Bernese Mountain Dog standing on water

Bernese Mountain Dogs are extremely versatile working dogs that came from the alpine farmlands of Switzerland. They were developed to herd and work cattle, pull carts, and act as guard dogs and companions to their families.

But are Bernese Mountain Dogs smart? Yes, Bernese Mountain Dogs are smart. They’re suited to obedience, tracking, herding, and carting competitions, as well as working on a ranch or farm, all due to their trainability and high intelligence.

How Smart are Bernese Mountain Dogs?

According to the renowned canine psychologist and dog researcher from the University of British Columbia, Stanley Coren, Bernese Mountain Dogs rank 27th in obedience and intelligence out of 138 dog breeds.

This is due to their ability to listen, interpret, and understand, as well as quickly learn from their past mistakes and experiences.

How Do We Measure Dog Intelligence?

Coren is largely responsible for our manner of measuring at least one component of dog intelligence, or obedience and working intelligence. This assesses how quickly a dog can learn and how well they retain the information.

For his research, Coren reached out to North American obedience trial judges. Almost 200 judges replied and evaluated the dog breeds that they could, including the Bernese Mountain Dog.

The criteria included:

  • The repetitions it took to learn a new command. The fewer commands, the higher the ranking for intelligence.
  • The success rate of obeying a known command on the first try. A higher success rate means a more intelligent dog.

Not all dogs made it to the final intelligence ranking. He limited his research to a minimum of 100 responses from the judges. He also focused on breeds that were officially recognized by the American or Canadian Kennel Club and participated in obedience trials.

Bernese Mountain Dog lying on the ground
Photo courtesy of Pixabay

Bernese Mountain Dog Intelligence

The Bernese Mountain Dog performs well in obedience trials, which is how it got such exceptional performances in Coren’s assessments.

It ranked above 100 other dog breeds and was able to learn a command in 5 to 15 repetitions. This means that a Bernese Mountain Dog could learn a new trick in an hour or so, much faster than many other breeds.

Bernese Mountain Dogs can not only learn quickly, but they retain what they learn. For the other criteria, Bernese Mountain Dogs had an 85% or better success rate for obeying a command on the first attempt.

How Do Other Dogs Rank?

The Bernese Mountain Dog shares class with the Cocker Spaniel, Welsh Corgi, and Pomeranian.

Otherwise, dogs of average intelligence sit about two classes below the Bernese Mountain Dog. The average dog needs about 25 to 40 repetitions to learn a new command, which is significantly slower than the Bernese Mountain Dog—at least five times faster.

What about retention? The average dog breed will only obey a known command on the first attempt with a 50% success rate, at least. Though this isn’t a bad rate, it’s far below the 85% for the Bernese Mountain Dog.

Other Facets of Intelligence

Bernese Mountain Dogs shine in obedience, but that’s not all there is to intelligence. Instinctive intelligence, which is an innate ability that a dog is bred for, applies to most dogs. This is what we do with “purpose breeding” to create herders, retrievers, gun dogs, guard dogs, service dogs, etc.

For example, Labradors and other retrievers were bred to retrieve birds from water. Australian and German Shepherds were bred to herd livestock on farms and protect it.

Bernese Mountain Dogs check all the boxes for this intelligence too. As a multi-purpose farm dog, the Bernese Mountain Dog was bred to herd, guard, pull a cart, and more, basically acting as a “jack of all trades” of the farm or ranch.

The other dimension of intelligence is adaptive intelligence, which is the ability of the dog to learn for itself through critical thinking or problem solving.

Adaptive intelligence is high in Bernese Mountain Dogs, but it can vary among individuals of the same breed.

Final Thoughts

Bernese Mountain Dogs are highly intelligent and obedient dogs. As farm dogs bred to perform a variety of tasks, they demonstrate multiple facets of intelligence, including instinctive and adaptive intelligence. If you do bring a Bernese Mountain Dog home, consider if you can handle a dog that’s smarter than you!

Featured Image Credit: Pixabay