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Are Retrievers Lazy or Just Smart?

  • 10 min read

The following information is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not constitute pet medical advice.
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Golden, labrador – retrievers are the best dogs in the world, and there’s no way you can change my mind on that.

The thing is… it’s a lottery-based system. Are you going to get a smart dog, or one that just doesn’t like to do anything?

Well, smart and lazy can sometimes get confusing. Inherently, labs are smart dogs, and with that they’ll see what they can get away with doing and what they can get away without doing. I call that smart more than I call it lazy.

You get a pick out of a hat, because while that’s true for most dogs, some labs are lazy. Some goldens are lazy. It happens. We’re going to dissect the reasons behind laziness and how to determine if your retriever is smart or not, and we’re doing it right now.

They Were Designed for Hunting

They Were Designed for Hunting

As the lore goes, golden retrievers were the result of a mixed breed between Scottish spaniels (now extinct) and yellow retrievers. They/ve been one of the world’s most superior dogs ever since.

They were literally designed for hunting, if the information found is to be correct or at least partially accurate. A man named Sir Douglas retired to a castle he owned in Scotland, and out back in the woods, he would go hunting with these two dogs that were initially believed to be Russian circus mutts.

Both were excellent hunters. Both helped Sir Douglas in numerous ways. He thought the best way to make them better was to breed, and after having a little of four, we now have golden retrievers.

They were quite literally designed for hunting, and not all that long ago. They come from two smart breeds of dog, and combine to make an intelligent product of each.

Friendly, Smart Dogs That Need Stimulation

Friendly, Smart Dogs That Need Stimulation

Retrievers in general are intelligent dogs, and can be hard-working when trained to protect your family or to be used as a service animal. These friendly and intelligent dogs are chosen for a variety of traits that we can all be happy with.

Good With Children

Golden retrievers and labrador retrievers are both historically fantastic with little ones running around.

Apart from having a very high tolerance, they’re also friendly by nature, and designed to serve their master. In this case, they know that you care for your child and treat them well, so they will do the same.

To appease their owner, they will ensure that they protect and appease their children. Because retrievers 

Sensitive to Sensitive Owners

They’re affectionate, and extremely aware of your emotions. Dogs in general will react to and base their behavior off of their owners, which could be a good thing depending on the temperament of the owner they have.

In retrievers, this isn’t just exhibited by aggression or a docile nature, but rather through their intelligence to identify multiple ranges of emotions.

Extremely Active and Athletic

Activity and physical stimulation promote brain function (as well as serotonin, the happy hormone).

If your retriever is constantly on the move, it’s because they’re trying to keep that intelligent doggy brain of theirs moving at its fastest pace, all day long. It’s examined that dogs with more athleticism in their breed are intelligent compared to other breeds.

Friendly With Other Dogs

Retrievers don’t just jump to instincts 100% of the time. There are some breeds that are notorious for being bad with other dogs, but retrievers enjoy the socialization, and they actually need it.

It takes a lot to really tick off a retriever and lead to negative behaviors, and that’s also true with other dogs. Taking your retriever to the dog park is going to do more good for them than you realize.

Excellent With Strangers/New People

You have to leave town for a few days and need a friend or in-law to watch your retriever, or you’re leaving your retriever with a trainer for a few days to get their behavior under control. No problem.

Retrievers are naturally kind and compassionate dogs, and that transcends to their friendliness with new people and strangers.

Even a lab that is trained to defend its family and home will be able to identify when a person is a threat or when they are friendly. Thanks to their intelligence, their ability to make distinctions is uncanny.

Golden Retriever vs. Labrador Retriever: Who is Smarter?

Golden Retriever vs. Labrador Retriever: Who is Smarter?

There’s not all that much of a difference. Goldens and labs are fairly similar in many facets, and one of those is their intellect. One breed is not necessarily more intelligent than the other.

However, perception matters here, and the reason this is even a question in the first place is because of the dogs appearances.

Golden retrievers sometimes have what people describe as a “dopey” look when their tongue is hanging out of their mouths and they’re looking around.

