but a matter of communication that is preventing your dog from understanding.
Your body posture and prolonged eye contact may seem intimidating to a dog who has not spent much time communicating with people.
This may result in a dog that does not seem as intelligent as they are or could be if they were given the proper tools.
Reason #5 – Exposure
Exposure to new dogs and people is very important, but perhaps even more important is getting your dog into new environments.
You may love to host and end up having lots of people and dogs come over to socialize. And you may end up with a very well socialized dog because of it.
But if your dog very seldom leaves your house, it will probably be a very overwhelming experience for them whenever they do leave.
A smart dog in an environment that they have never been before may act erratically or irrationally
Irrational, erratic behavior can easily be confused with stupidity if you do not understand where your dog is coming from or why it’s doing those behaviors.
Reason #6 – Energy
Even if you do not have a very active breed of dog, your dog will still probably have energy that they need to burn off regularly.
If your dog is not getting outside enough to burn off their energy, they may seem stupid.
You probably noticed similar patterns in yourself or your children. If you are burnt out from work, you may make a bonehead move like leave something in the oven or drive right past your house on the way home from work.
That feeling of pent-up tension causing you to be distracted is similar to how your dog feels if they don’t get enough exercise. They will lose focus on you or whatever it is that you’re asking for, as their mind is occupied elsewhere.
If your dog is normally very obedient and smart, or at least not stupid, but is now acting out of character, it may be that taking them for a good long walk is all you need to do.
Reason #7 – Age
A dog’s intelligence as it corresponds to their age is pretty much the exact same people.
When we are born, or pretty stupid. We don’t know anything and it takes a long time for us to equip ourselves with all the skills necessary to live and thrive.
We grow more intelligent and wise as we age until, at a certain point towards the end of our lives, we begin to lose our sharpness.
This may be because of a disease or an illness, but the fact remains that both dogs and people become less capable of making good decisions for themselves when they get very old.
A young dog hasn’t learned everything that it needs to, so take it easy on your puppy.
And keep your dog’s age in mind before you start calling them stupid. Larger breed dogs begin to be classified as senior dogs as early as 7 years old.
Reason #8 – Understimulated
It seems to be an unfortunate fact of life that lethargy, boredom, and disinterest are addictive.
A dog who is chronically bored or who has grown accustomed to the same old routine day after day, year after year, may lose some of their interest or excitement about learning new things.
If you have recently decided to turn over a new leaf and start training your couch potato of a dog for the first time, he may not be stupid, he may just be used to other, more predictable forms of stimulation.
It takes keeping your dog interested and their lives filled with enrichment to keep them wanting to learn new things and do things that you would perceive to be smart.
A dog who seems stupid may just be chronically disinterested.
Reason #9 – Hearing or Vision Problems
Up until frighteningly recently, many perfectly intelligent deaf or blind people were labeled dumb and shipped away to asylums.
Once we realized that these people simply had a sensory deprivation that made normal communication impossible, we came to realize that they have all of the intellectual capabilities of a person who can hear or see.
And this was in human beings, not dogs.
If your dog does not respond to commands or to their name when you call it may actually be suffering from hearing loss.
And a dog who walks into doors or has started falling off of the couch may actually be having vision problems.
Reason #10 – Health
Other health problems besides hearing or vision issues may cause your dog to do behaviors that seem stupid to you.
Malnutrition can occur even in dogs who are fed regularly, usually if they are fed the cheapest brand of food from the biggest store on the block.
Malnutrition can cause behaviors that could easily be perceived a stupid if their owner does not know the cause. So can a lot of other degenerative or neurological issues.
Your dog may also have had an accident recently and injured their head.
These issues may take many forms, so if your dog is behaving erratically or if you are at all concerned about them, take them to the vet immediately.
Reason #11 – Adjust Your Standards
What is it, actually, that makes you think your dog is stupid?
Did they poop on the floor again? Did they refuse to sit? Dig a hole in the backyard again? Did they run into traffic? Will they not stop barking?
Perhaps you just need to give your dog some slack. They are animals after all and we do ask a lot of them without even necessarily realizing it.
We take for granted that they are house trained, not aggressive, always in the mood to play, are always in good moods, the list goes on.
All of these things are why we love dogs. They are simple, easy, and a joy to share our lives with.
If you are worried that your dog isn’t the smartest tool in the shed, maybe that’s okay.
Maybe, rather than trying to push your dog to a higher standard than they can reasonably go, you should instead reevaluate your own standards of intelligence and what it is that you’re expecting your a little furry buddy to do.
How To Train a Dumb Dog
Ok so that said, there are a lot of fun, engaging activities that you and your dog can do together to help boost their IQ.
Let’s start with the basics.
Understand The Dumbness
It may seem kind of silly to take a deep dive into your dog’s dumbness but it is a necessary first step if you’re going to tackle the real problem at hand.
It may be that your dog acts stupid only in certain environments. Or that only certain people think that they are stupid. Or maybe you only think “my dog is dumb” when you are trying to train them.
Or it may be that they just have generalized stupidity. It happens.
Whatever it is, try to be open-minded and come to understand the source of your dog’s behavior, then work on that.
This advice is particularly important for you, my dear reader, who Googled “why is my dog so stupid?”
Do not give in to the frustration that lays before you as you try to train your “stupid” dog.
Dogs, just like people, learn best in a fun, positive environment where their actions are appropriately corrected and encouraged.
You’re not going to get your dog any smarter through negativity.
Finally, before we begin, keep your expectations here low. Showing marked improvement in intelligence is going to take time and it may only be a small amount.
