Is a 'Smart Pet' a Sure Bet?

August 1, 2011 | By Lori Mauger, CPDT-KA | Category: Working Animals | 2 comments
Tags: behavior & training, working animals, adoption & rescue

What you need to know before choosing a highly intelligent dog breed.

Selecting the perfect dog for your lifestyle is challenging enough given the myriad of breed choices and mixtures, not to mention the vast differences in size and appearance that factor into the decision. But what about brains? Certain breeds, particularly those from the herding and sporting groups such as Australian Shepherds, German Shepherds, and Golden Retrievers are known for their intelligence. Not surprisingly, these are the dogs that historically partnered with mankind for important tasks such as managing livestock and retrieving game.

Although modern-day dogs rarely perform the jobs they were originally bred for, they nevertheless retain their high aptitudes. Are smart dogs easier to raise and live with?

Consider a case in point. In the puppy prodigy department, most canine experts would agree that Border Collies top the smart chart. Chaser, a female Border Collie featured on the PBS special "How Smart are Dogs?", is the proverbial poster child for this breed's brains. That's because Chaser can accurately identify 1,000 stuffed toys. Ask her for any one of them by name, and she'll retrieve it with remarkable precision. Wouldn't it be a piece of cake to have a dog like her?

Only if you keep your new pal busy, says Laura Krupa of Pittstown, NJ. Krupa owns a young male Border Collie named Rudi. She advises, "It's important to develop a strong relationship with your pup and to give him lots of jobs because that's what Border Collies are bred for. Rudi is in puppy kindergarten and a puppy play group, and I bring him to 4-H with my daughter. He goes with me to run errands, and every morning we take a 30-minute brisk walk."

Krupa says the Border Collie's intelligence makes them a handful to live with, so consider the following breed qualities before bringing one home:

  • Smart is challenging. Unoccupied Border Collies find ways to engage themselves, and generally it goes beyond snacking on your favorite shoes. They excel at figuring things out, including how to open crate doors, how to escape securely fenced yards, and how to gather your cats into a corner until you get home.
  • Smart is busy. Border Collies have intense, never-give-up personalities. They epitomize the canine persona of overachiever. In fact, that's why they excel at farm work, dog sports, and as animal actors -- remember "Murray" in "Mad about You" and "Rex" and "Fly" in the movie Babe? Border Collies need to use their minds -- after all, these are the dogs that play pong with sheep!
  • Smart is time consuming. Border Collies have the stamina of Olympic athletes. Imagine coming home from a long day at work to a dog with a burning desire to do something -- anything! Sure, active owners who jog with their dogs or take them to the dog park have an advantage, but Border Collies must exhaust their abundant energy on a daily basis. An occasional game of fetch won't cut it with this breed.
  • Smart means schooling. You wouldn't deny your human baby Einstein a formal education, would you? Your dog needs to learn to manage her smarts. Who knows, your canine phenomenon may be the next agility star or search-and-rescue hero!
  • Smart is quirky. Ask any Border Collie owner, and she'll tell you that Border Collies are just plain weird. They're the obsessive-compulsive members of the dog world. Consider these habits: Border Collies who stare at water dripping from the bathtub spigot. Border Collies who go crazy over shiny objects like aluminum foil. Border Collies who assemble your children and your dinner guests into a pack.
  • Smart is dangerous. Unfortunately, Border Collies lose their homes and sometimes their lives because they're too much to handle for the average pet home, so rescue groups and shelters abound with misunderstood dogs. Then there are the overzealous ones who are killed by vehicles because their instinct tells them to chase and gather moving objects, and cars fill the bill.

Krupa offers some words of wisdom for anyone contemplating a Border Collie. "My advice to prospective owners is puppy socialization, off-premises training, and regular routines. Although it's time consuming to keep them busy, Border Collies learn quickly and take direction well." If you're up to the challenge and reward of living with a Border Collie, then contact your local rescue, or ask an expert for guidance. However, if you'd be happier with an easygoing companion, a smart bet might be a simpler pet! Find one by doing your homework.

Have you had experiences with a "smart" dog breed? How do you keep your pet occupied? Tell us below!

Comments (2)

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Michele Z.
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Michele Z.
2 years ago

My sister had a Bordie Collie and he was NOT AT ALL like the descriptions above. In fact, he was kind of "lazy"...

Good Point | Reply ›

Ches21
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Ches21
2 years ago

remember the smarter dogs can get bored easily and then if they are bored they can be destructive. I had a dalmation from a breeder once her name was Holly no one had the time to train Holly so we had her until she was two years old and our backyard had become a dangerous area to be in cause she would dig really deep holes and it was hard to walk out there without falling in one. Then We had Kirby a female lab mix from the humane socitey and she was part poodle or hound and it really showed cause we trained her and when she got bored she would bark like a hound and she was no city dog scarred of all the traffic and she tore up my toy horses I was only 10 or 8 then. both Holly and Kirby had to find new homes cause we did not have the time for them. But they found good new homes.

Good Point | Reply ›

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