As one of the fastest dogs on the planet, the Whippet is a remarkably agile dog. Whippets are known to be calm, athletic dogs, but how smart are they? Among just over 100 of the most popular dog breeds, Whippets rank right in the middle regarding intelligence.
In this article, we’ll discuss how the dog intelligence rankings were determined and what they tell us about how intelligent certain breeds are. We’ll also talk about how just because a breed is “smart” doesn’t mean they’re the right pet you. Finally, we’ll cover other factors to consider if you’re interested in adopting a Whippet besides how smart they are.
How Dog Intelligence Is Ranked
Most rankings of intelligent breeds are based on the work of a Canadian psychologist named Dr. Stanley Coren, who wrote the book The Intelligence of Dogs1. During his research, Dr. Coren discovered the average dog can understand 165 words, count up to 4 or 5, and intentionally mislead other dogs and humans2.
Dr. Coren also classified dog intelligence into instinctive, adaptive, and obedience. Instinctive intelligence is what the dog naturally knows to do because of what they were bred to do. For example, Whippets were bred to hunt game by sight independently of human direction.
Adaptive intelligence refers to how dogs learn from their surroundings and change their behavior accordingly. Obedience is how well dogs can learn and follow commands. Although he studied various types of intelligence, Dr. Coren relied on trainability to determine his rankings based on the experience of over 200 dog obedience judges.
Where Do Whippets Rank in Intelligence?
Dr. Coren divided the breeds on his list into six tiers of intelligence. Whippets are in the fourth tier, at #51, along with the Boxer, Akita, Boston Terrier, Siberian Husky, Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, and others. Dogs in this category need to hear a new command 25–40 times before they learn it and obey only about 50% of the time.
In contrast, the 10 “smartest” breeds making up the first tier take less than five tries to learn a new command and obey 95% of the time. Border collies, Poodles, German Shepherds, Labs, and Golden Retrievers are found in this group. Unsurprisingly, the top tier contains most of the popular working breeds.
The Problem with These Rankings
Whippets are generally considered quite intelligent, so why are they just average in these rankings? The problem with using trainability to determine intelligence is that smart dogs aren’t necessarily easy to train. Some breeds have a short attention span or simply aren’t motivated to learn.
Other breeds, including the Whippet, were bred to work primarily on their own without needing humans to tell them what to do. This independence requires its own type of intelligence but may make a dog resistant to learning and following commands because it wasn’t how they were bred.
Other Ways to Determine If a Dog Is Smart
Aside from learning commands, understanding language, and manipulation, there are other ways to gauge a dog’s intelligence. Smart dogs learn how to understand human gestures and other social cues. For example, if a dog is nervous, they may look to their owner to see how the human reacts. Confused dogs learn to look where their owner is pointing or looking for direction.
Intelligent dogs also learn and adapt to their physical environment by solving puzzles, remembering where toys and other objects are, and figuring out the fastest way to get where they want to go. Whippets are known to be clever at figuring out how to escape yards and enclosed spaces, for example.
Finally, the ability to feel emotions can be a sign of intelligence. Dogs can experience such emotions as fear, anger, and joy. Whippets are especially sensitive dogs that can be nervous and fearful without proper socialization.
Do Smart Dogs Make Better Pets?
The supposed intelligence of a breed doesn’t automatically make them a better pet. In fact, some of the brightest dogs can be a lot of work to live with because they have high mental and physical stimulation needs. For example, Border Collies are so bright that they will quickly get bored and destructive if you can’t keep them active and busy enough.
Smart dogs may be easier to train, but that means you also need the time and energy to devote to their learning. They can make excellent pets but also cause a lot of problems in the wrong environment. Consider your experience level, free time, energy, and motivation before you commit to a “smart” dog.
How to Decide if the Whippet Is the Breed for You
Here are some other points besides intelligence to consider when deciding if the Whippet fits you.
According to one ranking of dog intelligence, Whippets are just about average when it comes to brain power. However, as you learned in this article, there’s more than one way to decide how smart a dog is, and the brightest pups aren’t automatically better pets for everyone.
Whippets are sweet, quiet, gentle, athletic, and, yes, smart dogs that can make amazing pets for many people. Deciding which breed is right for you requires taking an honest look at your own capabilities as a pet owner and the care needs of the dog in question.
Featured Image Credit: Timchenko Natalia, Shutterstock