Are large mixed-breed dogs smarter than their big purebred counterparts? Are they smarter than small breed dogs?
The evidence here is mixed. There is solid evidence that the larger brains of big breeds make them smarter than their small dog counterparts, but the evidence for whether or not large mixed breeds are smarter than large pure breeds is shaky at best.
Brain Size Makes a Big Difference in Dog Intelligence
Most of the time in the animal kingdom, when animals have bigger brains they are smarter than animals that have smaller brains. There are a few exceptions to this rule, but overall, it’s a good rule of thumb to go by.
Based on the idea that bigger brains equal more intelligence, a group of researchers collected data on the intelligence and size of dogs for over 7000 purebred dogs. A paper was published in January 2019 in Animal Cognition based on this research and shows that larger dogs performed better on tests of control and cognition – including self-control and memory.
“Using citizen science data on more than 7000 purebred dogs from 74 breeds, and controlling for genetic relatedness between breeds, we identify strong relationships between estimated absolute brain weight and breed differences in cognition. Specifically, larger-brained breeds performed significantly better on measures of short-term memory and self-control.”
These are good traits to measure and know about because both self-control and memory are important functions in successfully training a dog.
Overall, it’s probably safe to say that large mixed breed dogs are generally smarter than small breed dogs – either mixed or purebred – simply because they have bigger brains.
Dog Breed Influence When It Comes to Intelligence
When you’re trying to evaluate how smart your large mixed-breed dog will be, it’s helpful to know the breed background of your dog.
Many times you can guess this, but if you don’t want to guess you can now get a detailed analysis through doggy DNA kits. These DNA kits can let you know the breed background of your mixed breed dog. They will also often give you health data on your dog.
To use a dog DNA kit, you need a cheek swab from your dog to send in. After you send in the DNA you can usually get data back in two to four weeks.
Once you know the breed background you can look at the AKC website and look up the personality scores of the different breeds that make up your mixed breed pup.
Pay particular attention to the trainability level of the breed you’re looking at. When most people talk about how smart a dog is, they are talking about how easy the dog is to train.
Some dogs can be smart, but stubborn. So, if you are looking for a dog that is smart and easy to train you want to pay attention to the dog’s trainability level scores at the AKC.
With a mixed-breed dog, you’ll have to average out their breed scores to get an idea of how smart they might be.
Environmental Influence on Dog Smarts
While some dogs are naturally smarter than others, and big breeds tend to be smarter than small breeds, the environment that your dog is in can also make a difference in how smart they seem.
This is true for all types of dogs.
If you have a solid training program and an enriched environment with things for your dog to do, they are likely to be smarter and better behaved than a dog who is bored and untrained.
Exercise also makes a huge difference for dogs. Most breeds of dogs need 30 minutes to an hour of dedicated exercise every single day. If they get enough exercise their brains will work better and they will seem smarter, more alert, and more engaged.
Breeding Quality and Its Influence on How Smart a Dog Is
When it comes to the intelligence of mixed breeds vs. purebred dogs, breeding quality is something that must be taken into consideration.
If purebred dogs aren’t bred responsibly they can end up with genetic issues that can negatively impact their intelligence. This is usually the result of inbreeding.
Mixed breed dogs rarely have this problem with intelligence because they have a larger genetic pool and don’t often get inbred.
The exception is with the designer mixed breeds like Labradoodles. Sometimes breeders will inbreed very popular mixed breed dogs, and then you can get the same problems as inbred purebred dogs.
Other Studies About Dog Intelligence
There are two other studies that we’d like to highlight when it comes to dog intelligence and how mixed breeds stack up against purebred dogs.
This isn’t exactly a study, but there is an interesting California state science fair paper which shows that when testing thirteen mixed breed dogs against thirteen purebred dogs the mixed breed dogs tested more intelligent.
“Overall, mixed breed dogs are smarter than purebred dogs. Mixed dogs scored 463 and purebred dogs scored 417.”
In a different study published in the National Library of Medicine, they found that people reported their mixed breed dogs were more trainable than purebreds, but that they weren’t as calm.
“After controlling for the distribution of the demographic and dog keeping factors, we found that mixed-breeds were (1) more trainable than purebreds, (2) less calm, and (3) showed more problematic behavior than purebreds (p < 0.001 for all).”
Other Considerations Besides Intelligence
If you are considering what type of dog to get – whether it be a large mixed breed or some other type of dog there is more to consider than just intelligence.
It’s important to consider what you want out of your dog and what kind of relationship you want with a dog before you select the right dog for you.
It’s also important to consider how much time you want to spend walking your dog and how much they need to be outside running around vs. inside in your house or apartment.
Thinking about what you want from your dog can help you select the purebred or mixed-breed dog which is right for you.