How Smart are Australian Shepherds?

Australian Shepherds are consistently ranked as above average in intelligence. However, there is so much more to their mental capabilities than making the grade. Discover just how smart your Australian Shepherd may be.

Understanding Your Dog’s Intelligence

Before we talk about how intelligent your Australian Shepherd is, you need to understand how dog intelligence is measured.

Canine breeds and individual dogs are graded on three elements:

  • Instinctive intelligence
  • Adaptive intelligence
  • Working and obedience intelligence

Instinctive Intelligence

This refers to what a particular dog was bred to do. Here you will notice the greatest distinction between breeds as each has been molded for a different purpose. Australian Shepherds, for instance, were bred to watch over and herd sheep.

Due to this, Australian Shepherds rank pretty high in this department. This is because they are used to thinking for themselves and require minimal human guidance.

Adaptive Intelligence

This is all about scoring how well a dog can adapt to its environment, particularly a new one by using its natural smarts. It involves learning from the surrounding elements and engaging in problem solving.

There could be marked differences within a particular breed. Although a certain breed may be designed to tackle specific tasks, this type of intelligence doesn’t automatically carry over to adapting to a new environment.

Working and Obedience Intelligence

This is the form of intelligence that people most often put the greatest stock into. It is your dog’s ability to learn new commands and to respond to them accordingly. The more words or commands a dog can learn, the more intelligent the breed is considered to be.

Australian Shepherds are great at learning new commands and tasks. In fact, they master them pretty quickly and are always eager to move onto the next new trick.

How Intelligent are Australian Shepherds?

First, it should be noted that the rankings for dog’s intelligence can vary quite a bit. This has to do with the fact that there is no way to test your dog’s smarts with complete accuracy. Due to this, there is bound to be some discrepancy.

For instance, Australian Shepherds are often ranked between being the 42nd and 66th smartest breed of dogs. This puts them just above the average, making them one of the smarter breeds.

However, if you were to ask vets and trainers, you would find that Australian Shepherds are scored far higher. It isn’t uncommon to find this breed in the top 10 or top 20 place on lists.

If you are wondering about this discrepancy, you can discover the limitations of dog intelligence tests below.

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Accounting for Independent Differences

You should be aware that there can is a lot of variation from one dog to another. Although Australian Shepherds may be considered an intelligent breed, there is no guaranteeing what kind of dog you are going to get.

You may end up with a loveable goofball who is all about spending time with his family and running around instead of learning tricks.

It is important to not put too much significance on the results of dog intelligence tests as well as the popular lists that are based on them. This is because there are a few flaws in these tests.

For one thing, they don’t always test actual intelligence. Certain elements such as obedience can throw off the results. For instance, a dog may be great at learning tasks, but may be a bit too stubborn to follow these instructions.

This is certainly true for Australian Shepherds. As you might be aware, this breed is notorious for being headstrong and dominant.

Therefore, if they don’t accept your leadership, it is unlikely that they will listen to your commands. They will be less likely to follow your orders or do what they are supposed to, even if they have already mastered the trick.

To add to this, popular dog breeds are overrepresented in intelligence rankings for dogs. This is pretty normal – the more dogs there are of a certain breed, the more of them that you can test.

While Australian Shepherds are great pets, they haven’t historically been the most popular breeds. This is because they require quite a bit of exercise and need to be mentally stimulated. Not only does this make them a lot of work to take care of, they are also not great for first-time owners.

If you are curious about just how intelligent an Australian Shepherd can be, you will be better off speaking to owners or trainers. Better yet, let this breed prove it to you themselves.

Ask an Australian Shepherd owner if you can watch their dog at work. You will be amazed to see just how much the pups are capable of learning. Since they are work dogs, they will be happy to learn and execute new tasks.

Show vs. Working Lines

As with most full-bred dogs, there are two breed lines for Australian Shepherds as well. One is the working line and the other is the show line.

The working line is bred for trainability, competence, and independence. Show dogs, on the other hand, are only bred for looks – head shape, coat, etc. Due to this, you will often find that dogs who come from the show line to be more intelligent.

If this is an important trait to you, always choose the right breeder and look at several previous generations of the dog. It is best if they all come from a working line.

Are Australian Shepherds Emotionally Intelligent?

Australian Shepherds also have high emotional intelligence. This is because they are finely attuned to their human’s emotions and are sensitive to what you are feeling. In many cases, they will act accordingly.

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Your dog may not display the same level of emotional intelligence when it comes to everyone, though. Australian Shepherds tend to have one or two few favorite people and they tend to focus on their emotions and feelings. Thus, they may only respond to emotional changes in these individuals.

