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...and if you aswer "yes, they are!!!" then how would you personally define intelligence in a dog?

I'm sure all have heard of the analysis done by Ben & Lynette Hart of the Veterinary School, University of California. Irish Setters were not considered the brightest... but I am uncertain how this research was undertaken.

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definitions for me:

the mental ability of the brain that permits complex responses to new and changing situations, including learning, memories, problem solving. the ability to learn and understand things easily. the capacity to apply the aquired knowledge. (oh, this sounds very scientific.)

not to forget the emotional intelligence of dogs. their ability to understand how people feel and to use this skill to react "properly" and to avoid or solve problems.

and yes, i believe that Irish Setters are intelligent. but this intelligence has to be brought to surface. if we only sit there and wait for our irish becoming very intelligent... no, i don't believe in that. i have met some irish that were kind of dumb. but looking at the owners, it was quite understandable...
Wow, Laura, that is a great definition - I couldn't have put it better myself!!! BG ;o)))

I am regularly surprised by some owners considering their dog stupid, when actually the dog is reacting logically and analytically, applying learnt behaviour to a siutuation.

As you can imagine I also consider setters intelligent, only in a very different way to say sheepdogs. Although the one on the picture was actually a bit daft: she only read the Gary Larson and Fred Basset cartoons.
Gary Larson = Intelligent!!!!!!!!!!!
Fred Basset = Stupid!!!!!!!!!!!
So which one is her favorite?
:-))
I did consider this discussion, (you beat me to it Susan!) but then I thought that the definition of term is a difficult one.
Is intelligence learning quickly?
In a way it is.
But then it could also be a refusal to do things! If asked to jump of a roof, we would not be brightest if we did as we were told...
Would we then assume a dog is intelligent that will throw himself instantly on the ground when given the down-command?
Never mind the conditions?
Can anyone reply to the question of setters intelligence that has not had a lot of experiance with other breeds?
And are not all dogs individuals?
And how much is the enviroment to "blame" for the dogs stupidity or intelligence?
Would not a kennel-dog be more "stupid" than a dog that is being trained from the word go?
Are my dogs more intelligent as they are Obedience Champions, when others are not?
Or is this up to me as a trainer?

Sorry Susan...Im screwing up your thread with all my questions!!!!! :=)
Not at all! Great to have the input - I will go away now and consider the answers during this evening's training classes... and leave others to answer your questions for me!
gonna write on this but now i have to leave for the farewell party of one of my foreign managers (french), but will drink a glass of wine for the health of both of you - and inspire myself for my late-night reply :-)))
Great question! I think there is a difference in trainability/quick response and intelligence(my opinion,not scientific!) Collies shepherds etc learn quickly and respond quickly but it is a necessary part of their job or work as shepherds(not much point in a sheep dog taking its time with a flock of sheep or a herd of cattle!! Whereas hunting dogs have to be sly, quiet, stealthy and very clever to point and stand for long periods for the hunter(a lot of patience involved) I have had times where my setters have done things that were not taught to them-for example-Milo wanted the bone Megan had and he usually just barks at her but on this occassion he went and found her favourite squeaky toy(which was in another room) and put it down beside her(she usually does anything for that toy) hoping she would take it instead of the bone!! But clever Megan looked at the toy as if to say "no way" and didnt give up the bone!! So to me they both had applied intelligence to this dilemma!!
Lovely example, Carmel! Milo tried on a scheme to distract Megan - unfortunately this time it did not work: she knew how much her bone was worth! I think just by watching the way dogs behave amongst themselves can show us alot about their intelligence. As puppies they learn body language from their dam and siblings and know when to apply what signs. They are also very capable of learning foreign languages (meaning: human body language & speech) and can even pick up our facial expression very quickly.

This of course applies to dogs in general. And as Ursula says each is an individual, with individual potential. I have found each of mine quite different from the other, even in the same family. I know some setters who seem a bit dull witted - probably for various reasons: some just didn't have enough stimuli as puppies or during life, some are just born that way! Like us:-))
I don't know enough about how the brain works, but I do know that all these little grey cells need stimuli to develop, or else they loose their ability.

I do not consider trainability the proof of intelligence, but rather the proof the the trainer's capability & intelligence (I'm being kind to Ursula!). My impression is that dogs who react quickly are more intelligent, but that could be a wrong impression.

As you say, Carmel, Setters are expected to work quite independently, not like a Retriever who is required to have 'the will to please'. I think this may be one reason for their so-called 'stubborn-ness'.

I often wonder about my girl Bramble: she can stand in front of a door that is open a crack and whine. She is not capable of pushing the door open! Is this lack of intelligence? The other three have no trouble at all - so it can't be me (or can it?).

I'm looking forward to all your comments.
Irish setters ARE stupid!

1. That is why you don’t have them doing other things than finding birds.
Very few setters are trainable when it comes to other fields.

2. Not many setters are guide-dogs, army-dogs etc.
Not many setters make it to the very top when it comes to for instance obedience.

3. None of my setters have had any sense when it comes to all that normal stuff faithful dogs are supposed to do without being taught …like protecting house and home.
All setters I know, will be only too happy to let ANYONE in to the house. No questions asked!
Well perhaps the question: Any treats in your pockets?

Irish setters ARE intelligent!


1. The fact that they don’t do much else but finding birds is that there are very few people about that have the patience/capability to train a dog that uses its head and may question the reasons behind a command.

2. Is blind obedience a sign of intelligence? It is not amongst humans, quite the opposite in fact. Why should we change the rules when we decide the intelligence of dogs?

3. Protecting house and home is hardly a sign of intelligence?! More a sign of brute force and aggression. The most important task for any living creature is to survive. If this is done by laying on the settee (sleeping) while thieves empty your house…so be it! To save your own skin must be considered intelligent.

TAKE YOUR PICK!!!!

Ursula :=)
Fran, I think your text is very interesting, and basically I agree with you that intelligence is problem-solving, speed of learning and recalling information.
I have trained a number of setters, but have also owned and trained quite a few other breeds. (But yet no collie...why make it too easy?)
And I do feel that setters differ within the breed.
Even when closly related and brought up/trained by the same person.
Having competed in obedience a lot and seen plenty of dogs of differant breeds I would say that the quick learners (indifferant of breed) are also the quick-forgetters...
The oposite being the slower learners who will, once having understood, never fail.

On the other hand, it may well be that much more time is spent teaching the slow-learners leading to a more stable end-result.

But then there is also a great danger of just dismissing obedience-trained dogs as only performing repetitive action. That may well be true of the easier type of work, but when you look at champion-classes these have so many differant components and signals given to the dog that just pure repetition will not do.
It is in fact exactly the same as you asking your dog to for instance get the collar and not the lead. Both tasks are taught in the same way...and require the same type of thinking/reasoning from the dog.

When competing, I dont know beforehand the lay-out of the field. I dont know if I am to send the dog to retrieve left or right . Not until I am actually standing there. Etc...
So my dogs, competing in championclass need to know loads of different commands, they can NOT go in and just perform.
Also I feel that competing in obedience, I DO end up with dogs that ARE obedient...in the park OR in the ring.
That is actually one of the greatest advantages, I feel.
And no, I still dont know if setters are intelligent.
I think they are like us: Individuals - for better or worse. :-)
I consider the setters to be in the slower learners but never forget catagory! When Megan started doing agility we found that she took forever to learn the weaves so at the end of our autumn training she still didnt seem to get the weaves. So we took our winter break and started again in the spring, and to my surprise she knew the weaves perfectly(as if she had thought about it during the break)and I had not changed my method of training in the spring!!
Carmel, I agree. Most of my setters have been slow learners...and no-forgetters (turned in to an interesting word). But I am not certain that this would mean they are less intelligent. Its just that for instance a German Shephard is focused so much on you to begin with, communicating becomes much easier.
With a setter, you normally have to work much harder with contact before you can even start. Everything else is of great interest too for most setters! :-)
But then even that can not be classed as being more/less intelligent.
The effect you are talking about with Megan remembering the weaves after a break, is actually one you often get when you "take a rest" from something difficult that you are trying to teach. And a method recommended when you get "stuck" in your training.

The most untrainable dogs I personally have met were my Bloodhounds, but even there I would not say the dogs were stupid. I am basing this on only two dogs, I had (at that time) not enough experiance when it came to training and this is (not so unlike setters) another breed that is bred for a very special purpose.

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