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What makes a dog seem intelligent? Is it the same as obedience? Maybe not always, but a smart dog often exhibits both qualities. Follow on to see which dogs experts consider to be among the smartest dog breeds today.
Are you looking for smart dogs? Dogs are popular for their loyalty and love. Some breeds stand out for their remarkable intelligence. Dr. Stanley Coren is a University of British Columbia psychology professor. He did extensive research on the smartest dog breeds.
Dr. Coren conducted a comprehensive ranking of dog breeds based on various cognitive factors, including their ability to learn new commands, solve problems, and understand human language. This research shed light on the remarkable intelligence exhibited by numerous breeds. In this article, we present the top twenty smartest dog breeds as identified by Dr. Coren’s extensive study.
Intelligent Dog Breeds
young Border Collie
1. Border Collie
Experts agree that Border Collies are the most intelligent dogs. Border Collies are eager to learn and please their owners. As hard-working herding dogs, this trait makes them stand out. Chaser is a Border Collie from South Carolina. She made headlines after demonstrating a vocabulary of over 1,000 words on CBS’s 60 Minutes. This is according to Sally Morgan, a renowned holistic pet therapist and author. Now that is one intelligent dog of another level.
As a herding dog, the Border Collie is a high-energy breed that would thrive best in a farm setting. It’s one of the smartest dog breeds if not the smartest dog on this list.
It’s important to note that because the Border Collie is indeed highly intelligent, the high energy causes them to be quite creative when they become bored. These are not dogs that sit around the house waiting for life to happen. But, if you are able to keep them active and learning, they make great pets.
Poodles may be high-maintenance due to their elegant appearance and curly hair. They’re actually the second smartest dog in the world. The breed stands out for its emotional and cognitive intelligence. The breed comes a close second to the Border Collie. Some might say they are equal.
During the Wars, these dog breeds delivered supplies to soldiers on the battlefield. This showcased their obedience, focus, and quick decision-making skills. Veterinarian Wendy Hauser says poodles are easily trainable. They enjoy challenging activities such as tracking, hunting, dog sports, freestyle dancing, agility, and obedience work.
Poodles also possess a bit of energy level, though they usually find toys and tricks suffice in keeping those intense brains active. Poodles often become nervous without proper socialization. But with early training, these dogs make incredible pets who continue to impress their families and friends.
3. German Shepherd
German Shepherds are smart and vigilant dogs. They are a popular breed choice for service roles in law enforcement. German Shepherd dogs (GSD) are also great for search, rescue, and the disabled.
Most seeing-eye dogs are German Shepherds. This is due to their sharp mind and attentive nature. Breeders trained them to be herding dogs. GSDs have a remarkable ability to assess situations and make informed decisions.
GSDs are some of the smartest dog breeds today. They have protective instincts, loyalty, and responsiveness. These make them valuable assets in various fields where reliability is critical. German Shepherds can assess complex situations and determine the best course of action. You can count on a German Shepherd as a devoted dog for law enforcement and for someone with a disability.
4. Golden Retriever
Golden Retrievers are one of the most popular dog breeds that stand out because they are eager to please. They desire to make their humans happy. It ensures that the Golden Retriever behaves the same in various situations.
Purebred Golden Retriever playing outdoors.
An American breed, they were originally trained them as hunting dogs and game retrievers. They have a powerful gait and relative agility. This means they’re a great choice for rescue operations.
This dog breed is not only diligent but also a beloved companion worldwide, serving as therapy dogs. They have a sunny disposition. They can learn commands – up to 200 of them – making them a preferred choice as a therapy dog breed.
Additionally, the Golden Retriever is among the best dogs for seniors to own. With intelligence and loyalty, the Golden Retriever is a great addition to any family. One of the smartest dog breeds, the Golden and Labrador are both categorized as gun dog breeds.
