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Tommy Coyote

Instinct vs trainability vs intelligence

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Is trainablility proof of intelligence?

 

And how much of what we might call intelligence is really just intinct?

 

I'm just curious. I have always had border collies and they learn really fast without a lot of repetition. But does that make them intelligent? Or is intelligence something completely different.

 

Wolves are supposedly intelligent - but they aren't trainable. So are they really intelligent or is it merely finely honed instinct?

 

I got to wondering about this after trying to teach an OES to sit and stay and found it just about impossible. She just didn't learn. But she was good at remembering things that interested her - like where the treats are on the counter - she remembered to look for extra treats for days. She finally got "sit" but "stay" just seemed beyond her.

 

Is she hardheaded but not dumb? I never believed she was hard headed or stubborn - she really wanted to please. But she just didn't "get it."

 

I have had border collies that were very trainable but really not very smart. Jedi had a crate in the hall and the door was always open. But if she was facing the wrong way she couldn't figure out that all she had to was turn around and go out. But she was very trainable and a good working dog.

 

Anybody have any thoughts on this.

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Just a couple of random thoughts:

 

I have always thought of intelligence in dogs as being the ability to problem solve, to reason, to draw conclusions, and make inferences.

 

My most successful competitive obedience dog (years ago) was definitely not the brightest dog I've ever owned, but he was very easy to train and took high level training very well. Go figure!

 

Regards,

nancy

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I dont think trainablity and intelligence are related, but it nice to have a dog with both!

 

Happy is very smart..but she hates training, she can do more then all my other dogs combined, but I hardly trained any of it, she just picked it all up on her own, try to activly train her and she will just blow you off or shut down.

 

Misty is VERY trainable and semi smart..she isnt stupid because she is not super smart either, makes a really fun combo for training, but she doesnt problem solve well, she is easily TAUGHT what to do, but she cant figer things out left to her own devices.

 

Electra....well she is an idiot. VERY trainable, but so stupid that training her is difficult. for example, teaching her to weave, I would toss a treat between 2 poles, working with her on simpley running between the 2 poles, so she would do it over and over and over, till I didnt need to throw anything and she would still catch on and do it..very trainable...HOWEVER, at no point doing this did she look confident in herself, then she had a lightbulb moment, a look on her face like it clicked, marched over to the poles, and touched the base of the pole with her nose..after this there was just no convincing her that this was not at all what I wanted. this is not a one time thing, this is how training always goes with her, she gets it and get it and gets it, very happily but unsure of herself, then it "clicks"..but her conclusion is never anything related to what we were working on, she is so happy when she thinks she got it too lol :blink:

 

Gem is a great combo of Happy's intelligence with Misty trainability, I love it.

 

Gypsy is neither smart nor trainable..lets just say she makes Electra look super smart! lol

 

to me inteligence is the ability to problem solve and think outside the box, trainability is just the desire to work for you.

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Isn't trainability related to the dog's capability and desire to deduce what we want them to do and desire to do it? IMHO that is one manifestation of intelligence (problem solving); but not the only manifestation.

 

If someone attempted to communicate an instruction to you in Iroquoian (or even better Khoekhoe), wouldn't it take intelligence on your part to deduce the instruction?

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Mark writes: Isn't trainability related to the dog's capability and desire to deduce what we want them to do and desire to do it? IMHO that is one manifestation of intelligence (problem solving); but not the only manifestation.

 

I'll have to agree with this, but the ability to train also plays a part in this equation. Can the person communicate adequately to get the subject to understand.

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We used to have two dogs, a Redbone hound and an Airedale terrier. Everyone used to say the Airedale was "just so smart" because she was extremely biddable and trained so well. And they would say the Redbone was just "a dumb hound".

 

Wrong. That hound was very smart and clever, but just did not have the same desire to please or work with you (biddability) that the Airedale had. The Airedale was not the brightest bulb in the box but wanted to understand what you wanted her to do, and do it. The hound did what she viewed as of benefit to her. The terrier did what I asked, whether it seemed to benefit her directly or not.

 

We had them when we were in college. Living and working with us daily, they were amazingly well-trained for life in town.

