15 Dumbest Dog Breeds That Are Lovably Dopey
When it comes to canine intelligence, the dumbest dog breeds might not conquer commands, but they sure have conquered our hearts
Dumb dog breeds we love
While the smartest dog breeds may be popular companions, some experts feel it’s high time for all those goofy, tail-chasing, sweetly affectionate dogs of supposedly lesser intellect to have their moment. “I’m a fan of dumb dogs,” says canine behavior consultant Lauren Novack. But what are the dumbest dog breeds, and what exactly does it mean to be a dumb dog?
Some experts assess canine intelligence based on how quickly a dog learns human-taught tricks, like these top-notch types of service dogs. But Novack maintains that when people claim to want a smart dog, what they most often desire is a dog that’s both motivated to learn and forgiving of our failed attempts at teaching them. Indeed, some dog breeds may not be dumb, just disinterested in performing on command. Others may simply be lazy dog breeds and expert nappers—and who can blame them? In many cases, that disinterest goes hand in hand with the qualities for which they were bred.
Some of the reputedly dopey dog breeds also happen to be among the most loyal dogs and the most calm dog breeds, and if your priority is hours of quality canine cuddle time, one of these supposedly dumb dogs might just be the best choice for your new faithful friend.
What makes these the dumbest dog breeds?
The leading canine intelligence scale, developed in the ’90s by UCLA psychology professor and renowned canine researcher Stanley Coren, author of The Intelligence of Dogs, combines adaptive intelligence (ability to problem-solve and learn from trial and error), instinctive intelligence (ability to do what it was bred for) and obedience and working intelligence (ability to learn human commands). But what this methodology leans most heavily on is observing dogs learning commands. Per Coren, the so-called dumbest dog breeds require the highest number of repetitions per command.
But not all canine cognition experts subscribe to Coren’s rubric. Anya Parks of Boston College’s Canine Cognition Program says that intelligence is increasingly regarded as diverse among individual dogs. Moreover, both Parks and Novack believe it’s impossible to accurately measure canine intelligence using a single set of standardized criteria. “Across breeds, and across individuals, dogs have different strengths and weaknesses,” Novack says.
And while these dumbest dog breeds might be most likely to tank their obedience training, we can promise they’ll still win our doggie-loving hearts.
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Despite being one of the most expensive dogs in the world, the Afghan hound has the lowest IQ of all dog breeds, per Coren’s research. But since these hounds are known as independent and strong willed, perhaps they just can’t be bothered to learn commands; what’s in it for them, after all? Afghans would rather spend their time loving on family members, entertaining kids with glamorous hair-flip pyrotechnics and playing well with other pups.
Energetic, playful and open to strangers, your Afghan hound may never master much beyond the easiest dog tricks, but there are plenty of positives, including their luxurious coats. Afghans hardly shed, which might be surprising considering their silky hair requires near-daily grooming.
Ranked by Coren as only slightly less dumb than the Afghan hound, the basenji may not actually be “dumb” so much as not particularly interested in the sort of interactions that obedience training tends to require. One of the quieter dog breeds, the basenji doesn’t bark to get attention. In fact, the basenji doesn’t seem to need that much attention at all, which can be a good thing for some humans.
It may be that independent streak, combined with its fastidious grooming habits, that have led some to describe the basenji as “catlike.” But everyone knows cats aren’t dumb; they simply cannot be bothered to learn tricks for the sole purpose of entertaining humans. Perhaps the basenji ought to be accorded similar latitude?
Lots of folks are bullish on all these bulldog breeds. And that includes the English bulldog, which Coren’s research regards as the third dumbest among dog breeds. Known for its sweet and docile temperament, the English bulldog is among Novack’s favorites. It also happens to be one of the dog breeds least likely to bite.
English bulldogs score low by Coren’s canine intelligence standards, but it may simply be a matter of laziness, a quality for which they are renowned. And while a lazy dog may be less inclined to do the work required to learn new commands, does that really make for a dumb dog? English bulldog lovers might disagree.
While it is a dog that looks like a lion, the chow chow is far from the king of the jungle—or even the dog park. To wit, Coren ranked the chow chow as one of the dumbest dog breeds, adding that, “There is probably furniture out there that is more trainable than chows.”