While the Golden Retriever is quite a smart dog, they tend to be a little less needy for constant work. This makes them easier to train as family pets for the less active family. However, keep in mind that they do need plenty of exercise to stay fit. And they need training to keep that brain working!
5. Doberman Pinscher
The Doberman Pinscher is an intelligent breed. It’s also easy to train. So much so that the American Kennel Club describes them as fearless, loyal, and alert. A German tax collector developed the breed to create the perfect guard dog. This breed has a robust athletic build and remarkable stamina. The result is an excellent guard dog.
Despite their tough exterior, these clever dogs have a gentle nature. They are a trainable and smart dog breed. The Doberman Pinscher has speed and fearlessness. For these, they are the preference of law enforcement. The Doberman Pinscher is an exceptional breed. It blends intelligence and strength. They can serve as a loyal companion or hardworking guardian.
6. Shetland Sheepdog
Shetland Sheepdogs, also known as Shelties, are famous for their intelligence. They enjoy being mentally stimulated and challenged. This trait makes them ideal candidates for agility and canine gymnastics. And of course, the Sheltie is excellent as a herding dog.
Training a Shetland Sheepdog requires patience and positive reinforcement. You need to make the learning process enjoyable. But they can be stubborn at times. So, consistency in training and reinforcement is essential. The Sheltie is an affectionate and loyal family dog. Remember that they need regular exercise and mental stimulation. This way, you prevent boredom and destructive behavior.
The Shetland Sheepdog intelligence extends beyond obedience training. They have excellent problem-solving and critical-thinking abilities. These make them valuable in various fields like rescue, therapy work, and even as guide dogs.
While a little less intense than their Border Collie cousin, the Sheltie does need work. Left to their own, they get quite creative in finding work. Even a group of children can be herded! Give them a job, even something like chasing a ball or learning new tricks.
7. Labrador Retriever
Settlers in Newfoundland developed the Labrador Retriever in the 16th century. This is an island in Canada. They descended from the now-extinct St. John’s dog and related to the Newfoundland.
It got its name in the 19th century when English nobles saw the Labrador dog on their visit to Canada. The nobles brought the dog to England and further refined the breed’s characteristics. It became a skilled duck retriever with a water-repellent coat.
The Labrador Retriever is famous for its excellent sense of smell. Plus the ability to make sound judgments based on it. The dog also has a strong desire to learn from humans through observation and imitation. This results in its self-training capabilities.
Such traits have made Labrador Retriever the most popular dog breed in the United States. In fact, it’s a preferred choice for individuals with disabilities. It’s also one of the best emotional support dogs. Like the Doberman Pinscher, they are also trained as police dogs.
Habits of the smartest dog breeds
Labradors are known to be quite skilled as physical assistant dogs such as guiding eyes for the blind, handicap assist, and others. But without a job to do, these beautiful animals get especially creative. As a trainer, I’ve received calls such as, “can you help me? My dog tried to eat my motorcycle.” Whether it was the motorcycle, the new sofa, or a favorite garment, my response was always, “How old is your Labrador, and how long have you had him?” Callers were always surprised when I named the breed. But I was always right.
To be fair, these dogs don’t have to be known for their ability to make shreds from a bed mattress. But they do require training and a job. New owners need to understand that most Labradors have a long puppyhood where often their creativity outshines their common sense. Once they pass that stage (usually by age 3 to 5) they settle in and are the most amazing companions. Train them, keep them busy, and love them forever!
The Papillon, or “butterfly” in French, is the smallest breed on Coren’s list of the smartest dog breeds. Despite its toy breed looks, this breed is intelligent. It traces its roots back almost 700 years. As one of the oldest dog breeds, the papillon has evolved into one of the world’s most intelligent breeds. This is due to careful breeding.
The papillon is an ideal companion for pet owners. It has a happy and outgoing personality, is eager to please, and is easy to train. Its unique wing-like ears are a nod to its noble origins as a companion to members of the aristocracy.