 

I think when you have both intelligence and biddability, you will have one terrific dog. I find it easier to deal with a less intelligent dog that is biddable, than a more intelligent dog that is less biddable.

 

I think trainability is a reflection of both intelligence and biddability, working in concert.

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Agree with Sue. I had a Weimaraner that was very intelligent. She could figure out lots of things my other dogs could not. But it was all things that benefited herself. She could escape any enclosure and figured out how to jump on the old chain link fence and hold it down so the other dogs could either get out or back in when they could not and would not ever go out alone. She figured out how to get the sample packets of dog food out of a cardboard box that was on top of a microwave that was on top of a counter. Without disturbing the box or anything on the counter. The only thing that gave her away was the empty packets lying around. Had she put them in the wastebasket I may never have known. She was horrible at obedience or any other doggie sport that required training. She was not even good at hunting or retrieving.

My most biddable Border Collie is not my most intelligent. My most intelligent Border Collie is definitely not the most biddable.

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Smart, biddable dogs can make for poor trainers. Missy was very intelligent and very biddable. She made of look like a genius and I learned a lot about dog behavior from her. It wasn't til after I got Kipp that I realized how little I knew about motivating and really training a dog.

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Is trainablility proof of intelligence?

 

And how much of what we might call intelligence is really just intinct?

 

I'm just curious. I have always had border collies and they learn really fast without a lot of repetition. But does that make them intelligent? Or is intelligence something completely different.

 

Wolves are supposedly intelligent - but they aren't trainable. So are they really intelligent or is it merely finely honed instinct?

 

I've thought about this quite a bit since I saw this post yesterday.

 

I would say that intelligence and trainability are certainly connected, but ultimately I like to have a healthy balance of each in a training partner.

 

There are some things that Speedy simply cannot learn, although he is incredibly biddable, very willing to learn, and learns what he is capable of learning very well. After years of trying various and sundry approaches to certain training challenges, it became evident that some things are simply beyond his mental capability. He is highly trainable, but there are limits on what he is able to actually learn. Some of those limits are caused by an underlying fearful temperament that will always override his "thinking brain" in certain circumstances. And some are caused by the fact that there are some things he simply cannot comprehend (much as I found that I could not comprehend calculus, no matter how hard I studied), and he may be able to go through the motions with help (just as I was able to manage a B+ in calculus, without understanding it, by becoming very familiar with the example problems), but he will never truly be "trained" in those behaviors (just as I do not know calculus). But all in all, he is probably the most trainable of all of my dogs, and he managed to learn a ton in spite of some mental and intellectual limitations. And while I will always have the utmost respect and admiration for him because of what he was able to accomplish with those limitations, that doesn't mean he is intelligent. He's not stupid by a long shot, but he is definitely simple minded.

 

On the other hand, Maddie was highly intelligent, but she started out very difficult to train. She became more trainable after years of training experience, but she started out very resistant to training. Her early lack of trainability wasn't a result of lack of intelligence. She could solve problems and think outside the box and find her own way of getting what she wanted. She started out much more like the OES that you worked with when we began her training. It literally took her over a year to learn some of the simplest behaviors. I often thought (back then) that she was actually stupid, but really she was highly intelligent but not trainable. But in the end she was very eager to train and she caught on to things relatively quickly. Clicker training actually made that breakthrough for her. When she was able to learn by working out what she could do to make that clicker sound through her own choices, her attitude toward training changed dramatically. And when that happened, she became more open to various approaches - lure/reward, lure/click, shaping, and capturing. She went on to compete successfully in Agility, which never ceased to amaze the heck out of me.

 

I got to wondering about this after trying to teach an OES to sit and stay and found it just about impossible. She just didn't learn. But she was good at remembering things that interested her - like where the treats are on the counter - she remembered to look for extra treats for days. She finally got "sit" but "stay" just seemed beyond her.

 

It would be interesting to see how this particular dog would do with the techniques of Jane Killion in "When Pigs Fly". Ms. Killion does Agility with Bull Terriers, and they are known to be among the least trainable dogs there are. The only thing that I dislike about her work is that she is rather scornful of Border Collies, but ignoring that, her work is very interesting because her approach is geared toward dogs like this OES that are not easily trainable. I've read the book since some of my students have less trainable dogs, and I learned a great deal from her - a lot of which is even applicable to Border Collies.