But according to Coren, one factor to consider when assessing canine intelligence is a dog’s ability to do what it was bred to do. And as it turns out, chow chows are quite adept at that. Unfortunately, however, one of the things chows were originally bred for was to be eaten as food—at least in some countries.
One of the fastest dogs in the world, the borzoi is also known as one of the dumbest dog breeds, per Coren’s rubric. Although the swift borzoi needs a lot of mental stimulation, this shaggy, lanky breed is also notoriously challenging to train. As the American Kennel Club (AKC) puts it, “in their quiet, catlike way, [borzois] can be stubborn, and training is best accomplished with patience, consistency and good humor.”
So while they may not hand over a paw when asked, these dignified pups are also very accomplished at what they were bred for: hunting. So if you’re looking for a loyal and capable wolf-hunting companion, then the borzoi should be plenty smart enough. And the same may be true even if wolf-hunting isn’t in your plans.
|26–28 inches and up
Docile and affectionate with its people, the bloodhound (also called the sleuth hound) does one thing better than any creature on earth: locate missing persons. And yet, the bloodhound comes in at just slightly less dumb than the borzoi, at least using Coren’s standards of canine intelligence. Not coincidentally, both the borzoi and the bloodhound are master hunters, and therein may lie the rub.
Whereas the borzoi leverages its keen sight, the bloodhound makes use of its prodigious sense of smell. In both cases, unless the individual dog is engaged in an actual hunt, these talents and inclinations can make the dog appear distractible. And distractibility does not bode well when it comes to learning commands. But whether it means the bloodhound is actually dumb is something we’ll question. Plus, there’s just something about dogs with big ears that makes us fall in love.
Pekingese dogs tend to lavish affection on their families, according to the AKC. Peeks are also well behaved and friendly toward children and strangers, as well as other dogs. But will a Pekingese reliably play fetch with you? Not likely, based on Coren’s methodology, which places this Chinese dog breed among the dumbest dog breeds on the planet.
But Coren’s research also makes room for nuance. Pekingese dogs, which were bred to be lapdogs, are very accomplished at that. And if that makes them dopey, then, do we really want this dog to be smart? It’s also a quality that makes it one of the best dog for seniors.
Fans of dogs with floppy ears often flock to the pint-size, sweet-faced beagle. Indeed, those soulful eyes and clownish demeanor help make the beagle one of the most popular dog breeds in the U.S. Conversely, they’re also one of the dog breeds most likely to be found in a shelter. One reason is that the beagle, like its bloodhound cousin, is easily distracted by scents. If allowed off-leash, the risk of separation from its people is high.
Beagles are well known for their stubborn streak, which makes training challenging. And the hard truth is that an untrained dog makes a difficult housemate. The beagle’s tendency to stand on ceremony rather than sitting and staying, as well as its tendency to follow its nose, places it among the so-called dumbest dog breeds. But we don’t fault them for their love of exploring. This happy-go-lucky dog just wants to experience the world.
The mastiff is one of the finest guard dogs, but it doesn’t get there by stealth. The docile but dignified mastiff is one of the world’s largest domesticated dog breeds, and for giant dog breeds, training is a must, according to the AKC. Ironically, mastiffs aren’t all that great at learning commands. They do so rather slowly, and even when they do, they’re not particularly consistent when it comes to performing them. That’s why mastiffs are ranked among the dumbest dog breeds, per Coren’s research.
It also raises the question: How is one to live harmoniously with this adorably gigantic, drooly supposed dope? As the AKC suggests, mastiffs take best to gentle training, and the earlier you can start on that, the better.
|27–30 inches and up
“Why the long face,” one might be inclined to inquire of a basset hound. But that meltingly droopy face, flanked by velvety floor-sweeping ears, is in no way a reflection of the basset’s chill temperament. Great with children and other dogs, and one of the dogs that get along with cats, the basset hound is believed by some experts to be second only to its hound cousin, the bloodhound, in its scent-tracking skills. But does that earn it IQ points?
Not so much, at least according to Coren’s canine intelligence rubric, which ranks the basset as one of the top 10 dumbest dog breeds. Like other scent hounds, it’s easily distracted by smell, and like the beagle, in particular, the basset is stubborn. Both qualities combine to make it less than receptive to training. But is it really fair to call this dog breed dumb when it’s so good at what it was bred to do? We’ll always love this sniffing pooch.
