Are Poodles Smart? (Is Your Poodle Smarter Than You?)

If you installed a sliding screen door on your porch and your Poodle is suddenly able to open it after watching you exit once or twice, it might get you wondering—are Poodles smart enough to learn that fast?

According to research, it appears they are. In fact, Poodles are the second most intelligent dog of North American breeds.

are Poodles smart
Are Poodles smart? (Is your Poodle smarter than you?)

I know this might not surprise people who’ve owned Poodles for much of their life. But seeing how fast Poodles learn is often startling and admirable if you’re used to owning other dog breeds.

How a Poodle’s Intelligence Ranks Among Other Dogs?

The average dog breed can learn about 165 words and count to four or five. That’s impressive in and of itself if you ask me.

black Royal Standard Poodle
Black Royal Standard Poodle stands on the grass.

But Poodles take this to a whole new level. According to psychologist Stanley Coren, Poodles are capable of the following:

  • Learning 250 words
  • Understanding signals
  • Performing basic math
training Poodle outside
Poodles are one of the smartest dog breeds. (Image: Instagram/@da_poodles)

Coren has studied dog intelligence for many years and has published several books, such as The Intelligence of Dogs and How Dogs Think.

Not only do Poodles rank among the top 20% of the most intelligent dogs in North America, but they come in at number two; the only dog smarter than the Poodle is the Border Collie.

How Humans Have Shaped Poodle Intelligence?

It’s no secret that dogs and humans have a long history of mutually benefiting from each other. But according to Coren, humans are responsible for making dogs like the Poodle more intelligent.

carrying white Poodle
Owner carrying heavy white Poodle in her shoulders.

How can this be, you wonder?

The reasoning comes down to scientific development in our understanding of a dog’s mental abilities.

Poodle trained by owner
A Poodle is trained by the owner to stay still. (Image: Instagram/@littlechewy_)

Breeders have been able to hand select the most intelligent dogs and breed them with each other. The result is that a Poodle’s intelligence, like many dog breeds, has improved over the years.

In his book on dog behavior, Coren even mused that he’d like to return to earth in 200 years and see if dogs are bright enough for him to talk with them.

So, Is Your Poodle Smarter Than You?

For as intelligent as Poodles are, they’re not smarter than a healthy adult human (unless you’re really bad at arithmetic). However, if you have a toddler, they may very well be more intelligent than them.

woman walking with poodle
A woman walking with her cute poodle on the road.

But, who knows? If Coren’s seemingly unimaginable scenario comes true where you can have a conversation with your dog that they’d understand, perhaps Poodles will someday be as intelligent—if not smarter—than humans.

But until Poodles can perform selective breeding research on their own, I think it’s safe to say that humans have the upper hand on intelligence.

The 3-tier Intelligence Breakdown

During Coren’s research, he discovered that there are three categories that a dog’s intelligence can fall within. I’ll break them down for you here.

Instinctive Intelligence

Instinctive intelligence refers to a dog’s ability and smarts in performing the task people bred them to do. In the case of Poodles, people originally bred them as water retrievers to bring back birds that their owners hunted.

Poodle swims with noodle
Poodle swims with noodle in his mouth.

Contrary to popular belief, the name Poodle comes from German. The German word is “Pudel,” which refers to making splashing noises in a body of water. Once the Poodle made its way from Germany to France, the French started calling it a “duck dog.”

Even though your Poodle will gladly curl up with you on the couch as you read a book, if you bring them around a body of water, they’ll be naturally good swimmers and instinctively want to retrieve objects.

Adaptive Intelligence

Adaptive intelligence is the ability of a Poodle to modify its behavior based on previous experiences. Scientists have thoroughly studied adaptive intelligence too. For instance, they may measure a person’s ability to adapt to different cultural norms.

poodle sits on a outdoor lounge
A Tan Poodle sitting on an outdoor lounge. Beautiful!

When it comes to Poodles, it’s easiest to measure adaptive intelligence by observing whether they can learn from different experiences and mistakes.