Hopefully, your dog will internalize all of the separate tasks that we are about to talk about, but it may be that they just end up really good at training and never end up at the top of the class.
That’s okay, love your bonehead anyways.
Get your dog out of the house! That’s one of the best ways to shake off the dust and get excited about a new routine, both for dogs and for people.
Regular walks should be a part of your normal routine, but the path that your walk takes does not have to be regular.
Take your dog to the dog park if they are up on their shots. And many different establishments like home improvement stores allow you to bring your pets inside.
Or try patio seating at a restaurant or a bar for a cocktail, even if it’s just the two of you.
Do it especially if it’s just the two of you, for that matter!
The idea here is to get lots of exposure. You want to give them all the opportunities in the world to observe, dog and people watch, and take in their surroundings.
These days, there are thousands of fancy toys for your dog to choose from. While you can still give them a knotted rope, many of these toys are designed to get your dog thinking.
A toy like this snuffle mat motivates your dog to investigate all of it’s nooks and crannies by hiding their food or treats deep inside it. Your dog will need to sniff, look, and manipulate it to eat, working their brains the whole time. These types of toys are especially great for dogs that like to dig.
If you want to go the high-tech route, try this interactive, battery-powerd dog chase toy, which will keep them occupied and you hands-free.
Even once you get these new toys, be sure to mix them up from time to time so your dog does not get bored with them.
And if your dog’s not that into toys, check out our post here on some toy-free ways to entertain your dog.
The idea is not to train your dog how to use a snuffle board. Instead, you want your dog thinking and problem-solving on their own.
The skills that they learn by playing with these new to should stick with them any time that they are motivated.
All of this new exercise and all of these new activities are going to require the right fuel to keep your pup going.
Consider upgrading their food to a protein-rich one containing omega-3 fatty acids, which play an important role in brain development.
If you already are giving your dog a healthy diet and I’m satisfied with it, consider picking up some healthy treats as a supplement. These Omega 3 chews from Zezty Paws are a wonderful treat for your pup that also contain supplementary fish oils they may not be getting from their usual food.
Get your dog tired! Studies suggest that dogs are at their most trainable and most in tune with their owners when they are trotting, so consider taking up jogging with your dog.
Exercise will also allow them to burn up their pent-up energy. Even if you just play fetch with your dog in the backyard for 10 or 15 minutes, you get their heart racing end their lungs working hard.
This means they’ll be less antsy and more focused when it comes time to train them.
If you want to keep your dog interested and learning, you need to give their brain plenty of time to rest and recover so they are fresh for the next session.
There are innumerable studies that link sleep to intellectual performance, so make sure that your dog is getting not only the right amount of sleep but also deep, restful sleep.
Upgrade their bed to something more supportive like this one for their tired legs after all this new exercise. It’s machine washable and holds up great.
Make sure to give them a dark, quiet room so they can rest peacefully and undisturbed.
And while it may be nice to doze off with your furry buddy from time to time, you will both sleep better in the long run if you do so separately.
There are so many great benefits to teaching your dog how to do tricks besides the standard sit and stay and even tricks like catching treats are possible for the not-so-bright pup.
First of all, training sessions with your dog are bonding for the both of you. You are both working to communicate with one another and in so doing are figuring out each other’s particular quirks and ways of thinking.
Depending on the trick, you may also be able to teach them extremely useful life skills, like how to heal or how to lie down for long periods of time.
Your dog also gets the opportunity to learn something. They didn’t know what a word meant, and now they do. This paves the way for all sorts of new possibilities.
If you teach them lots of tricks, all of the self-control, problem-solving, communication, and focus that your dog has to use when you are teaching them tricks should internalize.
A dog who has the self-control to sit and stay for 5 minutes will probably also have the self-control not to run out into traffic or do another bonehead move.
This is also why it’s so important that training doesn’t end once they learn how to do the trick.
Training your dog is not just about getting them to do the activity but is mostly about teaching them self-control.
Therefore, always be pushing your dog when you do training. If they are always 100% perfect when you are asking them to do their tricks, then you aren’t really training them.
You should be asking them to do activities that push them and stress them out just a little bit and challenge them to do better.
Give Them Space
This is a piece of advice that is useful for both pet parents and new human parents alike.
Very simply, your dog will not learn if you did not give them the opportunity to.
If their ball rolls underneath the chair, don’t immediately go pull it out for them.
Instead, give them a chance to try to solve the problem for themselves.
Likewise, do not overly guide them through any of the activities we’ve discussed above.
Teaching your dog how to do something is not going to make them smarter, but giving them the opportunity to learn how to do things for themselves will.
I have to admit, I’ve been reluctant to take my dog to grip training classes in the past, but I am so glad that I did.
My dog has always been pretty smart, good at sitting and staying and all that stuff, so I wasn’t sure what I was going to really get out of class.
But the trainer offered insights that I just simply could not see as his pet parent.
The opportunity to learn in a group setting, with other dogs who had some similar, some different, issues as him was a really great learning experience for the both of us.
And also built up a lot of confidence in both him and myself as his handler.
All of this has helped us to have a better understanding of one another and to better predict each other’s behavior, which has made training much easier.
Your Dog Is (Probably) Not Stupid
The word stupid is, frankly, kind of a mean word to use when you’re talking about your little furry friend.
It is possible that your dog is not as smart as others, but throwing out the “stupid” label skips any opportunity for you two to make things better.
By actively working on getting your dog a lot of exposure and helping them to internalize problem-solving behavior, you can help your dog make better decisions and, therefore, be smarter.
Just be positive, be patient, and be nice to your simple buddy.