Are Cavalier King Charles Spaniels Smart Dogs?

Have you ever wondered, “Are Cavalier King Charles Spaniels smart dogs?” Ask any Cavvy owner, and they’ll probably shout, “Absolutely!” 

But, let’s be real, wouldn’t most dog owners say the same about their pets? 

So then, what really lies behind the perceived intelligence of these affectionate lap dogs? How do they stack up against other breeds, and how do we even figure out how smart a dog is? 

Stick around; we’re about to dig into all that fun stuff!

The Intelligence of Cavalier King Charles Spaniels

Cavalier King Charles Spaniels are placed 44th in Coren’s intelligence rankings as breeds with average working and obedience intelligence. This means that Cavaliers typically need 25 to 40 repetitions to learn a new command, while they will obey the first command 50% of the time or better.

However, it’s important to understand that these rankings primarily measure a dog’s obedience and working intelligence, which are essentially the speed and consistency with which a breed can learn and execute commands. These rankings don’t necessarily account for other forms of intelligence, such as emotional and social intelligence, areas in which the Cavaliers truly excel.

Moreover, while these rankings might suggest that Cavaliers are “average” compared to other breeds, this doesn’t indicate a lack of intelligence. Instead, their abilities may be more evenly distributed across various areas, not strictly in learning and following commands. Such rankings fall short of capturing their other abilities, such as their innate social skills, adaptability, and emotional intelligence.

I’ll discuss these aspects shortly, but before doing so, let’s understand how experts measure a dog’s intelligence.

How Is Dog Intelligence Measured?

While measuring dog intelligence may seem straightforward, it’s actually quite a complex topic. However, Stanley Coren, a canine psychologist, came up with a method for assessing dogs’ intelligence. His approach has become the go-to source when it comes to gauging the intelligence of our best friends.

In his book, “The Intelligence of Dogs,” Coren defines three types of intelligence: instinctive, adaptive, and working and obedience intelligence.

Let’s talk about each. I’ll use a simple analogy to illustrate the idea.

  • Instinctive Intelligence

This is a dog’s innate skill, or what a dog was bred for. Imagine if a dog was bred to be a musician: some dogs might be naturally good at playing the piano (like a Border Collie’s instinct for herding), while others might be born drummers (like a Labrador’s instinct to retrieve). 

This is something that’s hard-wired into their breed and doesn’t have much to do with the individual dog.

  • Adaptive Intelligence

Adaptive intelligence in Coren’s book refers to problem-solving ability, or how well dogs can figure things out on their own without a human’s direction. Going back to our musician analogy, this would be like a dog learning a new song by ear. 

It’s not part of their natural talent (instinctive intelligence), but it shows their ability to learn and adapt. Some dogs are very good at this and can figure out problems, like how to open a gate or get a treat out of a puzzle toy.

  • Working and Obedience Intelligence

This refers to how quickly a dog can learn from humans. Again, if we use music example, this would be like a dog learning to play a song by following a conductor’s instructions. 

Some dogs are extremely good at this and can learn a new trick after just a few repetitions, while others might need more time and practice.

How Smart Are Cavalier King Charles Spaniels Compared to Other Breeds?

Now that we’ve explored how dog intelligence is measured and determined how smart Cavalier King Charles Spaniels are using that method, let’s see how they rank among the top 10 most popular dog breeds in America

Breed Popularity Ranking Intelligence Ranking
French Bulldog 1 109
Labrador Retriever 2 7
Golden Retriever 3 4
German Shepherd 4 3
Poodle 5 2
Bulldog 6 77
Rottweiler 7 9
Beagle 8 72
Dachshund 9 49
German Shorthaired Pointer 10 17
Cavalier King Charles Spaniel 14 44
Source: American Kennel Club – Most Popular Dog Breeds in 2022

From the table, we can draw a conclusion that popularity and Coren’s intelligence rankings do not always align. Take French Bulldogs, for instance. They might be the most popular breed in America but they haven’t scored well in Coren’s intelligence ranking. 

Conversely, the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, which is not in the top 10 popularity list, surpasses several more popular breeds in terms of intelligence ranking.

So, when we combine both popularity and intelligence, Golden Retrievers, German Shepherds, and Poodles stand out. These breeds not only rank highly in popularity, but they also score well in Coren’s intelligence study, indicating a balance of qualities that many dog owners find appealing.

Also Explore: Are Cavaliers Good For First TIme Owners?

3 Reasons Cavalier King Charles Spaniels Are Smart 

Having covered the theory, rankings, and expert research, I’ll now share my insights as a long-time owner, and list the top 3 reasons why I believe Cavalier King Charles Spaniels are intelligent dogs.

