Are Golden Retrievers Smart?

Updated September 22, 2023

Whether you already own a golden or are considering buying one, you may wonder how smart golden retrievers are.

Golden retrievers are intelligent dogs, but many people fail to understand what comprises canine intelligence.

Golden retrievers are obedient, eager to please, great at problem-solving, and empathetic. All these traits add points to their intelligence rank.

But are golden retrievers smarter than other dogs, and does a dog’s intelligence make a real difference in everyday life? The answer depends on a dog’s purpose.

Intelligence is both a blessing and a curse of golden retrievers. Goldens are excellent family and service dogs, but they require constant stimulation to maintain the sharpness of their mind and prevent behavioral problems.

One Of The Smartest Dog Breeds

According to American Kennel Club, golden retrievers are the fourth most intelligent dog breed. Only German shepherds, border collies, and poodles are considered more intelligent than golden retrievers.

The high rank on the smart dog list doesn’t yet mean that a golden retriever is superior to an English bulldog or Dalmatian or that golden retrievers don’t require training.

Instead, it means that a dog is easier to train and more obedient than an average dog. The American Kennel Clun describes golden retrievers as intelligent and eager to please, ideal as guide dogs and working dogs for rescue operations.

Furthermore, each dog’s personality and intelligence level is different. Two brilliant academics aren’t guaranteed to have an equally intelligent child, and dogs aren’t any different.

Although golden retrievers are more intelligent than most dogs, they can also be goofy, stubborn, or unempathetic, especially if they lack training and socialization.

How Is Canine Intelligence Measured?

To understand whether golden retrievers are intelligent, we should first outline what makes a dog smart.

The methodology of every dog intelligence study differs, but most academics base their research on several factors: empathy, memory, problem-solving, and obedience.

How fast a dog memorizes commands is crucial in determining its intelligence level. Golden retrievers excel in every memory study.

Some dogs struggle to draw connections between the owner’s verbal or visual cues and actions. Golden retrievers, however, learn what each command means instantly.

But understanding what a command means and memorizing it doesn’t yet mean that a dog will perform it. For this reason, researchers also measure how often a dog obeys the command.

Many studies have shown that dogs can learn not solely through simple reinforcement but also by observing humans and other canines.

Simply put, dogs are a bit like children – they learn even if you don’t teach them. That’s the main problem because they may pick up something you don’t want them to.

The ability to learn by observing someone else’s actions is closely tied with emotional intelligence. Certain dog breeds better understand human emotions and are more willing to adapt their behavior to the circumstances.

Problem-solving refers to a dog’s ability to perform tasks other than basic commands and find solutions in non-standard situations. Problem-solving skills are crucial for working dogs.

So, a dog’s intelligence is based on many variables. Some dogs may be better at memorizing commands or problem-solving than golden retrievers, but goldens are one of the most intelligent dog breeds all-around.

Bred To Hunt

Intelligence is deeply rooted in golden retriever genetics. These dogs were bred to hunt, and hunting dogs are bound to be smart. If you check the list of the most intelligent dogs, you will notice that many of them are hunting breeds.

What makes a great hunting dog? Smelling and tracking ability, high stamina, and athleticism aren’t sufficient. A hunting dog should be eager to please its owner, obedient, empathetic, able to communicate its needs and have a strong work ethic.

A stubborn, disobedient dog can hinder the hunting process, scaring away prey. The dog should understand when baking is appropriate and when to make a quick decision to capture the target.

Back in the 19th century, hunting dogs were intelligent yet unempathetic because they didn’t typically live with people like family dogs.

Lord Marjoribanks, the man behind all golden retrievers, wanted to create a hunting dog that would be friendly, obedient, and empathetic.

As you may have guessed, he succeeded. Golden retrievers have everything that makes a perfect hunting dog – intelligence, obedience, empathy, and discipline.

Nowadays, many golden retrievers never go hunting and spend their lives playing fetch in the backyard, but the temperament traits they’ve inherited from their ancestors are persistent.

