Beagles are known for being pretty simple, as far as dogs go. In fact, canine psychologist Stanley Coren listed Beagles as being in the bottom ten breeds for intelligence1. But intelligence is a complex topic, and it has a lot of facets. Although Beagles aren’t the smartest in all areas, there are some areas where they really shine—especially instinctive intelligence.
Obedience and Intelligence
One of the most common measures of intelligence is obedience and learning capability. This is the kind of intelligence on display when you see a Golden Retriever who can help its impaired owner navigate through life or when a Border Collie completes an incredible obedience competition. Obedience is a common measure of intelligence because it’s easy to judge—you can show how quickly dogs learn a new command and how often they obey a command they already know. But teachability isn’t the only measure of intelligence. Plenty of humans are clever but stubborn, after all.
Another measure of intelligence is problem-solving. This is sometimes equated with critical thinking. Dogs that measure high in problem-solving skills can solve puzzles or make plans without being trained on how to do that specifically. Problem-solving skills also aren’t a Beagle’s forte, although there’s not as much solid info comparing breeds. That’s partly because Beagles are willing to follow their noses into all sorts of trouble.
On the other hand, Beagles do much better when it comes to social intelligence. They’re often good at getting along with other dogs and humans. They can easily communicate their needs and understand human moods. These skills make sense—Beagles were bred to work closely with humans and other dogs. It takes some social skills to do that!
Finally, Beagles score very high in “instinctive intelligence”—in other words, doing what they’ve been bred to do. As hunting dogs, Beagles come equipped with a particular set of skills and learn those skills easily. Beagles also have some of the best sniffers in the world, and they can process and analyze tens of thousands of scents. This takes some real brainpower!
This incredible sense of smell also accounts for some of the difficulties we have in testing other types of intelligence. Many puzzles and training techniques rely on senses that humans use—such as sight and sound. Beagles are built to solve problems using their sense of smell instead, and it’s likely that all of the interesting odors around them become distractions in intelligence trials.
Beagles might not top the charts for intelligence today, but that doesn’t mean that these dogs are dumb. Instead, the charts say more about the things we as humans value—like vision-based problem solving and obedience—than anything else. If you’re a Beagle owner, you probably know that your dog has its own skills and intelligence, even if the tests don’t play to a Beagle’s strengths.
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