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It is true that most dog owners believe that their dog is naturally very smart and gifted and that certainly may be very accurate, at least from the individual owners perception. If, however, you happen to own a breed that is considered a highly intelligent dog, you may find out that your dog may be challenging in many different ways. Often owners of the most intelligent dogs find that these pooches find very unique ways to keep themselves entertained, plus they often require both mental as well as physical exercise and stimulation to stay out of trouble.
Perhaps the most challenging types of dogs are those that have a high intellect and a high energy level. Some of the more popular breeds with this combination include the Border Collie, Shetland Sheepdog, Australian Shepherd, Australian Cattle Dog, Toy and Miniature Poodles, Doberman Pincher, Papillion, Jack Russell Terriers, Border Terriers and even the Labrador Retrievers. While these dogs come in a variety of sizes, they are all known both for their intelligence as well as their activity levels. Smaller sizes of these dogs will self-exercise in a house but the large breeds need lots of outdoor space to run, plus a definite role or job to do within the family. Since many are herding or retrieving breeds, they are naturals at these tasks. Australian Cattle Dogs and Border Collies will herd almost anything from kids in the back yard to other family pets in their zest for something to do. Labs will fetch anything you throw, typically as long as you are willing to keep on throwing.
Other breeds of dogs that are recognized for their intelligence but not as much for high energy levels include the German Shepherd Dog, Golden Retrievers, Standard Poodles, Rottweilers, Corgis and the Bernese Mountain Dog to name just a few. Each of these breeds is a working type of dog as well, ranging from hunting dogs to herders, as well as guard dogs and protectors. It is interesting to note that while the Standard Poodle is often thought of as a companion dog that is very elegant and refined, its early beginnings were as a water retriever and the name Poodle actually derives from the word "puddle". The traditional clip of the poodle was also developed to help the dog quickly dry out of the water while providing thicker hair over the joints to stop arthritis from becoming a problem as they went in and out of cold water after downed ducks.
It is also important to point out that many of the terrier breeds do very poorly on standard intelligence tests for dogs, which may lead to a poor understanding of how smart these small dogs are. Terriers have been bred to be independent and smart enough to problem solve and survive in the rugged farming areas of Great Britain and surrounding countries without human help or support. As such, they are not good listeners and tend to prefer to do things their way, rather than following commands. It may take several training sessions to get a terrier to do a basic command, but it will only take them a second to figure out how to get out of a pen or how to get into the treat cupboard you thought you had closed and locked.
Regardless of the specific breed and where it ranks in intelligence ratings, if you are dealing with a smart dog you will have to change your training style. Smart or intelligent dogs tend to be easily bored with repetitive type training and may become more and more non-compliant the more that they know the command. While you may get a Cocker Spaniel to sit several times in a row multiple times a day it is highly unlikely that a Border Collie is going to repeat the same command without becoming bored and distracted.
Changing up your training routines and throwing in a mental challenge for your dog or dogs is going to be an essential part of keeping them mentally exercised. This may mean training in different locations, training with other dogs or even enrolling in ongoing agility, obedience or other specialty type classes such as herding, hunting or even training your dog to be a therapy dog. Any and all types of training are generally a very positive thing for these dogs plus it helps with ongoing socialization and obedience issues.
Many owners become frustrated with intelligent dogs because they seem to be constantly getting into things and doing things that don't seem very dog-like. In some cases this is because owners mistakenly equate physical exercise with mental stimulation, when in fact the two are different. Taking a German Shepherd or a Shetland Sheepdog on a two mile jog in the morning is going to physically tire them out, but they are still mentally alert and full of energy, which is likely to turn into a negative or destructive type behavior if they are left alone. Incorporating some training routines before or after the run or even giving the dog time to play with other dogs prior to being left alone will definitely help.
High intelligence dogs often crave a lot of human attention and interaction. This is not just grooming and petting, it is actually having the dog interact with you and have the dog feel important in your life. Fetching the paper, helping you get the kids herded out the door in the morning or being given small commands throughout the day engages the dog's mind and keeps them focused on behaving properly.
Chaining commands or building more complex commands from simple basic commands is an easy way to add small challenges for your intelligent dog to practice. For example, from the down command teach the roll over command, the play dead command and even the crawl command if your dog naturally uses this movement. You can also teach the dog to identify different people in the house by name, simply by associating the person's name and the "find" or "go to" command. Dogs can also learn the names of their toys, which can be a good way to play hide and seek with the dog, challenging them both mentally and physically to find different people and items in the house.
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