Is Your Pup One of the 10 Smartest Dog Breeds?

By: Jesslyn Shields  | 
smartest dog
The border collie, a type of herding dog, is considered the most intelligent dog breed, as most can learn a new command in under five repetitions and follow it at least 95 percent of the time. Lucia Horvath Photography/Shutterstock

Dogs are smarter than we give them credit for.

Part of the proof is in the way dogs relate to humans. Our species has been the head honcho on this planet for a pretty long time, and obviously the smart thing to do would be to become best buddies with the planet's most vicious super predator, man.


Which is what dogs did. Smart!

As a species, the smartest dog breeds are extremely good at attending to their human counterparts, which takes an extreme amount of intelligence. Dogs have been shown to correctly interpret human body language, in some cases better than another person.

Nobody knows exactly how dogs got to be so socially savvy when it comes to humans, but it's likely that, over the millennia, pet dogs have been selected for qualities that make them great at getting along with us.

Herding dogs like border collies and Australian cattle dogs have also been specially bred to work for us, as well as to be our best friends.

From herding dogs to search and rescue dogs to therapy dogs, we get a lot of labor out of man's best friends when and where we can. Dogs are intelligent, and we encourage certain breeds to be especially brainy.


How Do We Rate Canine Intelligence?

In his 2016 book "Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are?", animal behaviorist Frans de Waal postulates that we have done a terrible job as a species assessing how intelligent other species actually are.

For instance, we consider the ability to use tools, cooperate, plan, perceive time, understand the the mental states and intentions of others, etc. to be strictly human attributes — all things many other animal species from a variety of different classes can do.


When we assess the intelligence of other animals we assume they're smart if they do things we want them to do.

De Waal suggests that we should only judge an animal's intelligence in context of what it needs to succeed in its own life. For a lot of dogs, following human directions is their bread and butter.


Working Intelligence

In canine psychology, "working intelligence" is a metric used to assess how adept a dog is at following orders. Researchers are working on assessing instinctive canine intelligence (hunting, herding, retrieving), as well as adaptive intelligence, or problem solving. But for now, the best information we have about dog intelligence is centered on working intelligence, or how obedient they can become through training.

In his 2006 book "The Intelligence of Dogs," Stanley Coren interviewed 200 dog obedience judges and produced a list of the breeds that display the highest degree of working intelligence. He organized his lists into tiers, with very effective working dogs who might learn a new command in fewer than five tries, 95 percent of the time, at the top tier.


On the second tier he placed working dogs like the English springer spaniel, who might learn a new trick 85 percent of the time after being exposed 15 times. And so on and so forth, until we find ourselves at the sixth tier with an Afghan hound, for instance, who might learn a new trick 30 percent of the time after being exposed to it 100 times.

According to De Waal, Afghans are likely perfectly intelligent, but are, like cats, "not beholden to anyone."


Training Sets Smart Dogs Apart

Just like a human can't display how bright they are if they've never gotten much of an education, the intelligence of individual dogs will always come down to training. Not only is each dog different, each dog's situation is different.

Some individual dogs have been shown to develop large vocabularies and the ability to solve complex problems.


For instance, Chaser, the purported "smartest dog in the world," was a border collie trained by a retired psychologist who was interested in dog cognition, and who trained her to recognize more than 1,000 proper nouns and 100 rote behaviors in her lifetime. Of course, this was accomplished through constant, effective training techniques.

So, although dog intelligence has a lot to do with breeding, training should be taken into consideration as well.


The 10 Smartest Dog Breeds

According to Coren's research, the following is a list of the 10 smartest dog breeds.


1. Border Collie

When it comes to working intelligence, the border collie is the smartest dog breed. Although extremely loyal and affectionate with their owners, they require a lot of time and directed energy, as well.

Border collies are medium-sized herding dogs with an immense amount of ... vitality. Bred in Scotland to herd and control sheep, they have seemingly unlimited energy, stamina and intensity.


Because they were selected to keep large numbers of livestock in a tight bunch, border collies have what dog people call the "herding eye" — a stare much like that of a hunting wolf — which is intimidating to sheep.

Although their preternatural intelligence makes them fascinating, entertaining companions, dog experts advise to think carefully before adopting a border collie.

According to Coren, a smart dog doesn't always make the best pet, and unless you have a lifestyle that allows for a border collie's voracious need for physical exertion and mental exercise, you might find that your sweet, curious, intelligent pet turns into a mechanism for chaos and property destruction.


2. Poodle

smartest dog
Poodles may seem like the fancy little princesses of the dog world, but they are active and highly intelligent. by Ingrid/Getty Images

Poodles have the reputation for being the prima donnas of the dog world, but they rank second in the first tier of dog intelligence.

One great thing about poodles is they come in several different sizes. Standard poodles are large, standing more than 15 inches (38 centimeters) tall at the shoulder, while toy poodles stand no more than 10 inches (25.4 centimeters) or less. Anything in between those two heights is considered a miniature poodle.


Poodles were first bred in Germany as hunting dogs, but they're much more versatile than border collies when it comes to being a pet. While they're sporty and easily trainable, they also love human attention and family life.

