The poodle. The border collie. The Shetland sheepdog. What do these dogs have in common? They’re three of the world’s smartest dog breeds. If this surprises you, you’re in the perfect place.
We’re sharing which dogs have the smarts to make Einstein sit up and take notice. The dogs who understand things so well they astound people. The dogs who think the command “Stay” is so easy they could polish their nails while they’re doing it.
So, what makes these dogs so intelligent? Age? Breed? Genetics? We’ll answer those questions and more as we pick their brains and wonder, ‘Why didn’t I go to college?’
Here are the smartest dog breeds. It doesn’t matter what they look like or where they originated from; these dogs are knowledgeable. (And it’s okay that you didn’t go to college. Maybe your dog can teach you the basics of anatomy!)
Criteria for Enlisting Smartest Dog Breeds
There are a few things more important than a dog’s breed to analyze how smart they are. If a dog has spectacular memory and logical reasoning that go off the charts, the reason may be more than if they’re a border collie or not. Things like:
- The test situation
- Previous experiences in life
- Training history
Scientific Reports did a study in 2022 on different dog breeds for their problem-solving, social cognition, and inhibitory control abilities. In it, some behaviors weren’t able to be duplicated by other dogs of the same breed.
So to say, ‘I have a German Shepherd since he’s the smartest dog,’ may not be accurate. This study found that sometimes it just depends on the dog itself or the unique individual, which is similar to humans.
There was also a study conducted in 2019 that performed MRIs on 33 breeds that discovered brain structure – the physical elements of the brain – may be reflected in a dog’s intelligence since they were bred to be a certain way. Another theory is that due to centuries of breeding, dog brains have been reshaped.
However, more thorough studies with more participants need to be done since we still know so little about how a dog’s brain works.
Another study, in 2021, hypothesized that dogs are like humans in that some individuals are just extremely gifted as well as being very rare, like a Mozart or a DaVinci in people.
More thorough studies with more participants from each breed need to be done since we still know so little about how a dog’s brain works.
Smartest Dog Breeds
There are three areas in measuring canine intelligence:
- Adaptive – What they learn from their environment/Problem-solving skills
- Instinctive – How well they do what they were bred to do (Hunting, retrieving, etc.)
- Working and obedience – Formal training/Obedience training
Now, let’s get into which dogs could give Bill Gates a run for his money.
1. Border Collie
Many think this breed is the top dog in intelligence, and there is good reason for them to think this way. Scientists believe that border collies are so able to learn the names of things because they were bred to herd sheep. A herding dog listens and responds to the shepherd’s verbal cues, among other talents.
One of the most intelligent dogs ever was Chaser, a border collie who was named the “smartest dog in the world.” She could recognize and remember each of her toy’s names as well as other nouns to the tune of being able to know 1,022 nouns.
In Germany, a border collie named Rico could “fast-map,” which is figuring out the names of new things, so quickly and correctly, he was assessed to have the mind of a 3-year-old child.
This breed deserves to be called the world’s smartest dog breed.
Many places list poodles as one of the world’s smartest dog breeds. You definitely can’t judge a book by its cover. All that fluff doesn’t seem to affect their brains one bit.
Their desire to please plays into their big brain power, along with their raw intelligence. They score high in obedience competitions and working.
Research shows a poodle’s intelligence is comparable to that of a 2- or 2 ½-year-old child. Poodles can even learn and retain basic math information, and some can pick up on close to 250 words and signals.
They prove you can be an intelligent dog breed and still look puffed and fluffed.
3. German Shepherd
German shepherds are more than just smart. They’re loyal, courageous, and agile. They are trained for numerous things like:
- Agility and obedience (search and rescue dogs)
- Military service
- Law enforcement
- Scent tracking (Bombs, drugs, cadavers, humans)
And that’s not even everything.
Generally speaking, German shepherds are confident, they don’t often show nervousness, and they have little to no fear. They’re dedicated to hard work and being responsive to it.
But they would probably say their best job is being a devoted companion. These dogs are protective and will accept strangers when you give the okay by your actions or voice. Shepherds take dog intelligence to a whole new level.
4. Golden Retriever
This gorgeous breed has brawn and brains. They’re strong sporting dogs and gentle therapy dogs. Some of the tasks they do include:
- Search and rescue
- Service dog for the blind and deaf
- Agility courses
Golden Retriever is smart and friendly and makes an incredible companion. They’re one of the most well-known dog breeds in America and display empathy, understanding, and comfort to those who are hurting.
