Are Big Dogs Smarter Than Small Dogs? Here’s What Research Says

Small dog looking at bigger dog

(Picture Credit: Martin Barraud/Getty Images)

Size may actually matter–if you are looking for more intelligent and more coordinated dogs. A new study suggests that the bigger the size of a dog’s brain, the better they are at tasks that involve memory and cognition. The study, headed by Daniel Horschler of the University of Arizona, made use of information from reports of dog owners.

Using ten tests that can be given to dogs, pet owners performed the tasks with their own pooches and submitted the results. Researchers aimed to test the executive function, which is involved in controlling behavior, memory, and inhibition. They found that dogs who were larger in size performed better than their smaller counterparts.

Results: Big Dogs Performed Better At Cognitive Tasks

From a database of 1,888 dogs, a distinct pattern emerged that showed big dogs had an advantage. In one of the tests, big dogs were more likely to remember things more accurately over a period of time compared to smaller dogs.

That shouldn’t be too surprising, as dogs with bigger bodies naturally have bigger organs, including larger brains. Size also showed a correlation with better performance in harder tasks. Larger dogs became even more adept at more complex tasks, especially those that required more cognitive work.

This is not the first time that big dogs trumped smaller canines in terms of performance. “What I do see is breed differences in some abilities, and these differences appear to be heavily influenced by the physical-shape difference you see between breeds,” said researcher William Helton in an interview.

Helton agreed with the findings of the new study. He suggests that size is just one physical difference that can affect a dog’s ability to perform tasks. His research indicates that even the distance between a dog’s eyes can influence how they pay attention and learn. There can be advantages and disadvantages to this, depending on what you actually want to achieve with your dog.

Owners’ Behaviors Affect Dog Attitude

Intelligence and performance do not only have to be based on your dog’s size. There are factors that are more important for your dog’s ability to perform tasks, like consistent training. It’s best to be consistent with training if you want your dog to follow your rules. Studies have shown that small dog owners tend to be more inconsistent with training, which affects how they would score on tests that involve performing cognitive tasks.

If you want your dog to do well at such tasks, engage with them in activities like obedience training and fun, physical exercise like jogging. Spending longer on physical tasks also provides mental stimulation. It can be harder to maintain these activities with small dogs who might not be able to keep up with their humans for extended exercise, and that may affect small dogs’ ability to perform well in cognitive tests.

Finally, using punishment can actually make dogs act out more aggressively, rather than stopping unwanted behaviors. Avoid physical punishments like grabbing your dog by the scruff of the neck or hitting. Smaller dogs respond even more negatively to these punishments, which can further contribute to poor performance in tests.

Do you support the notion that bigger dogs are smarter than small toy dogs? Does your dog exhibit the same tendencies? Share your experience with us in the comments below!

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