How Smart and Intelligent are Poodles. Can Poodles ‘Talk’?

poodle sitting by books and laptop

Last updated on June 12th, 2021 at 03:02 pm


A few months back, Bunny the “talking” sheepadoodle broke the internet. Bunny could use his paws to press buttons on a soundbox to produce words. According to TikTok and youtube videos, Bunny could put words together to communicate with his owner. Since Bunny`s introduction to the world, Bunny`s has pushed researchers into seriously looking at ways dogs can communicate their feelings and emotions to humans.

Bunny is a sheepadoodle. A she is a mix of a Poodle and an Old English Sheepdog. I am not an expert in genetics and inheritance, but common sense tells me that Bunny`s intelligence stems more from its poodle`s side, and less from its Old English Sheepdog side. Because according to the famed animal psychologist, Dr. Stanley Cohen, Poodles rank second in intelligence among other dogs, while the Old English Sheepdog ranks number 63.

In this article, I will discuss the level of intelligence that poodles show, how smart poodles are compared to other dogs, and how you can make the most of your poodle`s natural high intelligence, even if you do not plan to teach your poodle to “talk”.

The Intelligence of Poodles

Laying down the law. an 1840 painting, that shows other dog breeds looking up to the wise and compassionate poodle.

Poodle Origins

Dogs are known as man`s best friend. But have they always been? Dogs have been bred by humans for hundreds of years, as humans created different breeds of dogs tailored to their needs, wants, and intelligence levels. Dog breeding in the past was all about creating a species designated to a specific task, had a certain level of skills, or displayed a unique temperament .

Poodles were originally hunting dogs. Specifically, there were bred as `water retriever` dogs, meaning they are best at catching birds or other prey in the water and are excellent swimmers. Being a hunting dog required lots of intelligence. Hunting dogs needed to quickly understand an owner`s commands and carry them out accordingly (Britannica). While poodles used for hunting are almost obsolete, their high intelligence remains.

The Three Different Poodle Sizes

From largest to smallest, they are:

  1. Standard size poodle
  2. Miniature size poodle
  3. Toy size poodle

While there are two other poodle classes (Moyen/Klein poodle and teacup poodle), they are not officially recognized as a poodle classification by the American Kennel Association. Despite standard, miniature, and toy poodles all being the same breed of dog, there are unique differences between the sizes when it comes to their intellect and cognitive abilities.

How Intelligent are Standard Poodles?

Standard poodles require challenging mental stimulation games. Also, they are very emotionally intelligent and require a peaceful home. They also require lots of companionships and will suffer from separation anxiety if left alone for too long. Standard poodles are not a casual pet, combined with their intelligence and capability. Without advanced training classes and lots of physical exercises, they will suffer.

poodle-funny-maths-meme

How Intelligent are Miniature Poodles?

Miniature poodles have very active minds. They are always paying attention to their owner and learning very quickly. Also, they are very emotionally intelligent too! They can feed off your mood in addition to being very hypersensitive to touch. They prefer to live in a peaceful home.

How Intelligent are Toy Poodles?

Toy poodles make excellent therapy dogs because they are so intuitive and love people (Wisdom Panel). Also, they are highly emotionally intelligent too. This means they can pick up on the vibes of their owner and the household.

3 Poodle Sizes Unique Characteristics
StandardThese poodles make excellent watchdogsThey are slightly higher level of instinctive intelligenceStandard poodles are also a bit more reservedFinally, advanced obedience training is a necessity
MiniatureThey are the most energetic These poodles tend to follow their owners around everywhereThey are very emotionally intelligentThey can feed off your mood
ToyThey make excellent small companionsThey make great assistance and therapy dogsThese poodles are great at agility competitionsToy poodles are highly emotionally intelligent

Dog Intelligence

Dog intelligence consists of three major dimensions, all of which encompass the overall intelligence level of a dog breed. The three categories are instinctive intelligence, adaptive intelligence, and working and obedience intelligence.

  1. Instinctive intelligence refers to the innate ability for which a dog was bred for.
  • It composes the dog`s intrinsic ability to carry out a job it is born to do.
  • For example, herding dogs (ex. German Shepards and Border Collies) were bred to round up farm animals and keep them close together.
  • A herding dog`s innate intelligence is measured by how well it can complete this type of task.
  • Due to each dog breed being bred specifically for a task, it can be hard to compare dogs` instinctive intelligence abilities, as they are all so different.

