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smart Golden Retriever holding flower

Are Golden Retrievers Smart? (Pros & Cons of Intelligent Golden Retrievers)

Every dog is unique, but various breeds exhibit certain common qualities. We look at whether Golden Retrievers are smart compared to other breeds.

We’ve all seen dogs exhibit signs of their intelligence by solving a problem or quickly learning what seems to be a challenging behavior. But they can also act in what appear to be very dopey and simple ways, too. Golden Retrievers are often characterized in both manners. So, are Golden Retrievers smart?

Golden Retrievers are considered to be highly intelligent as compared to other dog breeds. While intelligence can be measured in different ways that produce varying results, Golden Retrievers learn quickly, are easy to train, and excel in problem solving excercises.

In addition to being smart, Golden Retrievers are a much loved breed of dog for many reasons. They make great family pets due to their relaxed and calm nature. They are great with children and are generally non-aggressive.

Let’s look at the intelligence of this wonderful breed and why Golden Retrievers are considered to be smart.

Measuring Golden Retriever Intelligence & Tests 

As you can imagine, there is much debate about what defines intelligence both in humans and animals, and it’s worth bearing in mind that what one person would consider intelligent, another might not.

All dogs are different and will display different skill sets and attributes, so it’s difficult to put them in a metaphorical box, nor should we try. But there are a few common factors that can help us identify whether a dog is considered smart or not.

As with humans, all dogs have the potential to be classified as smart. But some take longer than others to figure things out. Does this mean we should we categorize them as intelligent or not? While this is problematic, it’s also really the only way of measuring intelligence in another species.

According to some studies, dogs are able to recognize more than 150 words and it’s believed that their mental abilities are similar to a 2-year-old human.

If your dog can pass the following tests, you probably have a smart canine. Golden Retrievers generally score high in the following tests, which suggest they are indeed clever furry friends. 

1. Problem-Solving 

If an animal can solve a problem successfully within the context of their own species, then we can consider them as intelligent. When measuring canine intelligence, we must compare them with other dogs to get a fair comparison. Interspecies comparisons are problematic as there are so many variables.

One popular test is a detour task. Dogs are known for their navigation skills, so placing a toy or object behind a fence tests their problem-solving ability.

Some dogs will successfully master this task with little problem, but others will take longer. For a golden retriever, this task is usually a simple one, and they’ll be playing with their favorite toy in no time at all.

2. Memory 

To test a dog’s memory, you can create a game by arranging several cups and showing them a treat. Place treats under a cup, then move them around. You should also walk around the cups to disorientate them slightly.

If your dog finds the treat immediately, they win the memory test (and should definitely win the treat). Again, a Golden will have little problem with this exercise.

3. Corrections 

In general when training dogs, repetition is key to helping them grasp commands. However, a highly intelligent dog will understand what you’re asking them after two or three; a great test for the super smart Golden Retriever.

A common IQ test for dogs is the towel exercise. Throw a towel over your dog’s head and time how long it takes for them to get free. If it’s less than 30 seconds it’s safe to say you have a smart dog. If they try and don’t succeed, not so smart. If they don’t even try, your dog likely won’t be getting into Harvard.

4. Communication 

Many dogs will learn ways to communicate their needs to owners, which is a good sign of intelligence. They will wait by the door and bark when needing to relieve themselves, letting you know when it’s dinner time, or asking when they want to go for a walk.

Dogs are fantastic at picking up on routines and will communicate with owners at certain times of the day to get their needs met.

There are various online tools to help define how intelligent your Golden is, such as Einstein, Renaissance dog and Dognition. They show you various different games with your dog, and you then input data to reveal which profile your dog fits into. It’s not foolproof, but you’ll have fun playing the game with your attentive Golden.

Golden Retriever Intelligence — Are Golden Retrievers Smart?

intelligent Golden Retriever wading in water

Based on intelligence trials testing and research, Golden Retrievers have proven to be amongst the world’s smartest dogs. In one study, they rate in the top ten, landing fourth amongst 138 dog breeds. 

