If you google “most intelligent dog breeds,” most lists find Border Collies in the first place, followed by Poodles, German Shepherds, and Golden Retrievers.
However, a new study by the University of Helsinki on the cognitive abilities of dogs puts a very different breed at the top of the list – a breed that most of us have probably seen before, but never heard its name: the Belgian Malinois.
Primarily known as a police or security dog, the Belgian Malinois is a herding dog very similar to the German Shepherd. Both breeds are similar in size and color, but the Malinois is lighter and its ears are more triangular, according to the American Kennel Club.
What makes the Belgian Malinois more intelligent than other dog breeds?
In the study, published in Scientific Reports, 1,002 dogs of 13 different breeds were subjected to a series of smart dog cognitive tests. These tests included tasks with food rewards that determined the dog’s memory ability, problem-solving skills, impulse control, reading human gestures, copying human behavior, and reasoning. Although there is a wide field of research on dogs, only a handful of studies have examined the cognitive abilities of specific breeds rather than breed groups, according to the study. Moreover, there is little empirical research on non-social cognitive traits such as memory, inhibition control, spatial problem-solving, and reasoning, all of which are addressed in this study.
Researchers have identified several different tests that indicate high intelligence. The study found no significant differences between dog breeds for the main intelligence test and logical reasoning. The three tests the authors chose instead to measure and compare intelligence were, according to The Telegraph:
– The V-detour test showed some problem-solving ability in which the dog had to make a detour around a transparent V-shaped fence to get to a food reward.
– The human gesture reading test measured the dog’s response to five gestures – continuous pointing, short pointing, pointing with a paw, pointing at something while looking in another direction, and following the human’s gaze.
– A test of unsolvable tasks involving a dog trying to get food into a box that cannot be opened measured the dog’s independence and speed in asking a human for help.
The Belgian Malinois scored 35 out of 39 possible points in these three tasks, surpassing the overall high intelligence score. Border Collies came second with 26 points, and Hovawarts came third with 25 points.
The study’s authors point out that most breeds have strengths and weaknesses. Some perform very well on some tests and very poorly on others. Some breeds scored average on most tests.
According to IFLScience, the Malinois showed weakness in the cylinder test, in which the dog must remove a piece of food from an opaque cylinder. The opaque cylinder is then replaced with a transparent one to test whether the dog will reach the end of the cylinder for the treat, as with the opaque cylinder, or try to go over the side of the cylinder to get the treat. This test measures inhibition, and the Malinois scored one of the lowest of all breeds in this test.
Every dog has its bright and dark sides, but it’s clear why the Malinois is the dog of choice for security work. Its high intelligence, of course, but also its low level of inhibition can be seen as a plus for a working dog that needs to react very quickly and act when needed.
“The Belgian Shepherd Malinois excelled in many cognitive tasks and scored very well in most tests,” – Study author, smartDOG owner and CEO Dr. Katriina Tiira told The Telegraph.
“Border collie also performed well in many tests,” she added. – she added.