2. Adaptive intelligence in dogs shows what the dog is capable of learning on its own.

  • This type of intelligence is described as just how good the dog is at solving problems (Jeng, TheSmartCanine)
  • Adaptive intelligence also includes how well a dog can learn from past experiences and apply them to the present.
  • While adaptive intelligence can differ between breeds, it can differ between individuals within a breed as well.

3. The third type of dog intelligence is working and obedience intelligence.

  • This is the most referenced and most commonly thought of intelligence type for dogs.
  • This type of intelligence describes the ability in which a dog can be trained to specific commands or tasks.
  • When it comes to this type of intelligence, it is possible to compare across dog breeds.
3 Types of Dog Intelligence That Poodles HaveDefinition
Instinctive IntelligenceThe innate ability a dog is bred for
Adaptive IntelligenceAbility to problem solve
Working and Obedience IntelligenceHow well they can obey commands

Poodles display high levels of all three types of canine intelligence.

  • Poodles were originally bred to fetch prey, such as ducks, from the water. Their instinctive intelligence shows their skilled swimming abilities, efficiency in tracking down toys in water and retrieving it quickly for their owners.
  • Also, when it comes to their adaptive intelligence, poodles can learn quickly from experience, making them excellent problem solvers.
  • Finally, poodles are ranked second of all breeds when it comes to working and obedience intelligence!

Out of 138 North American purebred dogs, poodles rank second when it comes to obedience and work intelligence. Famous dog psychologist, Stanely Coren, conducted this study (Jeng, TheSmartCanine). By taking into account observations made by professional judges of the American Kennel Club (AKA), intelligence across similar conditions was ranked.

Can Poodles Talk?

Recent TikTok sensation Bunny, the poodle and sheepdog mix, has taken the internet by storm. These videos showcase the dog pressing different buttons to string together words and loosely construct sentences conveying her wants and needs. This can range from indicating when she wants to go outside, wondering where her Dad is, and even expressing when she is in pain. Does this mean dogs are capable of talking?

Not exactly, say scientists, but there is a lot more to learn still. Bunny is a part of a research project called “They Can Talk”. It is based out of the Comparative Cognition Lab at UC San Diego. The project consists of over 1,000 dogs, some cats, and even a few horses. Researchers of this project are trying to fully understand if animals are capable of language in a human-like way, or if there is something else that can explain this unique communicative behavior (TheyCanTalk).

Bunny’s owner, Alexis Devine, began training Bunny while she was still a puppy, one button at a time. Bunny is now more than a year old and, her buttons have expanded to over 70 different vocabulary words (Sanchez, The Verge). Researchers note that part of Bunny’s success is likely due to her being part poodle and part sheepdog, two highly intelligent dogs that are easy to train (Karlis, Salon).

To learn more about the project, and find out how you and your poodle can get involved, you can check out theycantalk.org. The buttons used are from the company FluentPet. You can check out their website as well to purchase started kits to begin your poodle’s training!

What Scientists have learned from Dog Intelligence Research

The field of dog intelligence/cognition research is still relatively new, as most intelligence studies have focused on primates and rodents. Therefore, there is no poodle-specific cognitive research available. However, many studies are showcasing just how smart dogs can be, which can be applied to the poodle breed as their intelligence is already very advanced.

Stanely Coren, the famed dog intelligence expert, noted from his research and observations, dog intelligence is very similar to that of a two or a three-year-old child. They can count (up to 5) and can even do simple addition (1+1=2). He remarks most dogs can learn up to 165 words. There is a unique set of dogs, which he calls “super dogs”, that can memorize up to 200 words. Poodles are among these super dogs!

Some research shows that dogs can effectively read human emotions very well. Research from Hare & Tomasello (2005) shows that dogs are very skilled at understanding human communication and might even be better than primates at similar tasks. Also, adult dogs can understand an owner`s emotional cues better than that of a stranger’s emotional cues. This showcases strong human-dog connection and communication (Merola et al., 2012).

On that note, experiments have shown that dogs are also very emotionally connected to their owners. While dog owners might instinctually know this connection is strong, MRI research has confirmed this bond. Activation in a certain region of the brain when a dog was presented with scents from their owner versus scents from strangers showcased a positive association with their owner (Berns et al., 2015).