Easy To Train

When people ask how intelligent a dog is, they usually want to know how trainable it is. The American Kennel Club recognizes golden retrievers as one of the most trainable dog breeds because of their intelligence and obedience.

A dog’s trainability also depends on its distractibility or the ability to concentrate on the training. Despite their natural curiosity, golden retrievers typically don’t have trouble concentrating.

Golden retrievers continuously prove their right for the title of the most obedient dogs by winning the American Kennel Club obedience championships.

For example, in 2018, three golden retrievers and one Labrador retriever came to the top of the obedience championship in the sporting group. A golden retriever named Streak was the fourth, Beacon the third, and Layla the first.

In 2020, a golden retriever Jack Daniel’s aka Daniel, got second place; in 2021, a golden retriever Juicy came first at the American Kennel Club obedience competition.

These are only recent results. If you check the obedience championship results for any year, you will likely see at least one golden retriever in the top five.

According to Stanley Coren, Ph.D., of the University of British Columbia, an average dog can learn about 165 words, whereas golden retrievers can memorize over 200 verbal cues.

Naturally, the more words a dog knows, the more commands it can perform, but even 165 is more than enough for a family dog.

Excellent Service Dogs

Golden retrievers are among the most popular service dog breeds because of their intelligence. Service dogs are trained to perform daily tasks for their owners and are, in a way, responsible for their owner’s wellbeing.

Service dogs may perform tasks of varying complexity, from pressing elevator buttons to calling emergency on a dog-friendly phone. Golden retrievers are intelligent enough to carry out the most challenging duties.

Service golden retrievers can unpack groceries, remind the owner to take medications, calm people with PTSD attacks, and assist the owner in crossing the road.

Service dogs should be empathetic to spot when their owner doesn’t feel right and well-behaved to safely attend public places. A service dog cannot be aggressive or anxious.

Because golden retrievers are confident, can adequately assess the environmental context, and read human body language, they will never attack a stranger for no reason and can accompany their owner anywhere.


Empathy is integral to intelligence. Canine empathy is characterized by a dog’s ability to read human body language, facial expressions, and tone of voice and communicate one’s needs.

Golden retrievers are highly attached to their owners. They were bred to work together with people and were bound to develop a great sense of empathy.

For this reason, golden retrievers can detect when someone is sad, anxious, or depressed. Not only that, but goldens genuinely want to help people feeling unwell, so they make excellent therapy dogs.

Golden retrievers are gentle with kids because they understand that children cannot control their behavior as adults do. And since golden retrievers can quickly assess human body language, they will never be aggressive towards strangers for no reason.

According to scientists, golden retrievers have the empathy level of a three-year-old toddler. They understand that people have thoughts and feelings other than their own and that their actions can affect someone else’s emotions.

Such fine-tuned sense of empathy is one of the reasons golden retrievers are so eager to please their owners. They are genuinely happy to see their owner smiling and will do anything to cheer up their favorite person.

Is Having a Smart Dog Good?

Most people think that the smarter a dog, the better, but it isn’t always true. Smart doesn’t equal easy. Yes, an intelligent dog may be easier to train, but it also requires more effort from the owner.

Intelligent dogs require more mental stimulation than average dogs. A golden retriever that isn’t getting enough exercise and mental enrichment will get bored and engage in destructive behavior.

The more intelligent a dog, the more curious it is. Goldens are explorers at heart – they love visiting new places and solving puzzles. An intelligent dog may suffer from boredom if restrained indoors and drowning in routine.

Furthermore, smart dogs tend to be more independent than an average dog, which can hinder the training. Fortunately, golden retrievers are an exception.

But trainability isn’t the primary point in favor of intelligent dogs. You can train any dog, although some breeds may not learn as quickly as golden retrievers.

What makes golden retrievers unique is their empathy and problem-solving skills. These traits are inherent only to the most intelligent dogs and are essential for family pets and service animals.

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