Which is Smarter – An Australian Shepherd or Border Collie?

The Border Collie is often considered to be the smartest breed of dog in the world, coming in at the number 1 spot time and time again. You may have noticed that the Australian Shepherd is placed at a lower spot. So, are the differences in intelligence quite so stark?

There is no denying that Border Collies are incredibly intelligent. They can carry out an impressive number of tasks and learn and remember a significant number of commands. They have been bred to be intelligent and this has become clear so many decades on.

Nevertheless, Border Collies are also far more trainable than Australian Shepherds. This breed can be quite timid and is prone to shyness if not socialized properly. Due to this, owners don’t have to overcome their stubborn nature to teach them new tricks.

As a result, Border Collies may not be significantly smarter than Australian Shepherds.

How to Raise an Intelligent Australian Shepherd

Want to ensure that your Australian Shepherd is as intelligent as possible? Then consider the following guidelines:

Go to a Good Breeder

There is no denying that genes matter when it comes to intelligence. This is why choosing the right breeder can help you find a pup that is on the smarter side. At the very least, you will be able to ensure that you get a working dog and not a show one.

As good breeders also begin the socialization process quite early, this could potentially prime your pup to pick up their training more easily. Thus, a reputable breeder is a win-win situation for you.

Assert Dominance at a Young Age

As mentioned, one of the issues with Australian Shepherds is that their dominant and stubborn personalities can often get in the way of their learning. This is why it’s important for them to know precisely who is in charge.

This is something you need to do from the moment you bring your puppy home. If you are living with a partner or want to divvy up leadership roles, then make sure that other members of your family are also involved in the process.

Begin Training Early

It is also important to begin their training from the moment your puppy comes home. Yes, in the beginning it is all about showing them when and where to relieve themselves and setting boundaries in your home. However, this is all a learning process and can set up your pup to learn even more tricks later on.

Training Australian Shepherds can be tricky, which is why you may want to call in a dog trainer for the earlier stages. These individuals have the skills and know-how to help you get the most out of your pup. What’s more, having a good foundation can also make it far easier for you to keep training your dog.

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Expose Your Dog to New Environments and Situations

Until your puppy is fully vaccinated, you will need to focus on broadening their horizons within the safety of your home. In such cases, introduce your puppy to new materials, surfaces, objects, sounds, lights, and more. The more adaptable your dog is, the more intelligent they will be as well.

Once your puppy has been vaccinated, you should try to take them to as many new places as possible. It is a good idea to take them wherever you go. This will teach them how to act, behave, and respond in almost any imaginable situation.

Make Training Fun and Interesting

Australian Shepherds are very intelligent and can be trained without any problem. At the same time, these dogs get bored quite easily. Therefore, if you don’t make their training fun and interesting, they aren’t going to be fully engaged.

It is also important to avoid lingering on just one new task and activity. Once you are sure that your dog has mastered a particular task, it is time to move on. Teaching them something new on a regular basis will ensure that they won’t get bored with their training.

Use Positive Reinforcement

As mentioned, Australian Shepherds can be quite emotionally sensitive. This means that they react well to positive reinforcement and poorly to punishment.

Therefore, your training should revolve around a reward based program. Use treats and lots of affection to show your dog that they are doing a good job. This will guarantee that they stay motivated and on track. They are more likely to be happy with their training as well.

Continue with Training

A lot of people only train their puppy until they reach adulthood, at which point they either stop or slow down the training. Doing this, however, means that your dog’s mental abilities will not be constantly exercised. This may also limit how much they can develop and grow.

This is why you should continue to train your pup at all life stages. Also, don’t forget to reinforce what they have already learned, particularly the more significant commands. Consistently learning new tasks is bound to keep your pooch pretty happy as well as it allows them to stay entertained and stimulated.

Give Your Dog Puzzle Toys

Your dog’s learning shouldn’t just take place when you are around, it could also happen when you aren’t there. To guarantee this, you can go ahead and stock up on puzzle toys and other toys that will require your dog to figure out how to use.

Those that use treats can be especially effective as they provide incentive for your pooch. As an added bonus, these puzzles will keep your dog occupied while you are away, making them less likely to miss you when you are gone.

It is clear that Australian Shepherds are an incredibly intelligent breed, even though they aren’t always ranked as such.

In this article, however, we have outlined the top tips and tricks to follow to increase your chances of raising an intelligent pooch, in addition to all of their other amazing talents.