New research from the University of Arizona shows that bigger dogs with larger brains can perform better at tasks that require intelligence than smaller dogs. Specifically, this study stated that bigger dogs have better short-term memory than smaller dogs in addition to better self-control. This research suggests that the bigger standard poodles are probably smart than the smaller miniature poodles and toy poodles. However, it was noted that the research did not control for differences between sizes within a breed (Horschler et al., 2019). Therefore, future research should yield interesting results regarding the exact intellectual differences between the different sizes of poodles,

Owning a Poodle: Best Practices with Their High Intelligence and Common Misconceptions

Just because a dog is smart does not mean that it`s the best fit for your family, home, or apartment. Sometimes, people can assume a poodle will be the perfect pet because of its high intelligence. But with high intelligence comes an even greater need for training and obedience classes. However, just because your poodle is intelligent, it does not mean it is going to be easy to train. It requires lots of discipline as they are headstrong and full of energy.

Due to their high intelligence, they may get bored very quickly during training. Either find a good trainer who is very engaging or, you have to be on top of that yourself (Figo Pet Insurance). When it comes to housetraining, it is easy to reinforce this behavior, especially compared to other dogs. It was found that poodles are about 70% more obedient than the average dog!

These are the most important commands to teach your poodle early, to make the most of your poodle`s natural intellectual abilities

  1. Learn their name
  2. Learn the command “sit”
  3. Learn the command “stay”
  4. Learn the command “lie down”
  5. Housetraining – This should be done as early as possible and done through positive reinforcement training and by sticking to a strict schedule.

Due to poodles` high adaptive intelligence, they require more than the usual mental stimulation you would give another dog. When it comes to caring for them daily, owners need to seek out toys that their pet poodle can spend time trying to play with and solve.

Because some people only breed poodles for the breed name and recognition, training could become not a priority. Therefore, some poodles you may adopt or buy might be hyperactive with lots of barking due to the lack of stimulation and training required for such an intelligent dog.

Below is a list of the top 10 dogs based on their working and obedience intelligence. This data is from famed dog cognition expert Stanely Coren.

Notice who is number two!

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

In contrast, below is a list of the bottom 10 dog breeds when it comes to working and obedience intelligence (Coren, PsychologyToday).

  1. The Basset Hound
  2. The Mastiff
  3. The Beagle
  4. The Pekingese
  5. The Bloodhound
  6. The Borzoi
  7. The Chow Chow
  8. The Bulldog
  9. The Basenji
  10. The Afghan Hound

The following list includes the best puzzle-solving games for poodles due to their high level of intelligence, specifically when it comes to their problem-solving abilities.

  • Kong Classic Dog Toy
    • The Kong is an interactive dog toy that treats or peanut butter can be placed inside for your dog to figure out how to get it out. It stimulates their mental abilities and activates your poodle`s natural hunting abilities as well.
  • Outward Hound Hide-A-Squirrel
    • This plush toy allows your poodle to go `digging` for squirrels. It allows them to use their high problem-solving abilities to get the squirrels out of the plush log.
  • Bob-A-Lot Interactive Pet Toy
    • The Bob-A-Lot toy is a highly interactive toy for your advanced poodle. You can fill it with many different treats and even customize just how much your dog can get out at a time.
  • PetSafe Busy Buddy Tug-A-Jug
    • The PetSafe Busy Buddy is a unique design that allows your poodle to satisfy both their hunting instincts and their problem-solving skills. You can fill the jug with treats that your poodle has to work to get out.
  • OurPets Sushi Interactive Puzzle
    • The Interactive Puzzle is such a fun game for poodles! Your poodle will be able to learn quickly by moving discs around to try and find a treat while always having their mind stimulated as you can put treats in different spots every time.
  • Trixie Mad Scientist Turn Around Interactive Dog Toy
    • Your poodle becomes a prominent scientist with this interactive toy! By putting treats in the test tube, your dog has to work to get them out.
  • Pet Zone IQ Treat Ball Interactive Dog Toy

The Pet Zone IQ ball can be filled with treats that your poodle has to push around for them to dispense. It is highly stimulating, as only one or two treats come out at a time. It will keep your poodle active for a long time

Why Poodles Make Great Pets

Poodles display all three types of intelligence recognized for dogs. They are (1) instinctive intelligence, (2) adaptive intelligence, and (3) working and obedience intelligence. As a reminder, instinctive intelligence refers to how well a dog can do the task that it was bred for.