One of the most popular toy dog breeds, the shih tzu, Mandarin for “little lion,” was bred hundreds of years ago as an indoor lap dog. And that’s precisely what it excels at. What the shih tzu does not excel at is learning commands with speed and consistency. Specifically, Coren’s research found that on average, the dog breed obeys a first command less than 25% of the time. This puts it squarely into the category of dumbest dog breeds. But remember, the shih tzu is known to be most affectionate with family, nice with children and playful with other dogs—and some might argue there’s nothing dumb about that.
Another of the giant dog breeds, the bullmastiff was bred as a bulldog and mastiff hybrid. Like the mastiff, it was bred as a guard dog that’s nevertheless docile with its humans. And at this, the bullmastiff excels, thanks to its sheer size and its relative wariness of strangers. What the bullmastiff hasn’t necessarily mastered as a breed is the art of quickly learning commands and performing them consistently. For that reason, it’s considered by Coren’s criteria to be one of the dumbest dog breeds.
However, other experts disagree with that characterization. For example, the AKC refers to the bullmastiff as intelligent, as well as alert and confident. The American Bullmastiff Association also characterizes it as intelligent, but notes that it’s strong-willed, which, like stubbornness in beagles, can read as “dumb.”
Despite its small size and glamorous cascade of long, flowing hair, the lhasa apso, whose name means “Tibetan long-haired dog,” was bred as a guard dog. According to the AKC, it’s been doing a top-notch job as such since ancient times. In fact, many canine intelligence experts regard it as an intelligent breed. So why then does Coren’s research categorize the lhasa apso as a dumb dog? It isn’t a fast learner or a consistent performer when it comes to mastering commands.
If only this tiny lion-like sentinel were just a little less stubborn and independent-minded (not for nothing, lhasas are among the dog breeds that are comfortable being left alone), perhaps it would have scored higher. Alas, it is what it is, and accordingly, the lhasa apso must endure its reputation. We, however, will trust their thousand-year-old reputation as smart, aristocratic family comedians.
If you’re a budget-conscious pet owner, the Chihuahua is one of the cheapest dog breeds simply because its small size means that it’s not expensive to feed and its short hair doesn’t require much in the way of grooming. In fact, the Chihuahua is yet another adorable dog breed that doesn’t shed that much, which means you may also save on dry cleaning and lint roller tape.
Nevertheless, experts recommend obedience training for this yippy, barky, high-energy “purse dog,” lest it rule your household like a little Napoleon. And that may cost you, because training a Chihuahua requires time and patience. Per Coren’s research, it takes up to 80 repetitions to teach a Chihuahua a command, and even when it does, it obeys the first time it’s asked to do something less than 30% of the time.
|6 pounds maximum
One of the most popular mountain dog breeds, the St. Bernard isn’t known for its intelligence so much as its enormous size and gentle temperament. But as with many of the so-called dopey dog breeds, these pups aren’t exactly stupid either. In fact, the St. Bernard was bred methodically by monks during the Middle Ages specifically for alpine search and rescue. Are St. Bernards good at what they were bred for? Absolutely, they are. But they’re also notoriously difficult to train—for anything but search and rescue, that is.
On the other hand, St. Bernards are among the calmest dogs, known for their easygoing personalities. The dog is sweet, affectionate, observant, watchful and great with people of all ages, as well as with other dogs. And anyone who has ever been rescued by a St. Bernard isn’t likely focusing on its propensity to sit and stay.
- Lauren Novack, canine behavior analyst
- Stanley Coren, canine researcher and author of The Intelligence of Dogs
- Anya Parks, lab coordinator with Boston College Social Learning Lab
- Yummy Pets: “Stanley Coren’s dog intelligence ranking”
- American Kennel Club: “Dog breeds”
- LA Times: “No Dumb Blondes: Dog Fan Says Afghans Stunning, Not Stupid”
- Dog Breed Info: “The Purebreed English Bulldog”
- The Guardian: “Are chow chows the most stupid dogs in the world?”
- Wag!: “Why do beagles not listen?”
- Hill’s Pets: “Basset Hound Breed Information”
- Bullmastiff Association: “Getting the Know the Bullmastiff”
- The Goody Pet: “How much does a Chihuahua cost?”
- The Smart Canine: “Are St. Bernards Smart?”