 

The fact that the OES came back looking for the treats for days shows that she is thinking - and learning. Tapping into her desire to search for treats could be a great way to help her move on to concepts like "stay". You could Premack the heck out of that!!

 

Is she hardheaded but not dumb? I never believed she was hard headed or stubborn - she really wanted to please. But she just didn't "get it."

 

I wouldn't say she's hardheaded, but that she might have needed more foundation in learning before moving on to the things that you were trying to teach.

 

Did you ever try Doggie Zen with her? Since she was treat motivated, that would have been a good place to start. Even just the super simple concept of "choosing on my own to wait for the treat makes it so I get the treat" might opened the lines of learning.

 

Sounds like she would be an incredibly interesting dog to work with.

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This made me think of something I used to do in my obedience classes at orientation. I would ask the class what dog breed everyone thought was the easiest to train? Then everyone would take their guesses which usually ranged from German Shepherd to Border Collie to Mixed Breed. After collecting all thoughts, I would say that the answer was: it depends on what you want to train the dog to do...if you want to train a dog to pull sleds, a husky or malamute might be the easiest to train....if you want to train it to track, a bloodhound would be an easy breed to train; if you want to hunt rabbits, a beagle might be the easiest; if you want to tree a raccoon, a coon dog would be the one.

 

My goal was for everyone going into training to realize that not all breeds are easy to obedience train. The husky may be hard to train on heeling and stays, but put him on a sled and he will shine. My goal was for everyone to realize that each breed and each dog will shine in his own way....and not to get caught up in watching other people's dog's progress.

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My little sister's mix breed is a really good example of a dumb-smart dog. She has no motivation for anything, she likes food/cuddles/toys but good luck getting her to do anything for them... Teaching her to do really simple things is incredibly difficult, while my parents Doberman can learn anything you try to teach her very quickly.

 

But, Libby (the mix breed) can do some VERY clever things. She can unlock and open sliding doors, windows and certain gate latches, and her cleverest trick.... Every day she jumps a fence, lets herself into the hen house and puts her head under a chicken that has just laid an egg (and gets pecked in the face for her troubles), gets the egg out and carries it out, jumps back over the fence and drops it on a concrete pad to eat it. So trainable no, but intelligent, I would say yes.

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And so where does instinct come into the picture?

 

Instinct is probably a lot more important in wild animals. But they still have to learn a lot from their parents even with strong instinct.

 

I wonder if wolves really are more instinct driven? Maybe that's also true of the guard dogs.

 

I really think that dogs are probably not stubborn or hardheaded at all - those are human traits. But they are certainly limited by their genetic material.

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My saluki was extremely intelligent. He figured out all kinds of things that my other dogs didn't. He was raised with GSDs and worked in obedience with them, and was even highest scoring saluki in the country for a while(which isn't hard because what idiot would compete in obedience with a saluki), but he had no desire to please, was not biddable by any definition of the word. He did what he wanted, when he wanted, because he saw a benefit to it. If he ever did what I wanted, it was because he understood that it would get him what he wanted. That dog drove me nuts! I've had loads of dumber dogs that were so much easier to get along with because they cared whether or not I was happy with them, whether or not I wanted them to do something.

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I really think that dogs are probably not stubborn or hardheaded at all - those are human traits. But they are certainly limited by their genetic material.

 

Dogs and humans share many of the same behavioral traits. I have definitely met dogs that are stubborn. I've also definitely had dogs refuse to do something and look at me with a "MAKE ME!" expression on their face. These are commands/tasks that were clearly understood.

 

That said, 99% of the time when dog owners (John Q Public) claim their dogs are stubborn, it's just the owner not communicating clearly with the dog.

 

For me, instinct = inborn knowledge and behaviors. This is critical for dogs whose jobs depend on doing things like herding or hunting.

 

Trainability = intelligence + bidability. The most intelligent and biddable dog will be the easiest to train. A very smart but willful dog may be much harder to train that a dumb but handler focused/eager dog.