Golden Retrievers showcase exceptional problem-solving abilities, adeptly follow intricate commands, and shine in obedience training.
Children are one of their greatest joys, but be sure to supervise when they’re together with really young ones. Goldens are even-tempered and patient, but (every dog) should be watched around the little ones.
5. Doberman Pinscher
Dobies have long been guard and police dogs and are also perfect companion animals. They know when to fight and when to love, which makes them a highly intelligent breed. This breed originated in Germany, and in World Wars I and II, they were used as sentry and messenger dogs. They are highly active and need to be on the move but know when to relax as well.
In the late 19th century, Karl Friedrich Louis Dobermann developed the Doberman to have the steadiest of temperaments and brute strength. He was a German tax collector and needed protection at its finest.
He wasn’t concerned about the Doberman’s (who was named after Dobermann’s death) appearance, and he only wanted a dog with the drive and courage to protect him. He sure got one.
6. Shetland Sheepdog
The Shetland sheepdog was bred for sheep herding and is quick and agile. He looks like a mini-me of a rough collie but is a different breed. He is gentle, playful, and affectionate and excels at obedience training.
Shelties are excellent watchdogs who always want to be doing something. They were developed in the Shetland Islands of Scotland, which is also known for Shetland ponies.
The popular breed is smart, hardworking, and willing to work. They are known for their ability to pick up/understand commands. You’ll see a lot of herding dogs on this list. And you’ll hit the jackpot if you acquire a sheltie.
7. Labrador Retriever
Dogs of the sporting group, this family dog breed has a spot-on sense of smell. He knows how to balance being loving and being smart and can do both seamlessly.
They’ve learned how to watch humans and pick up on our cues and habits. Watching and imitating is called self-training.
The lab is also a favorite service and emotional therapy dog. Again and again, it has been chosen as the American Kennel Club’s most popular dog breed. And Labrador Retriever definitely one of the most intelligent dog breeds.
These little butterfly-eared dogs (the name “Papillon” means “butterfly” in French) are outgoing and friendly, eager to please. There’s a second type of papillon called the “phalene” who do have long-haired ears, but they’re not erect. Both toy breed types have a talent for learning and obeying commands.
Papillons enjoy participating in obedience and agility competitions and are good at it. Once called the “dwarf spaniel,” they’re only 4-8 lbs. Brave and somewhat bossy, they certainly don’t realize how small they are.
These massive creatures are protective and territorial, but they’re also big babies when it comes to their families. They are gentle, affectionate, loyal dogs who have worked in different capacities:
- K9/Police dogs
- Scent dog
- Protection/Guard dog
- Draft dog (Cart pulling)
Rotties are highly adaptable. They can navigate the nuances between highly detailed work and when things are more relaxed. They’re also more serious-minded and may not be as interested as other dogs in a game of fetch or something else that may not challenge their minds.
10. Australian Cattle Dog
Otherwise known as blue heelers, Queensland heelers, Australian heelers… If ever there were an energetic and intelligent dog, this one’s it. The cattle dog was developed to herd cattle, so is known for his talents to evaluate situations and handle them.
Some can figure out things like how to open a door. Australian Cattle dog shines at agility, tracking, and, naturally, herding. Watch one in action, and you’ll be totally entertained.
11. Pembroke Welsh Corgi
How could so much intelligence come in such a small package? The corgi was developed to herd, and they nip and duck as well as any other. They’re, in fact, royal dogs since The Queen of England made them famous.
In Stanley Coren’s The Intelligence of Dogs, they’re ranked at #11. They’re independent thinkers and need to stay busy. Corgis have an innately powerful work ethic and give their all during games, work, or consistent training.
12. Miniature Schnauzer
Developed in Germany, these dogs are almost human. They can solve problems and learn from previous mistakes. The giant schnauzer is even above average for obedience and working intelligence.
The miniature schnauzer can learn a new command within a half hour. You could definitely call them quick learners. The schnauzer’s prey instincts and drive are above average. They’re one of the most versatile working dogs in the world by herding, ratting, guarding, and hunting.
13. English Springer Spaniel
The Springer spaniel is among the top 15 of the world’s smartest dogs. They will obey a known command with at least an 85% success rate. Plus, they can be up to eight times (8x) faster than the average dog to learn a new command.
English springers are bird dogs and are instinctually able to not only flush out game but also to lead birds inside a hunter’s gun range. They’re among the top dogs at being able to self-train.