Because we know that goldens are a little more physically active than labrador retrievers, this high energy level can come off as being over-excited, which is a trait we don’t often pair with intelligence.

Labs will be calmer even before going for a walk or playing, and because they have darker colors in their coats, they tend to look more intense when they’re looking at you or simply laying down on the floor.

We pair this with intelligence because they appear to be more focused, even though at the end of the day, both breeds are basically the same.

Learning Behaviors and Patterns

Retrievers are known for learning new traits, skills, and commands faster than almost every other dog breed. The ability to learn things quickly, through minimal repetition, is a signal of intelligence supported by the University of British Columbia.

Retrievers are one breed that can learn multiple words, actions, and understand expected behavior with minimal training. This also begs the question: is a hard-to-train retriever actually just lazy?

They sure have the option to be. While they’re loyal and love their masters, if they do not have a reason to continue with their training and do what is expected of them, then they simply won’t. They’re intelligent enough to need a reason to do something.

Learning behaviors include auditory commands, as well. Retrievers can learn over one hundred words and correlate a pattern of behavior to it, allowing them to understand more than commands.

What I mean by that is, commands are ingrained into a dog’s brain, but other identifiable words that are not demanding will also affect your retriever’s behavior (in a positive way).

Because retrievers are able to understand more words, they are also able to understand more commands and adhere to what you’re saying, not just what you’re doing. It’s just another way that they’re one of the most intelligent breeds out there.

It should also be noted that when a retriever learns a new behavior or reaction, their success rate on following through with those expectations is a marker for intelligence as well.

Retrievers are also excellent service animals, particularly because they can read body language and understand emotion more than most dog breeds. Whether leading the blind or helping their master combat anxiety on a daily basis, they are empathetic creatures (another signal of intelligence).

Are There More Intelligent Breeds Than Retrievers?

Yes. Technically, retrievers are the fourth most intelligent breed of dog out there, following closely behind these other breeds.

  1. German Shepherd
  2. Poodle
  3. Border Collie
  4. Retriever (Golden, Lab)

However, the differences here are not exactly that enormous. German shepherds have been used for intelligence-oriented tasks for as long as we can date them back, from K9 units for drug-sniffing, to bomb defusing, and more.

We actually rely on German shepherds for tasks that we can’t complete ourselves, just to show how important they are.

But between the poodle, border collie, and retriever, the differences aren’t so stark. All breeds respond well to vocal commands and auditory commands (a certain noise triggering a reaction, for example), and understand plenty of words that are not deemed as commands.

Aging is a Big Factor Here

Aging is a Big Factor Here

As any retriever ages (or any dog, really), they’re not going to be nearly as virile as they were in their youth. The prime time for a retriever is usually around ages two through seven, and after that, they start entering their senior age.

This is disputed and some say that nine is their entryway to the senior age bracket depending on diet and exercise, but more often than not, age seven is when things can start to go awry.

As we all get older and enter our senior years, there is a fear for mental relapse of some sort.

We become forgetful, or we begin to misplace things, and for dogs, they simply begin to become a little more dull. This makes people think that senior retrievers are lazy, but in fact, they’re just starting to become a little less sharp.

This is a double-edged sword, though, because when your dog is still in their puppy years, they might be smarter rather than lazy. They will push their limits and see what you will let them get away with, just like with a toddler, and that’s why you have to be sure to get a firm grip on their behavior right from the get-go.

This is the time to get a trainer to show them that they have to follow commands. If you let them get away with everything, they’re going to intelligently deny you what you command because there is no alternative.

They simply don’t have to do that thing you wanted them to do, why would they bother if there’s no consequence or alternative action?

The Best, Balanced Breed of Dog

They’re intelligent, they can be lazy when they want to be, and that’s all okay. Retrievers are lifelong companions who might run into a bit of issues along the way, and some of them can be medical as we described earlier.

It doesn’t just have to be their personalities, so it’s important to assess all potential factors and give your retriever the benefit of the doubt.


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