A popular quote, sometimes attributed to Albert Einstein, goes like this: “Everyone is a genius, but if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing it’s stupid.”
People love dogs to bits, but we also spend a lot of time judging their intelligence. On the one hand, it makes sense. We rely on dogs for lots of jobs, from herding our livestock to rescuing disaster victims to treating disabilities like blindness and PTSD. When putting your life in a dog’s paws, you’ll want one that’s good at its job.
On the other hand, that gives us a pretty strict definition of intelligence, which leaves some pooches in the cold. A dog breed often gets stereotyped as “dumb,” when they’re actually just willful, laid-back, or slow to trust.
What Is a Smart Dog, Anyway?
Dr. Stanley Coren’s 1994 book The Intelligence of Dogs lists three types of doggy smarts. Instinctive intelligence shows how good a dog is at the tasks it was bred for. Adaptive intelligence measures whether a dog can solve problems on its own by thinking critically. Finally, obedient intelligence measures a dog’s ability to learn and follow commands.
Humans tend to rank dogs in terms of obedient intelligence. This is easy to measure but doesn’t give the dog much agency. Not to mention, it heavily favors some breeds over others.
In order to put pups back in the driver’s seat, we’ll go through the list of the 25 dumbest dog breeds, explain why they’re perceived as “dumb” — and why they’re not so stupid after all.
1. Afghan Hound
Afghan hounds have long, beautiful coats, and are often described as behaving like cats.
Why they’re “dumb”: Their reputation for beauty, combined with their resistance to traditional training methods, makes Afghans vulnerable to charges of ditziness.
Why they’re not: Afghans are proud, and don’t like doing things just because their masters order them — but they’re also extremely affectionate once you’ve won their loyalty.
The African Basenji is almost totally silent, producing a hyena-like “laugh” instead of a bark.
Why they’re “dumb”: Like Afghans, Basenjis are often compared to cats, since they prefer to do their own thing and aren’t very responsive to learning tricks.
Why they’re not: Though they don’t bark, Basenjis express a lot of complex feelings with their chortles and body language.
3. Basset Hound
The instantly recognizable Basset Hound has long, floppy ears, and a superpowered sense of smell.
Why they’re “dumb”: Not only can Bassets be a chore to housebreak, they also have a bad reputation for running off after every interesting smell.
Why they’re not: Basset Hounds have high instinctive intelligence — they’re extremely good at following their noses, even if they don’t always know when not to track down a scent.
The celebrity breed that inspired Snoopy, Beagles are determined, affectionate hunters with strong noses and lovely coats.
Why they’re “dumb”: Like with Basset Hounds, it’s hard to get a Beagle to focus on anything when they want to chase a smell.
Why they’re not: Beagles are excellent trackers, and frequently turn up as K-9 cops.
Borzois have beautiful coats, and they never forget it, behaving a lot like cats in their steadfast devotion to hygiene.
Why they’re “dumb”: Borzois have a reputation as divas, more concerned with cleaning themselves than with paying attention.
Why they’re not: Just because a Borzoi isn’t rushing to please you, don’t mean it’s not smart; they’re surprisingly trainable when they trust their master and training sessions are kept short.
Bloodhounds don’t live up to their gory-sounding name, looking more like adorably droopy sad sacks than mighty hunters.
Why they’re “dumb”: In another example of a recurring theme on this list, it’s very difficult to get them not to chase a smell once they’ve picked it up.
Why they’re not: Like Basset Hounds, Bloodhounds are extremely good at doing what they were trained for: picking up scents and chasing them down.
7. Bull Terrier
The Bull Terrier is a playful clown with a distinctive rounded snout and large pointed ears.
Why they’re “dumb”: AKC calls them “a three-year-old child in a dog suit” due to their preference for playing and frolicking over paying attention.
Why they’re not: Much like a three-year-old child, a Bull Terrier isn’t stupid — it just knows it would rather have fun than do boring work.
The extremely cuddly bulldog, with its signature rumpled snout, has been accused of foolishness in both its English and French varieties.
Why they’re “dumb”: Bulldogs aren’t known for their energy, and would rather crash on the couch than chase balls or solve puzzles.
Why they’re not: Despite their reputation as living furniture, both English and French bulldogs are easy to train.
Bullmastiffs are a giant breed that does everything slowly and ponderously.
Why they’re “dumb”: Bullmastiffs take a long time to obey commands, but like the Afghan Hound, the charge owes a lot to stereotyping due to their looks.
Why they’re not: Bullmastiffs know perfectly well what they’re doing — they’d just rather do it on their own schedule.
10. Cavalier King Charles Spaniel
Why they’re “dumb”: These Hapsburgs of the canine world have been dogged with rumors of inbreeding, and sometimes have atrocious memories.
Why they’re not: As a toy breed, the Cavalier knows that affection is more its job than smarts, so it excels at making its owners feel loved.
These little warriors need no introduction — you either love them or you hate them.
Why they’re “dumb”: The Chihuahua’s reputation for trying to fight much larger dogs is not entirely undeserved.
Why they’re not: Chihuahuas like to be the leader of the pack, so they’re only really unmanageable if they aren’t trained early to know their place in your household.
12. Chow Chow
The Chinese origin of this breed’s name translates to “puffy-lion dog,” which pretty much sums it up.
Why they’re “dumb”: Once a Chow Chow has picked their favorite person, they can become possessive, and hostile toward strangers.
Why they’re not: Chow Chows are stubborn, not stupid, and respond well to vigorous socialization training as puppies.
13. Great Pyrenees
These enormous, fluffy sheepdogs are tall enough to hug a human around the neck while standing on their hind legs.
Why they’re “dumb”: They’re the farthest thing from it, but if you measure intelligence entirely by obedience, their critical thinking skills look like dumb stubbornness.
