You’ve seen the viral videos of Huskies howling out their love for their owners — and it really does sound like they’re saying “I love you.” You may have even heard the story of the brave sled dogs charging through a blizzard across hundreds of miles bringing life-giving supplies and medicine to an outlying community in Alaska.
And this begs the question, are Huskies smart?
Let’s take a look at Siberian Husky intelligence and find out!
Are Huskies Smart?
Huskies are some of the most popular dog breeds in America. On the American Kennel Club’s most popular dog breed list, Siberian Huskies come in number 19 out of 197 breeds.
It’s no wonder then that the Internet is full of videos of cute and friendly Siberian Huskies performing all sorts of antics.
You can find them singing or professing their undying love for their owners or evenn throwing a tantrum. They also appear performing tricks or conjuring their inner Houdini and figuring out how to escape from places where escape would seem impossible for a dog.
When you ask anyone who has ever owned a Husky “are Huskies smart?”, the most likely answer you’ll get is yes.
But what’s the official verdict? Let’s keep going to find out.
The Personality of a Husky
The Husky personality plays a big part in their popularity. Of course, individuals vary, but Huskies are known for being playful and loving.
They love people and love spending time with their families. They are not suspicious of strangers and do not make good guard dogs, but this trait makes them desirable as family pets. It’s nice to have a dog that welcomes your friends instead of regarding them with silent suspicion.
Though they get along great with humans and are not generally aggressive, you do have to be careful with smaller pets in the household. Huskies are very resourceful and will seek out their own food if needed. Unfortunately, sometimes that has meant sacrificing the family cat.
Huskies also seem to have energy that knows no bounds. It makes sense when you think about it. These dogs were originally bred by the Chukchi people in Siberia to pull their dog sleds hundreds of miles over frozen turf in search of food.
Huskies can run 100 miles in a day and still look like they’re barely breaking a sweat! Obviously, the trait can be quite useful for a number of jobs and Huskies have performed well over the years.
In the 1900s, they became popular for sled racing and they were used extensively for transportation in arctic communities. Once snowmobiles and planes came along, their popularity as sled dogs waned but they are still used in some places and dog sled racing as a sport is alive and well.
In WWII, the army used them as search and rescue dogs. They’ve also been used for herding reindeer, communication, and many other jobs.
The only trouble with the Siberian Husky is their stubbornness. This isn’t always a bad thing. It serves them well when they have to cross hundreds of miles of frozen tundra. But it is a pain when you ask your Siberian Husky to do something and they simply stare at you with their piercing eyes and that expression that clearly communicates no.
Stanley Coren’s Dog Intelligence Test
How do you measure a dog’s intelligence? This is actually quite a complicated topic. So we’ll look at an expert’s research to unpack it.
Meet Dr. Stanley Coren. This canine psychologist with a PhD set out to figure out how to measure canine intelligence. With the help of 199 obedience judges in Canada and the US, he conducted large-scale IQ trials to measure the intelligence of popular breeds.
Dogs were tested in two categories. How many repetitions were required for them to learn a new command and how likely they were to respond to a known command on the first try. Only breeds that recorded at least 100 responses were included to ensure enough data.
This is known as obedience and working intelligence O&W intelligence. If you’ve ever owned a Husky, you might be suspecting their results even now, but you’ll have to stick around to see how they did.
Coren himself states that O&W intelligence is not a complete picture of canine intelligence. In fact, he says there are three types. Let’s unpack those.
1. Instinctive Intelligence
The first is instinctive intelligence. This comes from what a dog was bred for. For example, Australian Shepherds don’t have to be taught how to herd. They already instinctively know how to do it.
In fact, individuals from many herding breeds are often seen “herding” their families around — even if they’ve never been used for herding in their life.
In addition, some dogs are natural protectors and guardians, others are excellent at tracking, and some are good at retrieving. With the right dog for the job, these behaviors don’t have to be taught because they already know how to do them.
In the case of Siberian Huskies, they were bred for pulling a sled over hundreds of miles.
This is a very specific skill set that requires an understanding of how to pace themselves and use their energy wisely. Plus, they need to know how to navigate and Huskies have been known to find their way home from miles away without the help of their driver.
2. Adaptive Intelligence
Another type of intelligence is called adaptive intelligence. This is the dog’s ability to learn from and adapt to its surroundings independently without a human’s direction. Independently-minded dogs can figure out all sorts of solutions to problems without a human to tell them what to do.
In the case of the Siberian Husky, they have been known to escape all sorts of enclosures through ingenious means.
Because of their energy and mischief, owners sometimes try to enclose their Husky to keep the dog out of trouble while they’re away at work. More than one Husky owner has come home and been baffled by how their dog escaped their enclosure!
Unfortunately, both these types of intelligence are difficult to measure quantitatively. And while instinctive intelligence is quite visible, adaptive intelligence is even more difficult to define and record.