Cute, sprightly, and often very entertaining, the Papillon excels at obedience, tracking, and agility. I love to watch them fly around the agility arena, their feet barely touching the ground or mat. Quite often, they win their size group. And why not? Like Border Collies and Poodles, these little dogs seem to learn the course by watching other dogs navigate it before them. And they consider the entire course a game in life!
9. American Eskimo Dog
The American Eskimo Dog was the original circus dog, before poodles took center stage. This breed is actually one of the German Spitz Breeds. The white variety became more popular and was renamed due to the concerns of the German name.
These dogs combine high intelligence with incredible agility making them the perfect performing dog. They come in 3 sizes: toy, miniature, and standard. But all possess that same good-natured and fun personality.
While many know them as family pets and easy-training companions, these dogs excel at herding, agility, tracking, obedience, service and therapy work, and companion dogs. They are quite perceptive and intuitive, too.
Other spitz brees that we consider highly intelligent include the Pomeranian, the German Spitz, and the Samoyed.
10. Australian Cattle Dog
The Australian Cattle Dog contributed to the development of the beef industry. Humans bred these dogs to herd cattle in their native country. They are small yet powerful dogs. This type of breed may pose a challenge for those who can’t keep them stimulated and engaged.
The Australian Cattle Dog may find ways to occupy itself that its owner may not appreciate. It’s crucial to give it something productive to do. This herding dog learns fast. The Australian Cattle Dog has a unique habit of putting their belongings away after using them.
The Australian Cattle Dog makes a great companion for human activities. They can play catch and learn other games.
11. Belgian Malinois
The Belgian Malinois is a top contender for the Number 1 spot as the most intelligent dog breed. It competes with the Border Collie for the spot.
A study tested seven cognitive and three behavioral tasks on 1,000 dogs from 13 different breeds. The study evaluated the dogs’ inclination towards self-reliance. It also assessed the dogs’ response time in seeking human help when faced with an unsolvable task.
The research also evaluated the dogs’ ability to comprehend human gestures. Another test analyzed how they went around a transparent fence to reach a food reward.
The Belgian Malinois scored the highest with 35 out of 39 points. This is why the breed is an excellent choice for police and guard work.
The Border Collie came a close second in this particular research. Of course, the results change with each new study but the breeds involved in the list are almost always the same.
12. Pembroke Welsh Corgi
The Pembroke Welsh Corgi ranks as the 11th most intelligent breed. This is according to Stanley Coren’s book “The Intelligence of Dogs”. This isn’t surprising given their high intelligence and trainability.
Corgis are natural multi-talented working dog breeds. They have a knack for agility, obedience, tracking, and herding.
Online sources report that Corgis have an active, affectionate, and social temperament. Thus they are ideal companions for families and individuals with an active lifestyle.
13. Cocker Spaniel
The English Cocker Spaniel ranks high among the smartest dog breeds. They’re easy to train and they love learning new skills. These make them ideal companions. As a working breed, Cocker Spaniels excel at tasks that need intelligence and skill. Their affectionate and loyal nature makes them a great addition to any family.
Humans used them as hunting dogs in the UK. Upon reaching the US, breeders trained for hunting the American woodcock.
14. German Shorthaired Pointer
German Shorthaired Pointers are adaptable and they thrive in a variety of environments. They can live in apartments and small living spaces. But they must have plenty of mental and physical stimulation.
The versatility of the German Shorthaired Pointer extends to its ability to serve. They make great hunting companions and therapy dogs. They’re also great search and rescue dogs and even service dogs.
These dogs have the ideal combination of intelligence, loyalty, and athleticism. It’s no surprise that German Shorthaired Pointers are a popular breed.
15. Miniature Schnauzer
The Miniature Schnauzer ranked 12th in intelligence among all dog breeds. The purpose of their breed is to catch rats and be easy to train. The breed further excels in sports that need intelligence. Some examples are agility and competitive obedience.
These bearded dogs make friendly and obedient companions. They are known for being great family pets. They’re smart, with a strong desire to please, unlike other terrier breeds.