Poodles should get plenty of exercise, especially with small children around. They are kind hearted and friendly, but an activity-starved poodle might be too rambunctious a playmate for a toddler.


3. German Shepherd

German shepherds are large, loyal, all-purpose working dogs. One of the most popular dog breeds in the U.S., these intelligent sweeties can be seen in the military and on police forces everywhere, but are also commonly in therapy and medical assistance settings.

In the 19th century, dog breeds were being standardized, and this strong, speedy, intelligent breed came from the best of the German herding dogs.


Because of their high working intelligence and drive, incredible sense of smell and courageous temperament, they were soon picked up as the military and police forces around the world.

A German shepherd makes a great guard dog. They're wonderful friends to those they consider their own, but they can be suspicious and protective around people they haven't personally vetted.


4. Golden Retriever

smartest dog
Golden retrievers are great at learning commands and are eager to please, which makes them excellent family pets.  MATTHEW PALMER/Getty Images

Golden retrievers make popular pets for a reason: Not only are they eager to please, patient with children and other pets, attractive and loyal, they are easy to train and can learn more than 200 commands.

Golden retrievers were bred in the mid-19th century as game retrieving dogs. They make wonderful service dogs today because they're reliably cheerful, chivalrous and attentive to their owners.


If golden retrievers have a fault it's that they are known to eat things they shouldn't — especially as puppies. Because of this, they're prone to gastrointestinal obstructions.

5. Doberman Pinscher

Doberman Pinschers are sleek, svelte, powerful showstoppers. Fast and fearless, the Doberman pinscher breed was developed in the 1890s by a German tax collector named Louis Doberman, who desired a breed that was not only a good companion, but a fierce guard dog.

Doberman got his wish with this breed. They eventually became common sights in the police force and on battle grounds because they are easily trained, but Dobermans have a reputation for aggression that's not totally fair.


They can be trained for docility just as easily as aggression. With encouragement as puppies, this breed can make for friendly, playful, affectionate family dogs.

6. Shetland Sheepdog

smartest dog
Shetland sheepdogs are known for their impressive herding ability. Erkki Makkonen/Shutterstock

Also known as Shelties, these small, playful, high-energy pups originated as herding dogs one the rugged Scottish Shetland Islands. These dogs are try-hards: They are good at almost everything they attempt, from agility to service work.

Shelties are competitive and their first love is herding — they'll try to herd just about anything, including squirrels, children and cars.

Shelties can be very playful with their family but tend to be a bit standoffish, though not aggressive, with strangers. The most important things to give your Sheltie friend is plenty of exercise and a challenge in the form of tricks to learn, jobs to do and things to keep their active brains engaged.

7. Labrador Retriever

The Labrador retriever, or Lab for short, is America's most popular dog breed. A common trait of this active, sweet-faced pooch is friendliness — your run-of-the-mill Labrador retriever has never met a stranger.

Bred in England as a gun dog, or game retrieving dog, not only is a Lab easily trained, they are capable of noticing human behaviors and copying them without being explicitly trained.

These playful, child-loving, highly trainable pooches are popular for a reason. They may be easygoing, but they love a walk or a session with the ball thrower, so don't forget to make time every day to get their wiggles out.

8. Papillon

smartest dog
Papillons are bright and intelligent and are small enough to make them perfect pets for those without a lot of space. Fayzulin Serg/Shutterstock

Papillon means "butterfly" in French, and this tiny, butterfly-eared charmer is one of the few small dogs on the high-IQ list. Don't let this pooch's lovely, delicate appearance fool you — they're as athletic, hardy and willing to work as any dog on this list.

The Papillon is considered a "toy"-sized dog, measuring under 10 inches (25.4 centimeters) at their shoulder. They were a popular breed with European royalty, and their history can be traced through portraits of royal families starting in the 16th century.

Even considering their fancy history, Papillons are versatile dogs — they love running around outside, they make good indoor companions, and for a small dog they do remarkably well in family settings and with small children.

9. Rottweiler

Rottweilers are one of the oldest breeds of dogs we have today — they were around in ancient Rome. They've been used to protect and herd livestock, as war and police dogs as drafting dogs that pulled carts. Their name comes from the butchers in the medieval city of Rottweil, Germany, where the breed was commonly owned by butchers, who used the dogs to pull carts of meat to market.

Although these intelligent and devoted dogs are the epitome of a working dog, they also make playful, devoted pets. They are often described as being disconcertingly quiet, and they generally only bark as a warning signal.

10. Australian Cattle Dog

smartest dog
Australian cattle dogs were bred by Australian settlers to handle herds of cattle on expansive ranches. Bellelen/Shutterstock

Australian cattle dogs hail, predictably, from Australia, and they are relatives of the famous Australian wild dog, the dingo. Sometimes called blue heelers, Australian cattle dogs are incredibly hardy, bred for herding livestock across the rough terrain of Australia's outback.

This alert, muscular working dog has the reputation for regularly outsmarting their owners. If a lot of effort isn't put into training this brainiac, they easily fall into mischief making.