Is My Dog Stupid?

by on December 15th, 2010
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“Will you do something about this darn dog?!” cried my Mom over the endless series of growling and barking by Hugo, our powderpuff Chinese Crested. I rushed into the room to discover that Hugo was barking at a throw pillow that had been reversed so that it was now a different color. Hugo could not recognize that this was the exact pillow he’d been living with for the past few months. I had to turn the pillow back around in order to shut Hugo up.

Living with Hugo has made me seriously wonder if dogs could be well – stupid. It turns out they only seem to be. Being very slow or suddenly dim-witted can also be the symptoms of a health condition such as hypothyroidsim, malnutrition or canine cognitive dysfunction (which happens to older dogs.)

What Does Stupid Mean for Dogs?

The problems with diagnosing non-human creatures with lower than average intelligence is that the intelligence between species is very difficult to compare. For example, humans need to talk with other humans in order to survive. Failure to learn to talk is a big problem in humans. Dogs do not need such communication skills. Failure to bark would probably make many dog owners very happy.

So what makes a dog “stupid”? Behavior that is markedly different from previous behavior. The dog walks into the corner of a room and cannot figure out how to back out of that corner (common in dogs with cognitive dysfunction.) Dogs may stare into space instead of watching a ball bounce by (common for dogs with hypothyroidism.) Weaned puppies may seem incapable of learning their names or simple commands like “sit” (common for malnourished puppies.)

What Breed Is Your Dog?

Puppy or dog owners may have unrealistic expectations of a dog’s normal intelligence. I’ve certainly been guilty of this. My British mongrel, Pony, figured out that the puppy in the mirror was a reflection when she was three months old. I now have this expectation that all dogs can recognize their reflections. But what about dogs who never grew up inside of a home with a mirror, such as a racing greyhound? Their confusion at first seeing their reflection may be due to unfamiliarity rather than “stupidity.”

Some dog breeds have not been bred to problem solve, such as herding dogs, so they may seem to be stupid. They’ve been bred to be catered to. These include a lot of toy breeds, especially the Cavalier King Charles spaniel. Some breeds like the Chow Chow are considered “dumb” because they do not learn tricks as quickly as some other breeds. However, they were not bred to do tricks. If the Chow Chow recognizes you and can eat by itself, the dog’s pretty smart.

In Conclusion

If your dog or puppy seems to be getting dumber and dumber, please take your pet to the vet. It may be a health problem and not a lack of common sense. It also could be that you are the “stupid” one – not your dog.

Unless you are talking about my dog Hugo. He’s just dumb.


Handbook of Behavior Problems of the Dog and Cat, 2nd Edition. Gary M. Landsburg, et al. Elsivier Health Sciences; 2003.

Newman Veterinary Medical Services. “Hypothyroidism.” Chick Newman.

Second Chance. “Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome.” Ron Hines DVM, PhD.

Author’s personal experience.

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