Are Golden Retrievers Smart?

Yes, Golden Retrievers are one of the smartest dog breeds (ranked around 4th in the world). You’ll realise as soon as you get a Golden Retriever that they’re easy to train and sensitive to human emotions. 

Read on to find out how it’s determined that Golden Retrievers are the 4th smartest dog breed, the pros and cons of having such a smart pet, and more.

Fun fact: Studies show that a Golden Retriever’s intelligence is on par with a human child aged between two years and two and a half years old! They can learn and understand over 150 words.

List of Smartest Dog Breeds

Golden Retrievers made it into the top 10 smartest dog breeds list. Check out this comparison of the top 10, as classified by Dr. Stanley Coren.

Coren suggested that the dog breeds in the top 10 are smarter dogs that learn commands in five (or less) repetitions and usually obey the first command.

Dog Breed:Smartness Ranking:
Border Collie1
German Shepherd2
Golden Retriever4
Doberman Pinscher5
Shetland Sheepdog6
Labrador Retriever7
Australian Cattle Dog10

On the opposite end of the table, are the dog breeds that rank 55-79 and are considered to have low intelligence in terms of work and obedience. It takes between 80-100 repetitions to learn a command and they only obey in 25% of cases.

The rankings went from 1 to 89, with the final three and lowest rankings as English Bulldog (87), Basenji (88), and Afghan Hound (89).

Benefits of Having a Smart Dog Like a Golden Retriever

Golden Retrievers are:

  • Easy to train: Because of their intelligence, Golden Retrievers are quick learners, and coupled with how eager they are to please, they are usually easy to train. This can depend on factors like whether you’ve bonded, how you’re trying to train them, and environmental factors that can make training harder.
  • Good work dogs: Golden Retrievers have a combination of intelligence, a friendly demeanor, and fierce loyalty. This makes them great workers in a bunch of industries like service dogs and working in films (more on this later).
  • Good problem solving: Not only do Golden Retrievers excel at problem-solving (e.g. working out puzzles to get treats) but they also enjoy it. Using their brain like this mentally challenges them and keeps them occupied. This also means that they can be taught more complicated commands and follow steps to get a result.
  • Strong with their communication skills: Golden Retrievers are experts at reading emotions and body language. They can pick up on small cues, and learn how to express themselves. They understand that sometimes they need to communicate with you and will work out how best they can do that.

Drawbacks of Having a Smart Dog Like a Golden Retriever

Despite the many pros of having such a smart pet, there are also negatives. 

If you have an intelligent dog you might have to deal with:

  • Boredom: A smart dog needs mental stimulation to prevent boredom. When they’re bored, Goldies might be destructive – chewing furniture and making a mess. Puzzle toys are a great way to combat this, as well as regular exercise.
  • Mischievous behavior: Being smart means they can think about bending the rules and getting into trouble. Their fun-loving and playful side paired with high intelligence can sometimes be a frustrating combination. 
  • Depression: Dogs who are not mentally challenged or haven’t had enough exercise, can have their mental health negatively affected by it. Signs of depression include lethargy, lost appetite, and withdrawn behavior. 
  • Can be stubborn: It’s difficult to fool an intelligent dog, they have good memories and can read you well. This makes the old ‘hiding medication in a bit of ham or cheese’ a lot harder. And, although they know and understand your commands, they might just refuse to obey them.

Golden Retrievers Using Their Intelligence

As well as being family pets, a Golden’s intelligence makes them perfect for certain work:

Hunting and Retrieving 

Golden Retrievers were originally bred to hunt and retrieve game such as waterfowl in the Highlands of Scotland. They’re also water babies, so they can be used in and around water to retrieve anything you train them to. 


In addition to their cuteness, Golden Retrievers are quick to learn commands and eager to please which makes them perfect for show biz. 

You might recognise Buddy from the Air bud films, Ben from Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey, or any of the Buddies from the Disney films. 

Service Jobs

A common role for Golden Retrievers is to work as service dogs. Their intelligence is their biggest asset as they learn to assist people with disabilities (e.g. working as a guide dog for someone who is blind). Because they’re also attuned to human emotions, they can provide priceless comfort to anyone in pain or upset. 

Golden Retrievers also have super strong senses of smell, which makes them brilliant partners for law enforcement officers. They can sniff out drugs, and work in airports border crossings and seaports.

Social Media Stars

While any breed can become famous on social media, there are undeniably a bunch of Goldens that have made it big. 

You can find accounts across YouTube, Instagram, Twitter, and TikTok.

How to Measure How Smart a Golden Retriever Is?

Canine psychologist Dr. Stanley Coren reached the conclusion of how smart a dog breed is based on a study he carried out. This study was done with 199 recognised American or Canadian Kennel Club breeds (so no mixed breeds like Goldendoodles) and each breed was only included if there were at least 100 responses for that breed.

Coren looked at three things to determine the intelligence of Golden Retrievers:

  1. The number of repetitions it takes for the Golden Retriever to learn a new command.
  2. The success rate of whether the Golden Retriever obeyed a new command on the first try.
  3. The ability to learn from a human being, looking at work intelligence and obedience. 

With the help of almost 200 North American obedience trial judges, he then determined the intelligence of Golden Retrievers as compared with other breeds.

If you’re interested in learning more, check out Coren’s 1994 book called The Intelligence of Dogs to read about his full study.

Instinctive or Adaptive Intelligence

Coren also said that there are two other important components to a dog’s intelligence – their instinctive and adaptive intelligence. 

Instinctive intelligence is certain abilities that are bred into a dog’s line and passed down through the family. An example of this is retrieving – it’s an instinct for Goldies to retrieve hunted waterfowl for their owners. They naturally want to do this because the need to retrieve has been bred into them.

While adaptive intelligence is what a Golden Retriever can learn for themselves, including learning from past experiences. For example, if they eat something they shouldn’t (e.g. cat food) and you tell them off, they’ll soon learn that they shouldn’t do it. 

They’ll also watch your body language when you give them commands, so if you pull your old trainers on every time you tell them it’s time for a walk, they’ll associate those shoes with walking without you saying anything in future.

Coren’s findings summarised that Golden Retrievers are the 4th smartest dog breed. They can learn commands in less than five repetitions – compared with the average dog who needs somewhere between 25 and 40 repetitions to learn a new command.

Golden Retrievers were also found to have a 95% success rate at obeying a command the first time. The average dog’s success rate was around 50%.

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