For example, did your Poodle run into your glass door thinking it was open? If they don’t do this a second time (which is likely), that shows a high level of adaptive intelligence.

In contrast, it might take a dog with lower intelligence several times before they learn the difference between a glass door and open air.

It’s important to note that adaptive intelligence doesn’t involve human intervention.

Instead, it’s a Poodle’s natural ability to learn from their environmental surroundings and fix whatever mistake or error they made in the past. 

Working and Obedience Intelligence

Coren’s research revealed that Poodles have a high level of working and obedience intelligence, which likely doesn’t surprise current Poodle owners.

training a poodle
Training a large red-colored Poodle outdoors.

Working and obedience intelligence is the analysis of a dog’s ability to learn and retain training commands and other things that humans teach them.

To test a Poodle’s working and obedience intelligence, Coren enlisted the help of 199 dog obedience judges to analyze the effectiveness of dogs learning a new command. It’s important to note that he only used purebred dogs from North America (sorry, Doodle owners).

The judges based their rankings on how many times they had to repeat commands for the dog to learn it. Sadly for some dog breeds, they didn’t come close to making the cut.

But the Poodle made the number two spot on the list for learning the command the quickest.

Needless to say, if you’ve brought your Poodle to a group dog training class in the past and assumed the other owners weren’t working enough with their dogs for them to learn the commands, you now know that the culprit could be a slower learning dog.

How Long Does It Take Poodles To Learn?

Many factors influence how long it takes a Poodle or any dog to learn a command, including:

  • Distractions in their environment
  • Motivation (treat versus no treat)
  • Trust in the person training them
best poodle rescues
Best Poodle Rescues (USA and Canada)

But assuming that dogs have the same environmental parameters, you can expect your Poodle to learn a command as much as five times as fast as other breeds around them (as long as there isn’t a Border Collie in the mix).

Given that it can take up to 40 repetitions on average for another dog breed to learn a command, your Poodle will be well on its way to increasing its 250-word vocabulary while other dogs are still trying to get the hang of a single word.

How To Foster Your Poodle’s Intelligence?

Now that you know that the answer to “Are Poodles smart?” is a resounding yes, you might wonder how you can help your Poodle make the most of their intelligence.

Below are some of the best ways to do so:

  • Play games
  • Use dog puzzles
  • Vary your training technique
  • Expose them to other dogs
  • Have them solve problems
  • Give them regular exercise
a Standard Poodle runs
A Standard Poodle runs in the field.

The best rule of thumb to keep in mind when fostering your Poodle’s intelligence is to keep them on their “paws” by switching up their typical training, exercise, and routine. 

Studies show that frequent exercise can improve thinking skills and memory in humans. So, while it’s impossible to know whether this translates to Poodles, it seems fair to think that it could.

In either case, regular exercise provides Poodles with improved physical and emotional health, especially when they do it outdoors. It’s also an excellent time to challenge your Poodle’s intelligence with games such as hide and seek.

hyper Poodle loves swimming regularly
The hyper Poodle loves to swim everyday. (Image: Instagram/@teddy_bear_poodle)

When you’re not home to play games in person with your Poodle, offering them specialty dog toys designed to improve intelligence is helpful. There’s no shortage of options on the market, and many of them involve hiding treats in spots that are hard to find.

A side benefit to these puzzle toys is that they can help distract your Poodle from a bout of separation anxiety when you leave home. After all, as many Poodle owners can attest, this breed is notorious for wanting to be by their owners’ side 24/7 in addition to their smarts. 

The Bottom Line

Rather than asking, “Are Poodles smart?” the better question is, “How do I foster my Poodle’s intelligence?”

According to Coren’s research, Poodles are the second most intelligent dog breed in the world. So, they love being challenged with new training commands, and using specialty toys to spark mental stimulation is also an excellent idea.

Finally, if you’d like to believe that your Poodle is smart enough to know you love them, I think it’s fair to say that’s a more than reasonable assumption.