Size matters

Does it?

Or rather: ‘musings on size related matters’

I’ve been thinking about Coren’s article in ‘Psychology Today‘ with some of the data indicating very small and very large dogs do less well in intelligence tests.

The thing is, even if they do, it doesn’t matter that much. Most people can’t cope with highly intelligent breeds anyway. They can make wonderful family members, but they are less of a ‘pet’ and more of a ‘mischievous kid’. You have to train them, you have to keep them occupied, boredom will cost you dearly.  They learn how to sit/stay/roll over and so on in seconds, true. But they learn equally fast how to open cupboards, when it’s safe to steal food or rummage through your things, or how far to push you before you explode. They often outsmart their owners and you see the sad, tired humans, following the super-smart dogs with an expression of painful resignation on their sleep-deprived faces. Because highly intelligent dogs are often highly energetic.

So, as much as I disagree with breeding for the looks only, the size of the dog has never bothered me. Nor the intelligence (however we define it). My dogs have never paid any attention to the size, either. Tiny terriers and giant Caucasian Shepherds: they are all equally fun if they are fun, or equally boring if they are boring.

Dolly the Great Dane and Brian the Great Pretender 

There are ‘size related matters’ that do matter, though. The size can determine health ( giant breeds, toy breeds) and life expectancy. The breed itself can influence behaviour. Giant breeds are more expensive to keep and they might be accepted in fewer places (pubs, hotels). But when you fall in love with the tiniest of Chihuahuas or the massive English Mastiff -they will be intelligent enough. In fact, you’ll find they are not only the smartest, but also the most beautiful dogs in the world. Love makes us blind-and utterly happy.


20 thoughts on “Size matters

  1. I had an incredible Border Collie for 11 years, he was the smartest dog I’ve ever known to this day. Smart dogs are exhausting if they aren’t in the right situation. He and I only experiences 6 months of that until I figured him out 🙂

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    1. I think we often miss the ones with the most character most. Intelligence is so many things, I think all my dogs have been super-intelligent (ok, most of them) because they seemed to understand me 🙂 Which is an achievement, since I often fail to understand myself 😉

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  2. My hope is that people understand the breed before buying and do necessary research on their rescues. The more we know the better we can support their needs. Brodie is very smart and enjoys his training…he’s working on Canine Good Citizen…that’s his job presently and I see that we both benefit from this goal.

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  3. I like your last paragraph. Dog owners are like parents in that we all think our dog is the cutest, smartest, etc. But, it is because we love them and don’t see the faults that others may see. Tippy is rather intelligent and high energy. I want to work on the Canine Good Citizen class with her and start some agility work also. I think she would like that.

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  4. Interesting subject. Sometime I wonder if it depends on one’s definition of intelligence. I’m not so sure if obedience is a necessarily a sign of intelligence, or if a dog makes a conscious decision to do what he wants, not what I want, like he knows he has a choice. Or is intelligence intuition? I have found dogs to be highly in tune and bonded with me – kind of psychic-like. I’m not so sure if we can generalize breeds or sizes as more or less intelligent. Thanks for the thought provoking post!

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    1. We can’t generalise dogs in any way 🙂 The musings are based on Coren’s article (he’s got lot of other musings in his books, he also talks about types of intelligence). The thing is we have breed dogs throughout ages for either a specific purpose or (recently) for their looks. So, there are some predominant features in breeds, but the difference within the breed can be huge. I’d say, it’s the same in the size category. And ‘trainability’ is probably the equivalent of IQ, so it’s often referred to as ‘intelligence’. Now there’s more recognition of dogs emotional intelligence (and spatial and the problem solving and memory based). Everything in science is first classifying, then agreeing guidelines are not a law 🙂 I believe ALL dogs are intelligent. And all are special 🙂

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  5. Like the emotional intelligence little dog was not “clever” but she was kind and loving. Mum’s GSD’s have all been approximately 28 inches at the shoulder and real “thinking” dogs…yet Mum has just told me the Great Dane we had when I was little was a little…dim.! :)x


    1. Generally, the working/gun dogs are trainable, so they’re considered most intelligent. But it’s mostly because this type of intelligence is easy to measure (and notice). Like people, each dog has some special quality (for one it’ll be an ability to read facial expressions, for another remember sounds or faces or places, yet another will see object that are moving very fast better than any other dogs and so on). And, like with people: it’s only a question of finding it 🙂 Great Danes are not very ‘trainable’ (it takes longer to train them) but they tend to have very high emotional intelligence (they ‘sense’ moods) 🙂 One of my best ever dogs was quite simple 🙂 I still miss her!

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      1. Great explanation, love it thank you 🙂 It’s like cats, Siamese are supposed to be intelligent, but Ting is definitely loving but simple, bless her. Charlie is half Siamese and is the most intelligent cat I’ve ever had! x

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  6. Everything is relative: Brian looks very big next to Lily, but tiny next to my namesake. So what? They are equally loving and lovable. If I recognize that my cat Beba is developmentally delayed, I don’t love her any less for that,in the same way as parents wouldn’t love a developmentally delayed child less than their so called “normal” children. If they are “normal” parents, that is. We don’t choose those we love by a checklist of criteria; love happens, regardless of intelligence.

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  7. Thanks everyone for the comments and the original blog. I am looking for a dog since I lost mine 2 weeks ago. He was intelligent and understood so many words and commands, but he didn’t get into trouble except when I first got him and he was “acting out” chewing blankets, etc. He was a medium size mutt (corgie and shepherd mix). Small dogs I have known seem nervous and high strung while labs and retrievers seem calmer. I’m glad to read about all the love and bonding with small dogs. There seems to be a lot of terriers available as rescues here in the Seattle area right now.

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