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Are Australian Cattle Dogs Smart?

As the owner of 2 amazing Australian Cattle Dogs, I find them to be smarter than the other breeds of dogs I’ve raised. For starters, our ACDs are more alert with intense curiosity. They learn more quickly and understand words beyond basic commands. So, is it just my bias, or are Australian Cattle Dogs super smart?

Australian Cattle Dogs are ranked the 10th most intelligent breed due in part to their alertness, curiosity, and loyalty. Cattle dogs are also known to be independent thinkers, which is a blend of their Dingo ancestry and herding dog instincts. This unique mix of qualities makes an ACD one of the smartest and most trainable breeds.

Read on to learn about resources that test and rank different breeds’ intelligence, how Australian Cattle Dogs show us they’re smart and some mental exercises to keep their active minds busy.

Cattle Dog Solving Treat Puzzle
Cattle Dog Solving Treat Puzzle

Are Cattle Dogs One of the Smartest Dogs?

Australian Cattle Dogs are ranked 10th in intelligence by psychologist and trainer, Stanley Coren’s, in his book The Intelligence of Dogs. Coren’s book is one of the most scientific approaches to ranking dog intelligence and is cited by sites such as Reader’s Digest and Good Housekeeping.

The book was first published in 1995, after Coren assembled 199 dog-obedience specialists to judge over 100 breeds on two working intelligence criteria:

  1. Learning a new command with less than five repetitions.
  2. The success rate of obeying learned commands.

The top 10 most intelligent breeds, including Australian Cattle Dogs, were selected if they could learn a new command with fewer than 5 repetitions and if they obeyed already learned commands better than 95% of the time. Here’s Coren’s list:

  1. Border Collie
  2. Poodle
  3. German Shepherd
  4. Golden Retriever
  5. Doberman Pinscher
  6. Shetland Sheepdog
  7. Labrador Retriever
  8. Papillon
  9. Rottweiler
  10. Australian Cattle Dog

Coren’s book gets some criticism, as it leans too heavily on obedience and also doesn’t include unofficial breeds. But until we fully understand the canine psyche, his book is a good resource that uses dog behavior experts to place breeds in general categories of intelligence.

To get more direct experience, I asked a few Australian Cattle Dog owners about their dog’s intelligence. Overwhelmingly, the owners all agreed that ACDs were some of the smartest dogs they’d ever had. There was also consensus that ACDs were also some of the most high-energy and wild domesticated dogs.

Cattle dogs definitely have a wild side compared to other dog breeds, due to their dingo genetics. This ancestry may reveal itself as an independent streak. But once you develop a strong bond with a cattle dog, it will choose to listen to your commands. From then on, you will have their constant attention and attachment, aka velcro dog.

How are Australian Cattle Dogs Smart?

When asked about their Australian Cattle Dogs intelligence, several owners say their dogs exhibit independent thought, critical thinking or problem-solving skills.

Cattle Dogs often use their own judgment to make decisions. For example, our local herding ranch had a border collie and a heeler that teamed up to herd sheep and cattle. While the border collie followed the rancher’s instructions perfectly, the heeler frequently “decided” which animal to herd. At first, the heeler appeared to disobey the rancher, but it was actually using judgment to herd livestock that was straying.

Some Cattle Dog owners go as far as to say their dogs think and act like a human. That they have a mind of their own. I certainly believe that my ACDs have more going on than the other dog breeds I’ve had.

Once we were ready to go to the park, but I couldn’t find my hiking shoes. My dogs were leashed and waiting by the front door to go. I kept searching while telling the dogs “wait, I need my shoes”. After several minutes, my male got frustrated and led me from my closet to the kitchen. He then used a simple nose poke to show me that my shoes were behind a chair. I swear he rolled his eyes at me too.

For further proof of their intelligence, my male ACD opens doors, knows the names of different family members, and they distinguish between the names of different food and treats.

It’s not just my ACDs who exhibit above-average dog intelligence. Other ACD owners list some accounts of their dogs opening window shutters, stepping on trashcan pedals, opening gates, and sliding pocket doors.

Mental Exercise for Cattle Dogs

To prevent boredom, it is important to provide an ACD with mental stimulation. Treat toys and puzzle games have become very popular, so you’ll find a lot of choices. It is a good idea to have a few different toys to rotate and keep your ACD guessing.

  • Pet Zone IQ Treat Ball – This treat ball requires a little more than pushing to release a treat, thus occupying an ACD for some time.
  • JW Pet Roller Extreme Dog Toy – This treat toy is made from strong, flexible rubber. It is open, providing many holes you can stuff with treats.
  • Nylabone Stuffable Chew Toy – Pick the version aimed at heavy chewers. This toy has a cavity that you can stuff with spreadable or kibble treats.
  • West Paw Rumbl – West Paw toys are eco-friendly and American-made. The Rumbl is not as durable as some other toy types but offers a squishy texture that provides variety.
  • Nina Ottosson by Outward Hound – There are several variations of this puzzle game. Some come in four levels. Level 1 only requires your dog to learn one action to reveal the treat. Level 2 requires more thought and multiple actions. Level 3 requires your dog to learn a sequence to solve the puzzle. Finally, level 4 requires your dog to learn several steps before it can get the treat.
  • Snuffle Mat – Snuffle mats come in a variety of designs. It is a soft puzzle game made up of numerous soft strips where you can hide treats.
  • Trixie Activity – This puzzle game has different shaped compartments, requiring your dog to use multiple skills to get the treat.
  • Trixie Mad Scientist – This is a cool puzzle toy that requires your dog to turn the canisters around and keep them in place for the treat to come out. It comes with different lids to increase or decrease difficulty.

Final Thoughts on Cattle Dog’s Intelligence

Australian Cattle Dogs are highly intelligent. Although they are #10 on a notable dog intelligence ranking, they are quite possibly capable of hitting the #1 spot, especially if the future criteria include independent thinking!