14. Belgian Tervuren
Maybe not as well known as others, these intelligent working dogs are adept at military and police work as well as guarding and obstacle competitions.
Instinctive herders with serious demeanor; these are excellent guard and service dogs. Although the modern Tervuren’s ancestors were chosen for smarts over beauty, these dogs still came out resembling German shepherds.
These smallish 12-16 lb. dogs pack a lot of intelligence. They were developed to be barge watchdogs and have been called the “canal boat dog.”
Schipperkes have a high prey drive for rodents, reptiles, and birds, so no need for an exterminator. They are curious, confident, and independent. These are sheepdogs that developed herding sheep – Faithful and excellent watchdogs.
Rough and smooth collies are independent thinkers. They’re extremely good at reading people and then taking the lead. Many have saved human lives, including a dog named Jason.
Their high intelligence is sometimes compared to that of border collies, which is comparing apples and oranges. They may not be as smart at herding and the like, but their sensitivity to emotions is off the charts.
Playful, affectionate, and quite stunning, these dogs are a medium-sized spitz breed. This Dutch barge dog is bored by repetition, so playing fetch probably isn’t his cup of tea.
The Keeshond of the Spitz family is adept at agility, rally (focuses on developing teamwork, connection, and flow), obedience, and therapy. This smart dog is certainly busy since it also serves as the national dog of the Netherlands.
18. German Shorthaired Pointer
This gorgeous gun dog (hunting dogs that assist people in game hunting) is known as “the perfect pointer” to its fans. In competitive hunting events, GSPs consistently win.
Organized dog sports are perfect for this energetic dog breed since this intense dog needs a purpose. They’re fabulous watchdogs with powerful endurance, which shows when they take to the water. He’s a happy dog and was born to be in a pack of humans. Highly trainable, they need an abundance of mental stimulation to be the best dogs they can be.
This 75-lb. shaggy dog is just as cute as he is smart. They were developed to work on farms and herd anything, relying on their physicality and their sharp hearing. Instinctually protective, they’re fearless and alert watchdogs.
Kind and gentle,these playful canines make perfect family dogs for an active group. As working dogs, they’re sensitive and obedient. Serving today as a flock herder and guardian, this breed is eager to please.
Centuries ago, the Briard defended its guardians against wolves and poachers. In early wars, they:
- Ran messages
- Detected mines
- Supported commando actions
- Carried food and ammunition to the front lines
- Find the wounded
Today, they’re active in:
- Police work
- Military work
- Search and rescue
Do Smart Dogs Make Good Pets
Absolutely in some situations, but not so great in others. Many of a dog’s instincts will take over, and you might find you’ll need to start paying them as babysitters. Smart dogs can learn a variety of different commands and can even pick up on your emotions.
Most of them do need plenty of exercise, at least an hour a day, but if you’re in with that, you’ll have a loyal, protective best friend. Several of these breeds can be stubborn or, put more gently, willful, so training can take a bit longer since they can get bored easily.
Intelligent dogs welcome a human family unit, but if you have other canines or felines, you may need extra training time due to their high prey drives. If necessary, enlist the help of a professional.
The bottom line is if you have the patience and ample time to train and exercise a smart dog, it will become an irreplaceable part of your family.
What Is the Number 1 Ranked Dog Breed in Intelligence?
The border collie is considered to be the #1 smartest/most intelligent dog. It is also among the smartest dogs on the list by the American Kennel Club.
Are Smart Dog Breeds Easy to Train?
In many ways, yes, but sometimes smart dog breeds are so advanced in their thinking that commands like “Sit” and “Stay” quickly become boring. This could stretch out training times.
Which Dog Has the Highest IQ?
While there is no dog IQ test that is valid and reliable, researchers and scientists are working to change that. It IS known that dog intelligence is structured in a similar way as humans, and there are parameters for a dog IQ test that have been set up. That said, border collies probably have the highest IQ since they’re the smartest dogs.
There is a test for a dog’s “general intelligence” that consists of several situations you can present to your dog to see how well he responds to them. Depending on how he performs, points are given. It’s just rather up in the air since different places have different “tests.”
These dogs are smart cookies and perform amazing tasks. And we don’t even know how much more they’re capable of doing. From sniffing out cancer to discovering cadavers underground, dogs have done things we simply aren’t able to do.
But if you have a dog who thinks “Sit” means “Pee on the carpet,” love him like he’s a border collie anyway.