This means that Goldens can learn new commands in a short amount of time with 5 repetitions or fewer. The study also revealed that Goldens were able to obey a command on the first try 95% of the time. Given their intelligence along with their desire to please, it isn’t surprising they are amongst the most compliant dogs around. 

These tests only give us a snapshot of how smart dogs are, and really only provides a linear way of measuring intelligence. What about their instinctive performance? 

Golden Retrievers were originally bred as working dogs (helping with the hunting of birds), so they instinctively have retrieving skills. They are usually amazing at fetch games and are able to navigate uneven terrain. 

Goldens also have a high level of adaptive intelligence. This refers to how well a dog can learn from previous mistakes. They may do something wrong, but will then be less likely to repeat the mistake. Goldens are able to read their surroundings and environment and adapt accordingly.

In addition, they are also good at linking objects with actions. For example, if you always wear the same jacket when walking your dog, it won’t take long for them to realize that it’s walk time when they see the jacket. They will evidence this by getting super excited even when you head towards said jacket. 

Perhaps a wonderfully unique trait of the Golden Retriever is their ability to read people and understand their human companions.

A Golden will know if members of their people are upset and seek ways to comfort them. This makes them highly emotionally intelligent and is why they are one of the most popular family dogs. With these things in mind, then what are the pros and cons of owning a smart dog?

Pros and Cons of Having a Smart Golden Retriever

While you may think that having a smart dog is always preferable than having a less intelligent dog, there are definitely downsides as well. Let’s look at both the benefits and disadvantages of owning an intelligent dog.


One of the greatest advantages of having a smart dog is that they are easy to train. Right from puppyhood, training a Golden is a delight, and they learn fast. They enjoy pleasing their owners and want to make them happy, making training generally much easier than with most breeds.

What can you teach them?

You can teach them lots of tricks which will keep them stimulated as well as provide enjoyment for you and your family. Puzzle toys are a great way to keep their minds active and give you a break from constantly entertaining them.

What products can you use?

There are loads of products on the market designed to help keep dogs occupied, so it’s good to research online to discover which ones would work well. Interactive games are a good way to build the bond between you and your dog and help wear them out and reduce boredom.

Where can you take them?

The benefit of their calm and friendly disposition is that you can take Goldens most anywhere, and they will enjoy the adventure. Taking them in public places will ensure they are not lonely at home and will contribute to them having a happy and sociable life.

Are intelligent dogs better behaved?

Another positive aspect of having an intelligent pooch is that it reduces bad behavior. Having a badly behaved dog that is difficult to train can be stressful in everyday life. You may not be able to trust them when out in public if they don’t respond properly to commands.

Can you trust them?

You may be anxious about letting a badly behaved dog off the lead in case they don’t return to you. In the case of aggressive dogs, you may have to be very careful around children and other triggers to protect others.

A smart dog is usually a safer dog, and it’s reassuring if you have an intelligent pooch you can trust.


Stimulation Needs

The downside of sharing your life with an intelligent canine is that they need much more stimulation, and this can be tiring, especially if you already have a busy life.

Smart dogs are headstrong and will get bored easily, and if they haven’t got enough to do they can be destructive. They may chew things up or bark excessively, so it’s crucial that they stay occupied.

Benefits of Less Intelligent Dogs

Owning a slightly less intelligent dog can come with all sorts of benefits. As long as they don’t behave badly, less intelligent dogs can be easier to look after than very smart ones.

They don’t need constant stimulation, and every day is fun to them. Their carefree attitude can be very endearing, and they help us not to take life too seriously.

Where a smart dog may demand attention in terms of stimulation and challenges, a less intelligent dog often wants silly play and belly rubs. What’s not to love about that?

Final Thoughts

Broadly speaking, Golden Retrievers are very smart relative to other dog breeds, and are some of the most intelligent dogs we have. They are easily trained and solve problems without difficulty. Their intelligence and calm, friendly disposition are reasons why so many service dogs are Golden Retrievers.

While brains shouldn’t be the primary characteristic when choosing a dog breed, Golden Retrievers certainly check that box.

Superb Dog Editor

Superb Dog Editor