It never fails that someone comes into my class with the idea that their dog is “dumb”. Either, they haven’t had luck in training their dog themselves, they “failed” a puppy class, or it’s a breed who have a tendency to be a little “dopey” and the owner bought into it.
Now, are there dogs that are smarter or quicker to pick up things? Of course there are, just as some people are smarter at certain things than other people. However, I often find that the dogs who are labeled dumb from the get-go aren’t necessarily so. I hate to say it, but there is a matter of a two-way street and handler error is just as possible.
These are just a few, in no particular order:
1. Stage of development: Is your dog a puppy, a canine adolescent or an adult dog? (By the way, an old dog can learn new tricks, it just might take a little longer than when they were a puppy… and it might not.)
2. Health: A dog that has something physical or mental going on is less likely to be a quick learner because they are distracted by not feeling well, itching, bad ears, anxiety etc.
3. Humans: Some people have better dog communication skills than others. Like it or not, so much of what we teach in class is for the human’s benefit. It’s only a successful class if we are able to transfer our knowledge of dogs and the way they learn over to the humans.
4. Genetics: Certain breeds are meant to retrieve, some are trackers, some are ratters, some are herders, and the list goes on. Some of the things we want them to do go against every instinct they have. So, while, yes you can, train a terrier to walk nicely on a leash even when there’s a rodent around, it’s a much more difficult task than teaching them to, say, crawl through a tunnel. Even if your dog doesn’t seem to have a discernible drive, they are still dogs, and dogs come up with dog things to do when they are bored, such as exploring everything with their mouth, eating poop, pulling one way when you pull the other, barking at strangers, digging in the earth… and my list can go on. These are perfectly normal dog activities, we just don’t really like many of them in our house or garden.
One more thing, really smart dogs aren’t always what they’re cracked up to be. A dog who can get into every drawer in your kitchen, including the pull-out freezer, may be amazing to watch on YouTube, but you can bet that the owner of that dog is constantly wondering what Fido will figure out next. Often a dog that sees resting on their bed chewing a bone while you watch TV a perfectly good job is less of a challenge in the everyday living department.