3. Working and Obedience Intelligence
So that brings us to working and obedience intelligence. This is what Stanley Coren measured in his IQ trials.
While it is a great starting point for understanding canine intelligence, there is a big flaw. Obedience tests not only measure the dog’s aptitude for learning new tricks but also its willingness to obey when asked to perform.
Obviously, a stubborn dog would perform poorly on this test if it didn’t feel like obeying that day. Thus, some intelligent dogs would perform poorly on the test. In fact, one could argue, the most intelligent dogs would perform poorly.
Independent dogs that know their own minds and decide whether they are going to follow your command or not can definitely be some of the smartest dogs. It’s just hard to measure that.
The Intelligence of a Husky
So, how did the Siberian Husky do on Coren’s test?
Not terribly, but they didn’t do that great either.
Out of the 138 dog breeds that participated in the IQ trials, Siberian Huskies ranked number 74.
Definitively, that means that Huskies required 25 to 40 repetitions to learn a new command. And when obeying, they were found to have a 50% or better success rate. This, according to Coren, is defined as “average intelligence.”
There are lots of popular dogs that rank in this category. These include the Bichon Frise, the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, the Great Dane, the Greyhound, the Boxer, and the Dachshund.
Why Huskies Rank Low In Dog Intelligence?
But anyone who has ever owned a Husky might be surprised at first when you tell them that Huskies are only of “average intelligence.” These dogs are so innately intelligent that it seems impossible to put them in this category.
However, when you explain that the criteria are based on obedience — everything becomes clear.
Huskies can be stubborn. To a certain extent, it is a sign of their extreme intelligence. They are smart enough to know their own mind and decide whether they want to obey you or not. They do not have the eager-to-please attitude of, for example, a Golden Retriever.
Why Are Huskies Hard to Train?
This is what can make a Husky difficult to train. It’s not that they can’t learn commands easily or don’t understand what’s being asked of them. Most of the time they know perfectly well what you want, they have simply decided to ignore you.
As independent thinkers, they are not as reliant on you nor do they care about pleasing you. This makes them unpredictable.
One day they may respond to your commands perfectly well without missing a beat. The next they may simply stare at you with that bored expression and flat-out refuse to do your bidding.
They may also engage in somewhat baffling behaviors — to you. But to the Husky, who is acting on instinct, everything they do has a purpose — whether you understand the purpose or not.
A Husky's Prey Drive
Some of those unpredictable and baffling behaviors are fueled by their prey drive. Remember that Siberian Huskies were originally bred in very harsh conditions. Sometimes they had to be cunning enough to forage for their own food.
This prey drive is engrained in their genetics. Even the sweetest Husky can get riled up at the sight of a cat, bunny, or other small animal running away. And, unfortunately, there are cases of Huskies killing and eating small animals — even ones they have lived with for weeks or months.
You have to be very careful with Huskies and smaller animals.
However, other medium or large-size dogs are not typically a problem. While they often had to forage for food, ancient Huskies also lived in packs and still have a strong pack mentality. They love being with other dogs.
But you have to be careful how many Huskies you put together. The more Huskies you put in one place, the more mischievous they can become.
Motivation and Rewards
The usual training tricks and tips don’t always work with Huskies. You have to have a lot of patience and finding the right motivators is essential.
Easy-to-train dogs are often motivated by their desire to please you. Since Huskies lack this inner motivation, you have to find the right external motivation.
Food is a natural motivator and works well for many Huskies. However, Huskies don’t need a lot of food and you have to be careful not to overfeed when using food during training. Count training treats as part of their daily intake to help make sure they don’t overeat.
Other motivators that work well for some individuals include play time or a favorite toy. Individual dogs are different, so experiment with different things until you find what works for your dog.
What Makes a Dog Breed Smart?
The O&W test that Coren uses is a good starting point, but it isn’t the complete picture when it comes to canine intelligence. Without accounting for instinctive and adaptive intelligence (or stubbornness), breeds that are actually quite intelligent appear to be less so on paper.
And, of course, there are individual differences. Ask 20 Husky owners if their dog is smart and you’ll get different answers.
Though when it comes to the Huskies, most owners will tell you their dogs are smart but devious. In other words, they put their smarts to use doing what they want to do and not necessarily what their owners ask of them.
Is a Husky Right for Your Family?
Have you considered adding a Siberian Husky to your family? That might be why you wondering if Huskies are smart in the first place.
We hope you’ve found your answer. Though they score a little low on Coren’s test, Huskies are incredibly intelligent — too smart in some cases. A mischievous husky will keep their owner on their toes for sure!
But if you’re up for the challenge, you’ll get a playful, loving companion that your family will adore for years!
Get more expert advice on pet-parenting by visiting the Off Leash blog at TryFi.com.
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