Adaptive intelligence describes problem-solving abilities in dogs while working and obedience refers to how well a dog can learn new commands.

  • Poodles are hunting dogs. So when it comes to their instinctive intelligence, they are still capable and able to retrieve prey items, especially from the water.
  • They display high levels of problem-solving abilities in addition to being able to learn from past experiences.
  • Finally, they are ranked second when it comes to working and obedience intelligence.

Poodles come in three different sizes, and while they are all the same breed, there are some differences between them all.

  • Standard poodles are still known to carry out their ancestorial hunting dog duties, while also requiring the most training and obedience as they have a higher level of instinctive intelligence.
  • Miniature poodles are the most energetic while also being the most hypertensive to touch.
  • Toy poodles have high emotional intelligence. They can pick up on the moods of their home and owners.

Training and classes are a must when owning a poodle as they are so intelligent that a lack of these can lead to aggression, boredom, and overall poor mental wellbeing for the dog. Toys and exercise can be very beneficial. Housetraining can be a breeze when it comes to these highly-intelligent animals.

It is important to remember that just because they are smart, they will not automatically be the perfect pet. Having a highly-intelligent animal requires work on the owner’s part to fully harness the poodle’s abilities.

Poodle owners have described their pets as fun-loving, humorous, cute, cuddly, emotionally aware, and most of all, intelligent!

References

Berns, Gregory S, Brooks, Andrew M, Spivak, Mark. (2015). Scent of the familiar: An fMRI study of canine brain responses to familiar and unfamiliar human and dog odors. Behavioural Processes, 110, 37-46.

Coren, Stanley. Canine Intelligence—Breed Does Matter. Psychology Today, Accessed 28 Feb. 2021, https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/canine-corner/200907/canine-intelligence-breed-does-matter

Hare, Brian & Tomasello, Michael. (2005). Human-like social skills in dogs?. Trends in Cognitive Science. 9(9), 439-444.

Hess, Robbi. How to train your Poodle. Figo Pet Insurance, Accessed 29 Feb. 2021, https://figopetinsurance.com/blog/how-train-your-poodle

How many types of poodle are there?. Purely Pets, Accessed 28 Feb. 2021, https://www.purelypetsinsurance.co.uk/blogs/how-many-types-of-poodle-are-there/

Horschler, D.J., Hare, Brian, Call, Josep, Kaminski, Juliane, Miklósi, Ádám, MacLean, Evan L. (2019). Absolute brain size predicts dog breed differences in executive function. Animal Cognition, 22, 187-198.

Jeng, Richard. Are Poodles Smart? – Reasons They’re Highly Intelligent Dogs, The Smart Canine, Accessed 28 Feb. 2021, https://thesmartcanine.com/are-poodles-smart/

Jeng, Richard. What Were Poodles Bred to Do? – The Roles, Jobs & History of the Poodle. The Smart Canine, Accessed 28 Feb. 2021, https://thesmartcanine.com/what-poodles-bred-for/

Merola, Isabella, Prato-Previde, Emanuela, Marshall-Pescini, Sarah. (2012). Dogs` Social Referencing towards Owners and Strangers. PlOs One, 7(10).

Poodle. Britannica. Accessed 8 March 2021. https://www.britannica.com/animal/poodle

Smarter Than You Think: Renowned Canine Researcher Puts Dogs’ Intelligence on Par with 2-Year-Old Human. American Psychological Association. Accessed 8 March, 2021. https://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/2009/08/dogs-think

Toy Poodle. Wisdom Panel. Accessed 28, Feb. 2021, https://www.wisdompanel.com/en-us/breed-library/poodle-toy

Welton, Michele. Miniature Poodles: What`s Good About `Em, What`s Bad About `Em. Your Pure Bred Puppy. Accessed 29, Feb. 2021, https://www.yourpurebredpuppy.com/reviews/miniaturepoodles.html#:~:text=But

Welton, Michele. Standard Poodles: What`s Good About `Em, What`s Bad About `Em. Your Pure Bred Puppy. Accessed 28, Feb. 2021, https://www.yourpurebredpuppy.com/reviews/standardpoodles.html

Welton, Michele. Toy Poodles: What`s Good About `Em, What`s Bad About `Em. Your Pure Bred Puppy. Accessed 28, Feb. 2021, https://www.yourpurebredpuppy.com/reviews/toypoodles.html