Here’s a question that will surely stir up some controversy.

Are big dogs smarter than small dogs?

Well, some researchers recently studied this question (and published their findings in the journal Animal Cognition) have an answer. If you have a small dog you may not like what it is.

Because, according to their study, dogs with larger brains do perform better than dogs with smaller brains in some intelligence tests. Mainly when it comes to short term memory and self-control.

Other Research Supports This Finding

This seems to back up findings of the psychologist Stanley Coren who published the book, The Intelligence of Dogs, in 1994. When doing the research for that book, Coren ranked the dog breeds by intelligence and found that only one small toy dog breed (the Papillon) was ranked in the top 20%.

Why This Makes Sense From a Biological Standpoint

To be clear, the research is not saying that small dogs aren’t smart. It’s just that dogs with bigger brains have more neurons and more connections firing around in their brains. And that means, from a biological standpoint, they should be able to store memories better and process information better than dogs with smaller brains.

Okay, This Research Finds That Big Dogs Are Smarter But!

This research does have some shortcomings, however. Mainly there are different kinds of intelligence and the researchers who published this study didn’t look at all aspects of intelligence.

In a blog post discussing the findings of this research, biologist Marc Bekoff made some excellent points that speak to the above idea. Here’s how he put it?

A friend of mine once told me about the free-running dogs she knew in a small town in Mexico who were cleverly street-smart and could survive in difficult conditions, but they didn’t listen to humans all that well. Some were skilled at finding and snatching food and avoiding dogcatchers, unfriendly dogs, and people. Some were good at playing humans for food, whereas others weren’t. Conversely, I’ve known some intelligent, crafty, and adoptable dogs who weren’t street-smart and likely couldn’t make it in such an environment. However, a few with whom I shared my home could easily steal my food and that of the other resident dog in a heartbeat, without either of us knowing what was happening.

Which dogs were smarter and which dumber? Neither, of course. Relatively speaking, these dogs were equally intelligent, but they adapted their smarts to different circumstances. Outside those contexts, they might appear quite dumb to us. I’ve lived with and met enough dogs to know that saying one is smarter than another is usually a mischaracterization of who, as individuals, they truly are.

So, at the end of the day, it’s really hard to categorize big dogs as being smarter than small dogs or vice versa. Because it depends on the individual dog, what behaviors you’re looking at and how you define the dog’s intelligence or smarts.

But that won’t stop people from having strong feelings about the question and debating it.

How about it? What does your experience show? Are bigger dogs smarter? Are smaller dogs smarter? How so?

Share your thoughts in the comment section below.

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