Intelligent, friendly and eager to please, Labrador retrievers have a long history of helping humans, and humans love them for it. According to the American Kennel Club, as of 2014, Labs are the most popular breed in the United States, and their combination of brains and a pleasant demeanor are to thank. Their intelligence is no accident, though -- it’s partially the result of a long tradition of hard work and training.
Born to Fetch
Labs are intelligent by design -- they have long been bred and trained to be obedient, practical animals. Originally from Newfoundland, these dogs were used by fishermen to retrieve nets, and later they were used for retrieving game like geese for hunters -- hence the name. Years of consistent use as companions for fishermen and hunters honed the Lab’s intelligence, and these dogs are generally hardwired for obedience and learning tasks.
According to psychology professor and dog intelligence expert Stanley Coren, Labs rank among the 10 most intelligent breeds of dog on the planet. Coren measures breed intelligence based on obedience and working intelligence, and ranks Labs as the seventh highest breed on the canine intelligence scale. Because these sporting dogs are so enthusiastic and respond so well to training, they are ranked alongside German shepherds, golden retrievers and border collies as some of the smartest dogs living today.
More Than Brains
Intelligence is only worth so much in a stubborn dog. Labs combine cognitive ability with the eagerness to please humans and an innate friendliness, making them not just smart, but willing to demonstrate that intelligence. Along with their intelligence, their natural enthusiasm and obedience makes them a highly trainable and trustworthy breed, and one that can be relied upon to learn and obey commands.
Using Their Intelligence
Because Labs are so intelligent and even-tempered, they’re frequently used as service animals -- in fact, most service dogs are either Labs or golden retrievers. Their long history of retrieving game has given Labs strong bodies and finely tuned senses, and their unique combination of intelligence, loyalty, sociability and enthusiasm makes them the ideal candidate for a service animal position. For these same reasons, they are also frequently used as search-and-rescue dogs.
Tom Ryan is a freelance writer, editor and English tutor. He graduated from the University of Pittsburgh with a degree in English writing, and has also worked as an arts and entertainment reporter with "The Pitt News" and a public relations and advertising copywriter with the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh.