How smart is a Black Lab?

How Smart is a Black Lab?

Have you ever wondered How Smart is a Black Lab?  The answer is pretty dang smart!  I’m not sure if smart though is the right word.  When I look at some of the things that Guinness, my five-year old male,  does;  I often refer to him as dork (you wont fit on my lap), idiot (why did you eat that wax toilet ring) or dumb ass (stop barking at the hawks flying over)!  Maybe calling them intelligent or fast learners might be a better description.

Intelligence in a Lab is naturally occurring

If fact many of the Dog Rating organizations out there rate Black Labs in the top 10 of all breeds in regards to intelligence.  They are a dog that has a tendency to have a kind nature, but unlike other dogs who are as or smarter than a lab, they are also not as “laid back”. The ultra-smart dogs like a Border Collie, Poodle or German Shepherd are almost too smart for their own good.  A Lab’s natural desire to please, mild manners and affectionate nature also aids them in the ability to learn.

Canine experts find labs extra smart

Canine behavior expert, Dr. Stanley Coren, is currently a Professor Emeritus at the University of British Columbia. Throughout his many years of studying canine behavior, he has discovered some remarkable things about the intelligence of our four-footed friends. He found a lot of avenues to determine how smart is a black lab. He asked over 200 professional dog obedience experts to rank a given list of over 100 dog breeds in the order of their intelligence. According to Coren’s findings, based on the expert evaluations of these industry pros, Labrador’s ranked within the top 10 in a group of 110 breeds. It’s remarkable that an animal without the ability to speak can recognize more spoken words than the average 12-month-old child. According to Dr. Coren, Labradors are among the breeds that can learn as many as 250 words, as well as visual and auditory signals. That’s about 85 more words than the average dog.

Smart Dog equals Naughty Dog

High intelligence in a dog also has its naughty side.  My Guinness, in his unnatural love of chasing tennis balls, will habitually drop his ball in front of the lawnmower while I’m riding it..  knowing that I have to stop mowing and pick it up to toss it out-of-the-way.  It is his way of forcing me to play fetch. It is not just a random occurrence. It is like he waits for me to start mowing and then he goes and gets his tennis ball and immediate starts the process of drop and toss.  I eventually have to lock him in another part of the yard so that I can finish the mowing.

Intelligence in a Lab is Genetic

The modern Black Lab came from a line of dogs called the  St. John’s Dog.  This dog had been in Newfoundland for over 300 years. The St. John’s Dog love for the water fit well within the local fishing trade of the settlers in the areas around the Newfoundland coast. St. John’s Dogs, like labs, were tireless workers.  They naturally retrieved any fish that came off the fishermen’s hooks and had the instinctive ability to help the fishermen as the pulled their nets in from the water at the end of a day fishing. It has been told these dogs would spend the entire day working in the cold waters, and then still have the mental and physical energy to continue to play after a long day’s work. It was also discovered that this breed’s natural instinct for retrieving made them great hunting dogs. They evolved into terrific hunting companions whose retrieving skill made them a shoe-in to take on hunts where the target was birds.  To this day there is nothing better than a well-trained Black Lab as a hunting companion.

Black Labs are easy to train

The best way to train your Lab is to use reward-based learning.  If you start training them when they are young, you will find that spending about 20 minutes a day, two times a day, with your pup will reap wonderful results in both the dog learning commands as well as “tricks”.  Two commands that a pup should learn early and quickly is how to go potty outside in a specific area and how to sit.  Simply say the word sit when they are sitting and pretty soon they will figure out the association between the word and the action.  Taking your dog to a specific place on a regular schedule and saying the word “Potty” when they go potty will teach them the action as well as the place where it is alright to go.  Soon you will be able to tell the dog to go Potty and off they will go to do the job in the right place.  Always reward your dog for doing the right thing.  Reward them at first with a snack plus a ton of praise.  You can reduce the amount of the snack as the dog learns but always praise your dog for good behavior. They absolutely love pleasing you and this is how they know that they have succeeded. The smartest Labs will understand a new command in five repetitions or less, and will immediately obey commands 95% of the time.  Pretty smart!

Labs make great Guide Dogs

Labs, being as smart as they are, make the best assistance and guide dogs.  According to Francisco Marinaro who is an experienced Guide Dog handler for the last 11 plus years says:

“The most typical breeds you’ll see as guide dogs include German Shepherds, Golden Retrievers, Labrador Retrievers, and Golden/Labrador crossbreeds. These large-breed dogs have the gait and size to walk comfortably alongside a human, maneuver around obstacles, and even occasionally put their bodies between their handlers and obstacles like speeding cars.

While each breed has its advantages, Guide Dogs of America reports that the Lab is the most popular breed amongst guide dog schools across the world. The Lab’s quick intelligence, high energy, loyalty, and desire to please lend themselves well to the working lifestyle. Their natural curiosity can turn a trip to the grocery store or the daily commute to work into an adventure.

I’ve often compared my Lab to an enthusiastic toddler; he wants to show me everything, which means that I get a lot of sensory information about my surroundings just by observing his body language.

When we approach obstacles, whether open doors, parked cars, or trash cans, he’ll often show them to me, stopping in front of the obstacle and giving my hand a nudge with his nose, as if to say “I’m letting you know this is here so you don’t think it’s weird when I randomly leave the path.”

The Lab’s loving nature makes bonding with a handler much easier, which is especially important at the point when a trainer hands the dog over to its new handler for the first time. This transfer of allegiance is the key ingredient in a guide dog team’s working relationship because the dog’s loyalty increases its willingness to work with and for the handler.

Black Labs indeed are very Smart!

So now you learned how smart is a Black Lab, they are indeed very smart!  So smart that they are used by people for a whole lot of reasons:

  •  The number one pet world-wide
  •  A great hunting companion
  •  The perfect Assistance or Guide Dog
  •  Ranks in the Top 10 of intelligent dogs by experts.

For me though, even though I know my Guinness is a very smart boy,  he also a very dear loving friend, companion and important member of our family.   …even when he eats the wax ring out of a toilet.

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