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Are Australian Shepherds (Aussies) Smart?

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An Australian Shepherd puppy lying in a pile of dry leaves

All breeds of dogs recognized by the American Kennel Club (AKC) are described as intelligent, and the Australian Shepherd is no exception. The Aussie is described by the AKC as a "remarkably intelligent, brainy, tireless, and trainable partner." In addition, few breeds are as eager to please their owners as the energetic and gorgeous Australian Shepherd. The breed's affability, coupled with keen intelligence and high energy, makes them very easy to train. I believe that is also what makes them one of the most beloved dog breeds in North America.

By all accounts, Australian Shepherds definitely bring beauty and brains to the table. However, while most Aussie owners passionately say their dogs are very intelligent, Stanley Coren's 2006 book, "The Intelligence of Dogs," says otherwise. While no universal standard has been set, Coren's list of the 63 smartest dog breeds is widely accepted by many dog experts as an excellent reference point.

According to the list, the intelligent Aussie ranks 42nd, which may feel lower than expected for virtually all Aussie owners. Conversely, Australian Shepherds rank 13th in Bored Panda's list of the top 30 smartest dog breeds, as proved by science. Either way, the Aussie is rated as one of the most intelligent dogs on earth.

How is the Aussie's intelligence measured?

According to a Wikipedia article, the first intelligence test for dogs, conducted in 1976, measured the following components:
  • Short-term memory
  • Agility
  • Ability to solve problems on its own
  • Ability to adapt to new conditions
  • Ability to cope with emotionally difficult situations
Of course, dog intelligence is also measured differently by different people, and in Stanley Coren's trials, the Australian Shepherd is ranked on obedience, adaptiveness, and working intelligence. These components are based on how well and fast a breed usually learns from humans and solves problems on its own. Dog breeds that learn new commands in the shortest amount of time with fewer repetitions rank the highest.

For example, it takes the Border Collie, which is listed as the world's smartest dog, fewer than five repetitions to understand new commands. Additionally, it takes the breed 95% of the time (or better) to obey first commands.

As I mentioned earlier, the Australian Shepherd ranks as the 42nd smartest dog breed out of 63 breeds. The breed is deemed to possess "average working/obedience intelligence." According to Coren's trials, it took the Aussie 25 to 40 repetitions to understand new commands. 

In addition, it took the Aussie 50% of the time (or better) to obey a known command on the first attempt. The higher the success rate at which a dog obeys a new command, the smarter and more obedient the dog is considered to be, according to Coren's tests.

Australian Shepherds are smart in their own right

Intelligence is one of the reasons Australian Shepherds are so popular. Their eager-to-please nature also adds to their popularity. While the Aussie's rank under Coren’s trials may not meet your expectations, the breed exhibits its intellectual prowess in other ways, including:

1. Herding

Aussies are recognized far and wide for their working prowess. They are known to possess the instinct and drive to protect the animals that they are herding. Like other herding dogs, Aussies will get between a predator and the livestock they are herding, attempting to create a barrier. 

Additionally, they understand grazing movement, which involves moving livestock from one grazing site to another. For example, a working Aussie may move livestock from a site that has been thoroughly grazed and needs to grow back to a new site to graze there while the original site replenishes.

What's more, Aussies also understand terrain guidance, which involves safely guiding livestock through rough terrain and helping them avoid dangerous things like high cliffs, large boulders, and predator territory.

The Australian Shepherd's ability to round up cattle or sheep, push them into formation, and safely drive them in directions requires a high level of working intelligence. Not average.

Furthermore, Aussies are fast learners and are known to be especially good at herding cattle. The "world's smartest dog," the Border Collie, on the other hand, is known to be good at herding sheep.

American ranchers describe Aussies as great herders. In fact, Australian Shepherds became known to the public when they started appearing in rodeos. In addition to herding the bulls, Aussies were also seen performing tricks.


When kept as family pets, Aussies are known to display an irresistible impulse to herd anything or anyone, including other pets, children, and even their owners.

2. Guarding

Aussies may not be the best dogs for protecting anyone, but because of the strong bond they form with their owners, they will protect you whether you want them to or not. Plus, they are quick to bark to alert you to strangers or unfamiliar situations. However, they are not considered aggressive or very vocal dogs. Plus, they usually don't attack unless provoked.

In short, Aussies are as protective of their families as they are of the livestock they were bred to herd.

3. Training

Contrary to Coren's ranking, Australian Shepherds are clever, biddable, and easy to train. Aussies are easy to teach things to because they are obedient. However, because they are also bred to think for themselves, most Aussies don't do well with repetitive training. They need to think. Plus, most Aussies only obey someone they see as their master. Maybe that was the case with the Australian Shepherd in Coren's trial tests.

Conclusion

In conclusion, the question is not whether Australian Shepherds are smart. Rather, the question is whether Aussies' personalities fit your lifestyle. That is, if you are considering welcoming one into your life. Like all dog breeds, not all Aussies may be very smart. However, almost all Aussies are intelligent enough to meet their owners' needs. For example, if you own an Aussie as a family pet, and it brings joy and companionship to the table, then it is smart. 

In the same vein, if you own an Aussie as a farm dog and it is protecting and herding livestock for you, then it is smart. Aussies are highly capable of performing various tasks and tricks. So, you should focus on developing your Aussie for your own specific needs instead of focusing on the breed's intelligence.

What matters is that your Aussie is loving, affectionate, and a good match for you and your family.

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