Miniature schnauzers have big-dog confidence in a small-dog body. As such, they are perfect for city living. They love children and other small animals, except rodents.
16. English Springer Spaniel
The English Springer Spaniel is famous for its sharp memory and beautiful green eyes. Humans bred them to flush and retrieve game birds in British Columbia. These friendly, playful, and obedient dogs are also bright.
Breeders developed these dogs with other breeds. These include the English Cocker Spaniel and the English Field Spaniel. The English Springer Spaniel has distinguished itself as a breed apart. This is due to its alertness and eagerness to please.
But owners should note that this breed has a strong attachment to their human family. They may become miserable dogs if left alone all the time.
The Schipperke, known as the “little captain,” is a curious, clever, and confident dog. It’s one of the few small dogs on this list. Humans bred them for pest control on Flemish canal boats. The Shipperke breed has a surprising level of bravery despite its small size.
This dog has an intense yet mischievous personality. The Schipperke has a muscular body built for work. It requires plenty of space to play and spend its energy.
The Rottweiler doesn’t deserve its reputation for fearfulness. They are actually protective of their loved ones. They have exceptional loyalty, sharp perception, and acute awareness. These traits make them a popular choice for search-and-rescue, guard, and police dogs.
Although rugged, Rottweilers are also affectionate. They make great everyday pets, service dogs, and therapy dogs. They can herd livestock. This working dog has proven to be a versatile and valued breed.
It’s a known fact that Collies are an intelligent breed. Their quick-witted nature and exceptional problem-solving capabilities are some of their key traits. People bred them for herding animals but soon found they excel at other activities, too.
Collies needed to be adaptable and attentive to their environment. Their intellect renders them outstanding working canines and family pets. Plus they have the eagerness to please their human companions.
These intelligent dogs are adept at obedience training, agility, rescue and other activities. It is important to provide mental stimulation and consistent physical activity. This is to ensure that these clever dogs remain content and well-behaved.
Collies are intelligent. But compared to the Border Collie, the latter has higher canine intelligence. Both breeds are adaptable and have instinctive intelligence. They excel in various canine activities such as:
- obedience training
- rescue operations
20. Belgian Tervuren
The Belgian Tervuren deserves a place in any smartest dog breed list. It’s one of the four Belgian Shepherd dog varieties. These canines are notable for their intellect, adaptability, and strong work ethic.
They thrive in diverse activities, including herding, obedience, agility, tracking, and rescue. This is due to their remarkable cognitive abilities and eager-to-please attitude.
Their quick learning aptitude makes Belgian Tervurens suitable for various roles. They can serve as guard dogs, service dogs, or family companions. But you have to maintain their happiness and good behavior. It is crucial to provide regular mental stimulation and physical activity.
The Belgian Tervuren can grow into a well-adjusted, flexible, and self-assured adult dog. All it needs is proper training.
Should You Get One of the Smartest Dog Breeds?
If you want to get one of the smartest dog breeds, your choice depends on three things. These are your lifestyle, personality, and preferences. An intelligent dog breed can be easier to train. But they also need more mental stimulation and exercise than an average dog. This means they may not be the best fit for someone with a busy or sedentary lifestyle.
Some of the smartest dog breeds today have high energy levels, even as young puppies. Examples are the Border Collie, German Shepherd, Shetland Sheepdog, and Labrador Retriever. You need to give these furry friends lots of space and time for play.
It’s also important to consider that a high dog intelligence can be more demanding. This is true about training and socialization. They may get bored and destructive if not given enough mental stimulation. They need dog sports and training. Owners of the most intelligent dog breed need to be patient, consistent, and committed.
Getting the smartest dogs for their high dog intelligence is good for people willing to keep those intelligent minds active, especially if you’re looking for great family pets. They need the right person or family. Plus it’s important to consider the breed’s needs. And they should align with your lifestyle and preferences.