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But, Libby (the mix breed) can do some VERY clever things. She can unlock and open sliding doors, windows and certain gate latches, and her cleverest trick.... Every day she jumps a fence, lets herself into the hen house and puts her head under a chicken that has just laid an egg (and gets pecked in the face for her troubles), gets the egg out and carries it out, jumps back over the fence and drops it on a concrete pad to eat it. So trainable no, but intelligent, I would say yes.

 

Cute story! Go Libby.

 

Jovi

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I would argue that the link between intelligence and trainability becomes stronger for dogs that are clinker-trained and encouraged to try new things. I lived in an apartment in Germany for three years with my Tervuren and two border collies, with no yard. When the weather was too bad for long walks or I was sick, I used to make the dogs work for their supper by training some sort of weird behavior. The youngest dog, who had the most experience with the clicker, tended to be the fastest in figuring things out (and also became the best at studying her humans.) One evening I was training the dogs to put their two front paws on the top step of my kitchen step stool, and the younger one was watching. She did two incomplete attempts (first targeting the stool, then putting one paw on the lower step), then circled the step-stool and put both paws up on the third try of what had been a fairly complicated behavior chain for my other border collie. This is just one anecdote (I have more similar ones) which doesn't result in hard data, but I also think my generally biddable dogs can get taught to think by clicker training, moreso than by other methods. (I should add that I'm someone who can NOT teach everything with a clicker nor would try to do so. But I really like the effect of teaching a puppy to put as much effort into learning as I do into teaching --does that make sense?) And a definition of intelligence --for me -- encompasses the ability to communicate (a BC when herding is communicating to sheep in what directions they would be really dumb to go; in agility, a handler communicates which is the next obstacle, etc.) and clicker training enhances cross-species communication.

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I think when you have both intelligence and biddability, you will have one terrific dog. I find it easier to deal with a less intelligent dog that is biddable, than a more intelligent dog that is less biddable.

 

But the more intelligent/less biddable dogs are more fun to me, and more of a challenge.

 

Our BC is very dim about most things in everyday life but is easily trained to do things. Not particularly biddable though.

 

Our BC mix is similar but very biddable.

 

Our scent hound mix is also dim but very biddable.

 

Our JRT is a terrier - enough said.

 

Little mongrel bitch (all the others dogs) - not eager to please but very trainable, sneaky, manipulative, intelligent, excellent at problem solving.

 

And my late lurcher - problem solver par excellence but no interest in pleasing people or interacting with them unless food was on offer. If anything he was the one I derived most satisfaction from training to do anything.

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Hum, wolves are very intelligent, but have no desire to work with us except for a few exceptions. Imprinted wolves will do similar things with humans as they would with pack mates.

 

From these, came dogs a very long time ago.

 

 

 

My LGD is a genius. However he does not like to be told what to do by me. He figures out problems without me.

 

 

The border collies are more team driven.

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I had a wolf hybrid one time. He was 1/4 wolf, 1/4 husky and 1/2 Doberman. He looked like a pure black GSD. He had some wolfish traits and was hands down the most intelligent dog I have ever owned. He could be taught anything in a very short time, IF he wanted to do it. If he didn't, he would not do it. If he thought I was showing off to people with some trick he would not do it for me, but if the other person asked him he'd get all hammy and do it with gusto. Biddable? I'm not sure. Intelligent, extremely. He was with me during the time that people were supposed to show dominance with their dogs. The training trend at that time was to throw your dog down on its back and hold it down and growl at it to show your dominance. I did this and he promptly kicked me off and then stood over me as I lay on my back. I said ok, we'll just be equal partners then and for the rest of his life that is what we were.

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Just so everyone knows what I think about this.

 

Not to offend, but just inform what I have learned over 25 years. :) I say this with a gentle, tired, sad smile.

 

95% of dogs that people think are hybrids are dogs. They are Northern dog crossed with something else.

 

Even a true hybrid- half wolf, half dog- is not a wolf, but it is a very confused individual and should not be bred.

 

Most wolves will eat a dog rather than breed it.

 

If you want our complete info on this pm your e-mail as we have a flyer.

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Back to the original question - I'm looking at it this way:

 

Trainability (or biddability) is the combination of the dog's desire and ability to work with a person, learning from what the person does in terms of guiding the dog in varying degreees of instinctive or non-instinctive actions.