Why they’re not: The Great Pyrenees is a mountain sheepdog, bred to act independently from its shepherd and save its flock from all kinds of danger.
14. Italian Greyhound
One of several similar types of Greyhound, these sleek, short-furred runners were bred to be racing champions.
Why they’re “dumb”: Nervous by nature, Italian Greyhounds don’t respond well to aggressive, “alpha” training methods, which leads some to write them off prematurely.
Why they’re not: Italian Greyhounds have high instinctual intelligence and are excellent at paying attention.
15. Lakeland Terrier
A walking stuffed animal, the Lakeland Terrier loves nothing more than getting into mischief, even if they don’t always understand why you’re not laughing too.
Why they’re “dumb”: They’re the class clowns of any obedience school, more interested in goofing off than following directions.
Why they’re not: The ability to get into trouble means a dog is actually quite smart; Lakeland Terriers just need masters who get their sense of humor.
16. Lhasa Apso
According to an old Buddhist legend, Lhasa Apsos are the reincarnations of monks who didn’t quite manage to reach Nirvana.
Why they’re “dumb”: Lhasas were once companions of the emperors of China, and they’ll never let you forget it, with an entitled streak a mile wide.
Why they’re not: Just because it’s choosing not to follow your commands, does not mean it doesn’t understand them.
While they aren’t as gung-ho as Chihuahuas, these fluffy toy pooches never quite seem to grasp how small they are.
Why they’re “dumb”: In training, Malteses don’t always respond to food rewards, leaving some owners at a loss for how to make them listen.
Why they’re not: More than food, a Maltese craves praise and attention and is easier to train when you offer those rewards.
18. Old English Sheepdog
The shaggy dog that inspired the stories, the Old English Sheepdog is a smart breed cursed with a permanently vacant expression.
Why they’re “dumb”: Like the Great Pyrenees and other Sheepdogs, the Old English would rather think for itself than follow rote orders.
Why they’re not: Old English Sheepdogs have such a strong instinct that they often try to herd human children — getting them to work with you is just a matter of patience.
These imperial lapdogs have been coasting on their cuteness since the Tang Dynasty, so it’s no surprise they’ve developed a reputation for being divas.
Why they’re “dumb”: Without training, a Pekingese will act defiant and dominant, sniping at strange humans and other animals.
Why they’re not: With early training, you can mold your Peke into a faithful, cuddly family pet.
One of the internet’s favorite breeds, the Pug’s big eyes and smushed snout have endeared it to dog lovers worldwide.
Why they’re “dumb”: As companion dogs, Pugs aren’t the easiest to train, preferring gentle praise to intense reward/punishment systems.
Why they’re not: Pugs love to make you happy, but should be allowed to do that in their own way; if you expect a Pug to act like a German Shepherd, it’s hardly the Pug’s fault that it can’t.
These strikingly colored watchdogs are often considered the canine equivalent of dumb muscle.
Why they’re “dumb”: Rottweilers aren’t well-equipped for obedience school, with poor memories and short attention spans.
Why they’re not: What Rottweilers lack in recall, they more than make up for with incredible loyalty and steadfast watchfulness.
22. Saint Bernard
Saint Bernards are best known for alpine rescue operations, but these huge walking sofas are also beloved family pets.
Why they’re “dumb”: Saint Bernards learn commands quickly, but struggle to recall them; they also share a preference for independent thinking with their fellow mountain dogs.
Why they’re not: These “nanny dogs” have both adaptive and instinctual intelligence in spades, and can think on the fly to keep their charges safe.
23. Scottish Terrier
Originally bred as mousers, Scotties impressed a 17th century laird so much with their persistence that he nicknamed them “diehards.”
Why they’re “dumb”: Unfortunately, that persistent “diehard” nickname also applies to training, as these proud Highlanders only follow orders when they’ve decided to.
Why they’re not: Scottish Terriers are considered to have one of the most humanlike personalities of any breed, so it’s no wonder they’re choosy about which orders to follow.
24. Shih Tzu
Rounding out our list is another Chinese imperial breed, who love nothing more than being pampered and getting their long coats brushed.
Why they’re “dumb”: Historically, not much has been demanded of Shih Tzus beyond looking pretty, which hasn’t left them especially trainable.
Why they’re not: Shih Tzus excel at their life purpose of loving and comforting their owners — and they’re also smart enough to get into trouble from time to time.
What makes a dog breed “dumb” is entirely in the eye of the beholder. Some breeds are better at following commands, while others are better at critical thinking, and still others have one job that they do exceptionally well.
As we’ve seen, a dog can also be labeled as dumb due to nothing but its looks. In both the human and animal worlds, stereotyping is alive and well.
The bottom line: if you’ve decided a dog is dumb, it says more about you than it does about them. Rather than seeking out the smartest breeds as determined by human standards, it’s much better to ask what sort of dog is best for your needs.
Look carefully, and soon you’ll have a loving companion — who’s plenty smart in their own way!
Featured Image Credit: Lunja, Shutterstock
- What Is a Smart Dog, Anyway?
- 1. Afghan Hound
- 2. Basenji
- 3. Basset Hound
- 4. Beagle
- 5. Borzoi
- 6. Bloodhound
- 7. Bull Terrier
- 8. Bulldog
- 9. Bullmastiff
- 10. Cavalier King Charles Spaniel
- 11. Chihuahua
- 12. Chow Chow
- 13. Great Pyrenees
- 14. Italian Greyhound
- 15. Lakeland Terrier
- 16. Lhasa Apso
- 17. Maltese
- 18. Old English Sheepdog
- 19. Pekingese
- 20. Pug
- 21. Rottweiler
- 22. Saint Bernard
- 23. Scottish Terrier
- 24. Shih Tzu