Is Your Dog A Smart Dog… Or Just A Big Dummy? Here’s How To Tell The Difference

I’ll admit it: My dog is a dumb blonde. And not just because he’s
a Golden Retriever.

Let’s be honest: Mr. Juan Valdez (yes, that is his real name!) is
riding the canine equivalent of “the short bus.” And as the author
of two dog training books, I’m in a position to know the difference.
So,you can imagine how humorous it is when people approach us and
exclaim, “Wow! Now that’s one… smart… dog!”
He’s not.

He’s a big, happy dummy. But he’s my big, happy dummy… and he

just happens to be very… well… trained.

So, how do you know the difference between a smart dog and a dumb
dog who’s just… well-trained?  The answer is:

Years Of Experience Comparing Different Dogs

Here’s what I look for: I’ll pick a couple of different exercises
to teach the dog. A good one is boundary training, for example. I
know from working with (literally) thousands of dogs over the past
20 years that the average dog will need to be corrected five or six
times in one given area/boundary before he starts to really “get it.”
But a smart dog will typically take two or three times before he
catches on.

Of course– we need to discount for each individual dog’s drive,
breed,age and past level of training. But all things being equal:
When you compare dog-to-dog and exercise-to-exercise… you’ll start
to get a feel for which dogs pick things up faster and which dogs
don’t. From the example above, a truly dim-witted dog will take 9
to 10 corrections before he really starts to “get it.”

The perceptive reader might ask, “Doesn’t the motivation of the
correction come into play? If your correction is more motivational,
won’t the dog learn to avoid the boundary faster?”

My answer is: Not exactly. A good dog trainer will recognize that
he only needs a motivational enough correction to get his point
across. Giving the dog a more firm correction if he doesn’t understand
what you’re asking of him is not going to move you(or your dog)
closer to your goal. It’s just going to create frustration and a
poor working attitude. So, what we’re aiming for is just enough of
a motivational correction to communicate to your dog that he made
the wrong decision. We’re not trying to punish him or make him feel
bad. He just made the wrong decision and our leash correction is our
way of communicating to him, “Nope… please try again.”

Dog Training Has A Cumulative Effect

The smart dog will pick up on this, quickly. Like I mentioned
above…usually after two or three corrections. And he’ll extrapolate
the lesson to other exercises more quickly. This is why dog training
has a cumulative effect. (Even for the dumbest of dogs). The more
you train your dog, the more your dog will begin to learn how to

So, in the case of Mr. Juan Valdez, he already knows a couple dozen
commands. And he has learned how to learn. But getting him to that
point took twice as long as it would have for a smart Doberman,
Poodle, Border Collie or Belgian Malinois. There’s a reason for
that,too: The Golden Retriever breed (and many others) were bred
to work closely with humans– and specifically in the case of the
Golden Retriever– to be a very forgiving breed. In other words:
You can make a lot of mistakes with your timing and your training…
and it won’t matter so much to this breed. Whereas if you make a
mistake with your timing while training a Doberman… the old joke
among Doberman breeders is, “They’ll never forget it!”

So…dumb dog or smart dog: We love them all. And we train them all.
In the end, it’s the tortoise and the hare, and the tortoise always

Even if it’s a dumb tortoise named: Juan Valdez.


Smart Dog or Dumb Dog?
Is Your Dog A Smart Dog? ... Or A Dumb Dog, Like Juan Valdez, here