 

Intelligence is the dog's ability to think for him/herself, to work out a "problem", whether or not it involves instinctive or non-instinctive situations/actions (and a situation may involve differing proportions of instinctive and non-instinctive actions).

 

Instinct is that part of the dog's mentality that drives him/her to act in a certain way or respond to certain stimuli or situations.

 

To have a combination of all three, where a dog has instinct (for instance, to naturally be inclined to balance, read, and respond to livestock and his/her handler), is trainable (will respond, adjust, and learn from the handler guiding or shaping the instinct), and is intelligent (can think for him/herself when faced with a situation that is out of the ordinary or contrary to what the handler is telling the dog to do), would result in the sheepdog that is extraordinary and gifted.

 

JMO.

 

Here is an example I read today - a bitch is sent away to fetch a group of sheep. Instead of going out and around on her outrun, she stops short, but the handler remains quiet to see what happens. The bitch lifts the sheep and begins a cross-drive and somewhat away from the handler. And then the handler sees two more sheep, up and to the left. The bitch takes the group up to the pair where, as soon as they all bunch together, she flanks around to the balance point, and fetches all the sheep in a straight line to the handler. All this without any command except the one that sent her on an away outrun to begin with.

 

Instinct? Definitely. Trainability/biddability? Not really given the opportunity to show that here. Intelligence (as defined as problem-solving)? Definitely. At least I think so.

 

This has been a fun and interesting discussion!

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I read somewhere that the best dog for competition obedience was a half-bright Golden Retriever. The reason being that this type of dog would be delighted to put up with endless reps of a simple behavior to train for the highly exacting but extremely artificial exercises in high-level competition obedience. No instinct needed - nor much intelligence, just a dog that was patient and eager to please.

 

All that business of tiny adjustments in position and speed would get on the nerves of a highly intelligent dog, (unless the trainer was clever enough to challenge the dog and vary the work) and as was pointed out by the Saluki owner, an independent-natured and intelligent dog just wouldn't see the point and would refuse the repetitions (or get very sour.)

 

My two best obedience dogs were a Doberman Pinscher and a Collie/GSD cross. The Doberman was of average intelligence, but enjoyed the praise. The much more intelligent mixed breed did too, but was inclined to ad-lib. (She had a sense of humor...) Not what you want when you are going for high-in-trial - there you need a steady, methodical worker.

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Not to get too off point, but for Tea, I agree about the wolf hybrid thing and most do not have wolf in them. The dog I am talking about did most definitely have wolf in him. I got Lobo in the early 70s. I also agree they do not make good pets and I have actually preached this myself to people having studied the wolf and hybrids after I got Lobo, and realizing they do not make good pets. Lobo had enough dog in him to overcome the wolfish tendencies, but occasionally I would see something in him not dog-like. Sadly I lost him at only 5 yrs old after leaving him in a kennel and coming back to find he had chewed thru a concrete and metal kennel, leaped two 6 foot fences and got hit by a car on the highway. I was devastated to say the least.

Back to the instinct vs trainablity vs intelligence though, Of all the dogs I've owned I would have to say my most intelligent have not been the most biddable. In working Border Collies on sheep I think the instinct is necessary for the job, but if there is no trainability the dog will be useless to you. Again intelligence is also necessary for working out of sight of the handler and being able to figure out the best means to get the job done. Given the variety of situations that can occur it would be impossible to train for what might happen, so the intelligent dog would hopefully be able to figure out the best course of action.

Not to ramble, but my Seth is my most intelligent dog. He can be hard to work with sometimes though. He wants to do things his way, does not always want to listen to me but when the chips are down he has always bailed me out. I was having the dogs hold the flock off me so I could open the field gate and let them out. My older female and young dog were holding them back while Seth stayed off to the side. My very stubborn hardheaded female decided to flank around the bring them before I was ready. The young dog followed her so I had two dogs running the flock towards me and a very narrow gate. I called Seth's name only and he saw what was happening and ran over to me and held the sheep off me until I could get out of the way. That was intelligence on his part, plus 12 years experience working sheep and working with his stupid owner.

My anecdotes can be taken for what they are worth...

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