Determining the smartest dog breeds is difficult. That’s because how you decide canine intelligence can vary.
Do you consider dogs who are obedient and follow commands to be the smartest? Are dogs who know lots of words more intelligent? Or are stubborn dogs who understand what you want but choose to do otherwise really more intelligent?
Research shows dogs demonstrate several types of brainpower, including instinctive, interpersonal, spatial, working, kinaesthetic, and adaptive intelligence.
If you want an intelligent pet, here’s our list of the seven smartest dog breeds.
The Border Collie is the premier sheepherder. These workaholic dogs earn their place on the smartest dog breeds list for their intelligence and instinct.
This breed also is affectionate with family members and is good with young children. If you have another dog in your house, these herding dogs can be your older dog’s best mate.
Border Collies have a high adaptive intelligence quotient and show their smarts by remembering and learning from past situations. Here’s why the breed is smart:
- Ability to remember commands and words
- Enjoys getting daily work or tasks
- Initially bred for sheep herding, the dogs are adaptive and good problem solvers
- Often cast in TV shows and films. Remember the herding dogs in “Babe“?
- Able to adapt to challenging situations and work as rescue and search dogs.
Poodles are intelligent, active, and have the natural ability to retrieve items from water. That’s why the dogs were initially used for duck hunting. Their powerful noses and inquisitiveness make poodles a surprise choice for truffle hunting.
Poodles are easy to train and quickly show their abilities to obey, track, retrieve, and hunt.
The dogs quickly learn new commands in five or fewer exposures and respond to 95% of commands, while the average dog responds to only 50% of orders.
The German Shepherd is a top choice for an intelligent guard dog. The dogs often are used as police and military dogs due to their intelligence and instincts.
Although the German Shepherd’s brain is only about a tenth the size of a human’s, this is an example of how tiny is mighty. The dogs have large prefrontal cortexes, which give them exceptional problem-solving skills.
The American Kennel Club ranks the German Shepherd among the most popular breeds. This herding dog also makes an excellent companion or family dog.
Their intelligence, and explosive energy, make German Shepherds ideal candidates for advanced training. The dogs can also be trained to perform various tasks for people with visual or hearing impairments or who experience seizures.
Don’t let the Labrador retriever’s goofy smile fool you. This dog makes the smartest dog breeds list because it’s intelligent and competitive.
The dogs make ideal companions for rigorous sporting activities. Their instincts make Labs natural hunters.
Labradors, like poodles, learn commands quickly and obey 95% of the time. The dogs are considered as bright as a young child and can learn about 250 words. These tricksters are also known to deceive other dogs and humans during playtime.
Because Labradors are gentle and easy to train, they often work as service dogs for visually impaired people. Labs also make excellent therapy dogs and are usually included when dogs are brought in to comfort people after traumatic crimes or natural disasters.
Australian Cattle Dog
The Australian Cattle Dog also is a herding dog that responds well to obedience training. Also known as Blue Heelers or Queensland Heelers, this compact breed is related to Australia’s famous wild Dingo.
The dogs are agile, intelligent, and energetic. Australian Cattle Dogs enjoy challenging training sessions. But be warned, these wily dogs can routinely outsmart their owners.
Because they are among the smartest dog breeds, Australian Cattle Dogs need plenty of mental stimulation. You can challenge your dog with interactive toys.
If you don’t keep this breed challenged, you risk developing problem behaviors like barking.
Yet another herding dog on this list, Australian Shepherds, like Border Collies, are intelligent, energetic, and intuitive.
The dogs learn new commands quickly but know that the breed is also stubborn. Your Aussie may understand what you want him to do, but that doesn’t always mean he’ll follow the command.
For example, Sydney, my Aussie-Corgi mix, hated the command stay. As a puppy, she’d wiggle and roll over when told to stay in one spot.
As an adult, she often got underfoot in the kitchen, so I’d walk her to the doorway and tell her to stay. She’d last for a minute or two, then would walk around to the other entrance and stretch out there. She obeyed the command to stay out of the kitchen but did it in her way.
Pembroke Welsh Corgi
Originally bred to herd cattle, these short, energetic dogs are long on brainpower. They quickly learn commands and are excellent problem solvers. There’s a reason these little scamps have long been a favorite of Britain’s Queen Elizabeth.
The dogs quickly learn their way around obstacles.
For example, my Pembroke, Nutmeg, often gets a toy stuck under a chair, unlike other dogs who will use their paws and end up pushing the toy farther back, Nutmeg twists and grabs it with her mouth so she can free the toy herself.
Although Corgis can learn many tasks, they can also be stubborn and may not want to perform on command. Or they may want to do things their way rather than yours.
Nutmeg is recovering after straining a tendon in her back right leg. We have a series of exercises she needs to do each day to strengthen her legs, hips, core, and back.
Some exercises she enjoys, others she hates. While she’ll usually do all of them, sometimes, when I command one, she’ll instead substitute one of her favorites.
So instead of getting a down with a stretch forward, she’ll do a quick rollover and then spring up as if to say “ta-da!”
Is your dog one of the smartest dog breeds?
Choose your dog carefully. While the seven dogs on the smartest dog breeds list may be the right choice for you, be sure to consider your available time, energy, and financial resources.
Intelligent dogs are easier to train, but they also can be more energetic and demanding. Make sure you’re ready for the challenge. If not, you might be happier with a calmer, less intelligent couch potato dog.
Sara B. Hansen has spent 20-plus years as a professional editor and writer. She’s also the author of The Complete Guide to Cocker Spaniels. She decided to create her dream job by launching DogsBestLife.com in 2011. Sara grew up with family dogs, and since she bought her first house, she’s had a furry companion or two to help make it a home. She shares her heart and home with Nutmeg, a Pembroke Welsh Corgi. Her previous dogs: Sydney (September 2008-April 2020), Finley (November 1993-January 2008), and Browning (May 1993-November 2007). You can reach Sara @ email@example.com.