Again, I'm not looking for colourful anecdotes about individuals, but am looking to get an overview of the breed. And again, I realize that there will be a wide spectrum, within any breed. I actually had a preamble prepared for this, but erased it, as I don't want to offend anyone here...
Suffice to say that one of the primary things that attracts me to the SP is its on-paper, "legendary intelligence". Thus far, the SP's we've known, and with which I've worked over the years have, surprisingly, been less than impressive in this area. This has been another of my "reservations" about the breed.
"Intelligence" is a relative term (for example, a close relative of mine, a long-time dog owner, thought his little Poodle was absolutely brilliant, until he doggy-sat our boy for a few days) and, perhaps, means different things to different people. Personally, I find intellectual depth and complexity more interesting than an ability to learn tricks.
I find myself wondering if that legendary intelligence, like working ability in many breeds, is being ingored on the breeding field, and is slowly being lost?
I have one spoo who is a rescue. I can tell you he has ditsy moments, but those are few and far between. When I say ditsy I mean he has been paying attention to something else, and runs into the wall or the sliding glass door. I do believe that there is a deep intelligence. I see the wheels turning in Remington's head. He is a working dog, a service dog. He stops and seems to evaluate a situation before he charges in and acts. He will problem solve to figure out how to get his end result... But, remember they are always clowns at heart! Hope that this helps a little bit?
"I know that dogs are pack animals, but it is difficult to imagine a pack of standard poodles ... and if there was such a thing as a pack of standard poodles, where would they rove to? Bloomingdale's? " --Yvonne Clifford, American actress
I think that poodles excel at figuring things out for themselves in a way that is charming and human-like. (I could give examples.) If legendary intelligence means following instructions exactly, I'm not sure how poodles compare with other breeds. I think you will find plenty of intellectual depth and complexity in poodles. But of course there is considerable variation from individual to individual.
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First, I just want to say that while I understand you are looking to get an overview of the breed, you are on a forum of mostly pet owners, not experts on the breed, and most of the information "we" are going to be able to provide to you is going to be anecdotal, whether "we" phrase it that way or not, simply because most people here have only owned a handful of dogs. Granted, there are some breeders and trainers here that have worked with multiple, but the pet owners are the majority.
That out of the way, of course intelligence is relative. There is no "scale" to measure it by in dogs. I've met some poodles that I would call "dingbats". However, the vast majority of the ones that I've worked with have been off the charts, almost scary, smart. I've said this before but will say it again: poodles are thinkers, so much more than any other breed I've ever worked with. They contemplate situations, work through problems, and find solutions.
Now, I've had some trainers tell me that they don't think poodles are that smart, and what I've come to realize is that those people don't understand how to train a poodle. Coming from Labs, Goldens, and Shepherds, I learned that you can't teach the poodle the same way you teach the other dogs. They are sensitive, get their feelings hurt easily, and can be extremely manipulative. The ones I work with (keep in mind that 90% of the poodles I work with on a daily basis are bred to be service/working dogs) will try to outsmart you, try to figure out a better way to do whatever you told them to do than how you told them to do it, or simply blow you off because there's "nothing in it for them". You have to learn your poodle and really figure out how to work with him, not control him. I really enjoy this challenge, and is probably why I stuck to poodles once I figured out how awesome they are (ok, the non-shedding bit was pretty influential too).
Anyway, you can tell I'm convinced that as a breed, they are wicked smart, but I admit to meeting a few who were lacking in the brain department. No, I don't think that as a breed, the dogs are being bred away from intelligence. If anything, I think the opposite is true.
Edited to add: Peppersb says it beautifully. There's this constant shuffle of the top 2 most intelligent dog breeds on the "charts" between poodles and border collies. The argument for border collies is that they are more precise, learn more quickly, and follow instructions to a T. Poodles aren't like that, as PeppersB says. You tell a border collie to sit, you are going to get a nice straight sit, just like you taught it. You tell a poodle to sit, and he may sit nice and straight and tight, just like you taught him, but it's equally as likely he may sit and hold a foot up, or sit with a leg thrown out. It's as if he's thinking "what happens if I sit like this instead?" And to me, that is a sign of greater intelligence. The willingness and ability to think outside the box and figure out new solutions to old problems, to create new behaviors just for sake of seeing what happens.
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Honestly .... Sookster nailed it!!! I've owned and trained a few dogs, and my Spoos were not the easiest to train. One trainer I took my first spoo to (because I thought he was untrainable) had him doing EVERYTHING she asked in 15 minutes. She told me it wasn't the dog, it was me. She is a retriever person, and she said that Spoos and BC's need to be trained a different way. She also said that they "think" where another breed may stand on their heads for food, or a toy or just a pat on the head. She told me that it was like dealing with a 3 year old, so I really needed to convince him that I meant what I said.
(Hope I got my thoughts out right) Anyway, the Spoo I have now was a lot easier to train after the lessons my first guy gave me
"There is nothing that any breed can add to a poodle to improve it"
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How we experience their level of intelligence is relative, but I believe there is actually a scoring table they use to rank dogs intelligence.
The most common ranking system is based off of how quickly a dog will learn a new command, how many commands a dog can hold, and the percentage of accuracy of their response to a first time a command is given.
The overview for this according to most kennel clubs places them at number 2.
I however do not think the overview is a sufficient demonstration of their intelligence. They display a level of emotion that I have not seen in some of the other top level dogs, and I think that we have to understand that "intelligence" is more than how well someone does on a test (memorization is not a key indicator of intelligence). I find that poodles seem to be able to figure things out rather quickly from watching. Gryphon knows to step on the garbage foot peddle (an unwanted colourful anecdote, I'm sorry), but I never taught him how to do that. He also knows that if he can lift the toilet lid he can get a drink. These things may not seem very intelligent to us humans, but it's a rare thing in the animal kingdom, really.
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My "other" dog is a German Shepherd dog. Most of the intelligence lists I've looked at shuffle them in various order with the poodle and border collie. I find them both very intelligent, but different. I would agree with most of the comments that talk about poodles as problem solvers. I am currently teaching the akc utility exercises to Lily and finding it very interesting to watch her work out what to do. She also has shown that she learns by watching other dogs work. My GSD does things much more precisely at the outset for the most part, but in the long run I have gotten crisper work out of the poodle letting her figure things out. She is much more of a thinker. Sorry for being anecdotal, but that's all I've got.
Lily AKC: CGC CD HIT CDX, RN RA RE RAE RAE2 RAE3 RAE4 RAE5 Multiple Rally High Combined, NA NAJ; APDT: RL-1; CPE: CL1-R, CL1-H, CL1-F, CL1-S, CL1
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Thanks, everyone, for the insight.
You guys have been extremely helpful!
Originally Posted by Sookster
First, I just want to say that while I understand you are looking to get an overview of the breed, you are on a forum of mostly pet owners, not experts on the breed ...
I certainly do realize that. Pet owners have a different take on their dogs than do breeders; I find it broadens the horizon, even knowing that , in either case, I'm speaking with the proverbial choir. And occasionally, one runs into a particularly knowledgeable and objective pet owner who helps put things into perspective.
Originally Posted by lily cd re
My "other" dog is a German Shepherd dog...
Thank you for the comparison, Catherine!!!
Direct comparisons can be far more helpful than adjectives.
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Having a miniature now and owning miniatures for 30 years, I would say that "poodles" have, not standards over minis or toys; breed standard for intelligence, temperment, etc., should not change based on size -- sorry, had to mention it since there are many owners of toys and miniature poodles on this forum, too.
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