Source: Mail Online (Extract)
Posted: January 9, 2023

The Belgian malinois has been found to be the most intelligent dog in a study of 13 different breeds.

Scientists assessed 1,000 dogs by setting them seven cognitive and three behavioural tasks.

Tests included their ability to read human gestures and if the animals could detour around a transparent V-shaped fence to access a food reward which they could see. The researchers also investigated how independent a dog was and how quickly they came to a human for help by giving them an unsolvable task – trying to access food in a sealed box.

The malinois, which are often used as police dogs or guard dogs, came first with 35 points out of 39. Border collies came second with 26 points, while the hovawart – a German breed – was third with 25 points.

Dr Katriina Tiira, from the University of Helsinki in Finland, told The Sunday Telegraph: ‘The Belgian malinois stood out in many of the cognitive tasks, having very good results in a majority of the tests.’

Saara Junttila, the study co-author and a PhD researcher in canine cognition at the University of Helsinki, added: ‘Most breeds had their own strengths and weaknesses. For example, the Labrador retriever was very good at reading human gestures, but not so good at spatial problem-solving. Some breeds, such as the Shetland sheepdog, scored quite evenly in almost all tests.’

The dogs selected were required to be interested in working for food, and to not be overly aggressive to people. The researchers chose pets between the ages of one and eight as cognitive traits may not have fully developed in younger dogs, while older dogs may experience cognitive decline.

They were subjected to the smartDOG tests between March 2016 and February 2022.

The tests included one where the dog was shown two food bowls. One was empty, the other had food in but was covered up. The idea was to see if the animal could find the food that was in the other bowl.

The team said this test would be the best gauge for overall intelligence, but data revealed there was no difference between the dog breeds for this task.

However three tasks, each testing a specific aspect of dog cognition, did show how the breeds differed.

One was a V-detour task – where the dog has to detour around a transparent V-shaped fence to access a food reward it could see. It aimed to measure problem-solving ability.

The team measured the dogs’ ability to read gestures by getting them to respond to five human movements: constant pointing, brief pointing, pointing with the foot, pointing at something while facing another direction and following a gaze.

The dogs involved in the experiment:

  1. Belgian Malinois
  2. Australian kelpie
  3. Labrador retriever
  4. Border collie
  5. Golden retriever
  6. Hovawart
  7. Spanish water dog
  8. Shetland sheepdog
  9. English cocker spaniel
  10. Australian shepherd
  11. Mixed breed
  12. German shepherd
  13. Finnish lapphund