They Are Great At Reading Human Emotions

Cavalier King Charles Spaniels show exceptional emotional intelligence that allows them to tune into their owners’ moods and feelings. They often behave in ways that reflect the emotional state of the people around them. 

For instance, if their owner is sad or stressed, a Cavalier might curl up next to them, providing a comforting presence. If their owner is happy and active, the dog will match that energy, eager to play or go for a walk. 

So, in a sense, they have a way of communicating empathy through their actions, which helps build a profound and meaningful bond with their owners. There’s a legit reason they are nicknamed “The Comfort Spaniels”.

They Have Excellent Social Intelligence

Cavaliers are also known for their great level of social intelligence, which manifests in their ability to get along with different animals and people of all ages. They are excellent at reading and responding to social cues. 

For example, if you introduce a Cavvy to a shy or anxious animal or human, they might approach slowly and gently, whereas with a playful and energetic companion, they may respond with equal excitement.

Furthermore, their social intelligence extends to their communication skills. Cavaliers can express a wide range of feelings and desires through body language and facial expressions, showing a deep understanding of social interaction.

So, in my opinion, these social skills are a testament to their intelligence, but the standard intelligence tests can’t measure that.

They Are Very Adaptable

Last but not least, Cavalier King Charles Spaniels are super adaptable dogs, and they can flourish in different environments and lifestyles. Whether we’re talking about a compact apartment or a sprawling suburban house with a backyard, Cavaliers can adjust to their surroundings with ease. 

But even in terms of lifestyle, Cavaliers are so flexible. For more sedentary owners, they are perfectly happy to spend their days enjoying quiet companionship. They are expert cuddlers and will be content with a few short walks and plenty of lap time. 

On the other hand, if you lead a more active lifestyle, Cavalier King Charles can keep pace quite comfortably. They enjoy being outdoors and will happily be your partners for long walks or light jogging.

What’s more, Cavaliers are incredibly versatile when it comes to adapting to different human life stages. They are patient and gentle with children, making them great family pets, but they can also be fantastic with older individuals, offering comfort and friendship. 

Related Article: Are Cavalier King Charles Spaniels High Maintenance?

Are There Any Tests To Gauge My Cavalier King Charles Spaniel’s Intelligence?

There are some home-based tests you can do with your Cavalier King Charles Spaniel to gauge its intelligence, but these tests are just for fun and to get a sense of your dog’s problem-solving abilities and are not a definitive measure of your pet’s intelligence.

Test 1 – The Towel Test

Test: Toss a towel gently over your dog’s head and start the timer. See how long it takes for your dog to free itself.


Three points if your dog gets free in under 15 seconds.
Two points if it takes between 15 and 30 seconds.
One point if it takes more than 30 seconds.

Test 2 – The Cup Game

Test: With your dog watching, place a treat under one of the three cups. Mix the cups around, and then see if your dog can find the treat.


Three points if your dog goes directly to the right cup on the first try.
Two points if your dog checks one wrong cup before finding the treat.
One point if your dog checks both wrong cups before finding the treat.

Test 3 – The Leash Trick

Test: Lightly tie the leash to a post or tree with your dog watching. Place your dog’s favorite toy or a treat just out of reach and start the timer to see how long it takes for your dog to figure out to go around the object or untie the leash to reach the toy or treat.


Three points if your dog solves it in under 30 seconds.
Two points if it takes between 30 seconds and one minute.
One point if it takes longer than a minute.

Test 4 – The Hidden Treat

Test: Show your dog a treat and then hide it under a piece of furniture low enough to the ground that only the dog’s paw (not head) can fit underneath. Start the timer to see how long it takes for the dog to retrieve the treat.


Three points if your dog retrieves it in under one minute.
Two points if it takes between one and two minutes.
One point if your dog gives up or takes more than two minutes.

After you’ve conducted all the tests, add up your pet’s score.

A score of 9-12 suggests that your Cavalier is very intelligent.
A score of 5-8 means your Cavalier has moderate intelligence.
A score of 4 or below may mean that your Cavalier may benefit from a bit more training or mental stimulation.

How Can I Stimulate My Cavalier King Charles Spaniel’s Intelligence?

There are several ways to stimulate your Cavalier King Charles Spaniel’s intelligence. Providing interactive toys or puzzles that require problem-solving is great for your pet’s mind. 

Engaging in obedience training sessions and teaching them new commands or tricks can also stimulate their intelligence. Additionally, regular exercise and mental stimulation through activities like scent work or agility training can keep their minds sharp.

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