The 20 Smartest Dog Breeds, Ranked
Dogs are way smarter than we give them credit for.
1. Border collie
“It’s not a surprise that this hard-working, herding breed comes in first on our list,” say Caitie Steffen, pet expert at Whistle, and Angela Hughes, DVM, PhD, a veterinarian geneticist with Wisdom Panel. Border Collies are always eager to learn and please their owners, which earns them the top spot in this smartest dogs ranking. “How can you argue with a dog with a vocabulary of over 1,000 words?” adds holistic pet therapist and author Sally Morgan, referring to Chaser, a famous border collie from South Carolina who was once profiled on CBS’s 60 Minutes.
The poodle has been selected as one of the top-ranked dog breeds for intelligence over and over because of its ability to be loyal, smart, and gentle, according to Lazhar Ichir, founder of Breeding Business, an educational platform for ethical dog breeders. “Poodles learn quickly and often surprise their owners by how human-like they can be.” Wendy Hauser, DVM, adds that poodles are readily trainable and enjoy activities that allow them to be challenged, such as hunting, tracking, agility and obedience work.
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3. German shepherd
German shepherds are known to be intelligent and alert, so it’s no surprise they’re often employed as service dogs for law enforcement, search and rescue, and disability assistance (many seeing-eye dogs are German shepherds). Bred as herding dogs, German shepherds are adept at evaluating situations and determining the best course of action, adds Jill Cline, PhD, site director of the Royal Canin Pet Health and Nutrition Center in Lewisburg, Ohio.
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4. Golden retriever
Golden retrievers are known to be calm and easy to train. What makes them some of the smartest dogs is that they’re only too happy to “comply with commands or tasks asked of them by their owners, and they can be relied upon to be consistent with their behaviour in a variety of situations,” says Dr. Cline. Golden retrievers are used as service, search and rescue, and therapy dogs.
5. Doberman pinscher
A true working dog, these sleek dogs are in demand for their intelligence, trainability, and protective personalities, according to Dr. Hauser. They’re a quick study as service dogs, particularly in law enforcement, say Steffen and Dr. Hughes. “Dobermans are so mentally active that they get bored without sufficient intellectual stimulation,” points out Caleb Backe, a health and wellness expert for Maple Holistics. It may cost a bundle to own a dog, but if you’re looking for a guard dog, a Doberman may actually be worth it.
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6. Shetland sheepdog
This small herding dog is intelligent, alert, active, fast and often vocal, which makes them great herding dogs. “Shelties are capable of following detailed directions and also independent problem solving,” says Morgan. “Natural family dogs, they are also people-pleasers and love nothing more than a good cuddle,” adds Dr. Hauser.
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7. Labrador retriever
Labs (like goldens) show good judgment and bravery, according to Ichir, which makes them wonderful service dogs, especially for people with disabilities. They’ve been ranked among the smartest dogs because they are highly emotionally intelligent and trainable, according to our panel of experts.
These big-eared pups are one of the oldest dog breeds—their line can be traced back almost 700 years—which means they’ve had generations of breeding to become one of the smartest around, say Steffen and Dr. Hughes. Papillons excel at both agility-training and trick-training.
This strong breed dates all the way back to the Roman Empire, when they were used to herd livestock. “Today, rotties are revered as one of the smartest dogs for their sharp perception, unwavering loyalty, and acute awareness; it’s why they’re often employed as search and rescue dogs, guard dogs and police dogs,” Morgan says.
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10. Australian cattle dog
This tough herding dog from “down under” shares qualities with the other herding breeds, including an uncanny knack for knowing when and how to solve problems. “They’re eager to learn and respond well to reward-based training, allowing them to participate in a vast array of enjoyable activities including agility, flyball and Frisbee,” add Steffen and Hughes.
11. Pembroke Welsh corgi
This happy, smaller breed is most fulfilled when there is a job to do, says Dr. Hauser. And adorably, they have a tendency to “herd” their family members, particularly younger children.
12. Miniature Schnauzer
“These quick learners enjoy being challenged and often excel at sports where they must use their intelligence, like agility and competitive obedience,” said Steffen and Hughes. “Unlike many of the others breeds in the terrier group, Miniature Schnauzers have a strong desire to please and the smarts to do so,” points out Dr. Hauser.
13. English Springer spaniel
“The Springer is the place where beauty and utility meet,” according to the American Kennel Club (AKC), which adds that the Springer spaniel’s energy, stamina, brains, and smooth “rear drive” movement have earned them an exalted place in the realm of bird dogs. “But a Springer—with his smartly marked coat, yearning spaniel expression, and long, lush ears—would be prized for good looks even if he couldn’t tell a grouse from a mouse [which he can!],” shares the website.
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14. Belgian Tervuren, sheepdog, and malinois
The Beglian Tervuren, Sheepdog, and Malinois all descended from the Belgian sheepdog and all “deserve to make the list due to their intelligent nature and affinity for sports such as agility, tracking, herding, and sledding,” according to Steffen and Hughes. The Tervuren is “loyal and smart,” and “great at tricks,” says Morgan. The Belgian Shepherd shares a common heritage with the Schipperke, discussed below. Of the Malinois, Dr. Hauser says, “Classified as working dogs, Belgian Malinois are most recognizable for their roles as police and military dogs.” Smart, loyal, and confident, they possess an admirable work ethic.
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Another brainy Belgian dog, the Shipperke descends from the same family as the Belgian Sheepdog. Curious, confident, and clever, the Shipperke is a big, brave dog in a small package and makes an excellent watchdog, particularly for boats. In fact, that’s how it got its name: the Flemish word for “boat” is “schip,” and Schipperkes were bred to be ratters on canal barges.
This breed, made famous by the 1943 movie, Lassie, has developed an amazing level of intelligence over the years and is great for herding, protection, water rescue, and as a guide for the blind, according to Steffen and Hughes. “We know her best because she could tell us when Timmy had fallen into the well,” jokes Morgan.
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“These thick coated medium-sized dogs were once known at the Dutch Barge Dog,” notes Morgan. They’re used as seeing-eye dogs and are amazingly fast learners. That said, their independence requires a committed and disciplined trainer.
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18. German shorthaired pointer
“Pointers have traditionally been used as sporting dogs, in bird hunting. They are loyal, smart dogs that thrive in very active households,” says Dr. Hauser. These hunting dogs were bred to locate prey and hold a point to identify where the prey is located, which takes an amazing amount of self-confidence and self-control, notes Morgan.
19. Flat-coated retriever
The AKC says that the flat-coated retriever, which developed out of the same family as the Labrador, is confident as well as intelligent, and makes for highly energetic hunting dogs. Like the Lab, the flat-coat is not only one of the smartest dogs, but also makes a wonderful therapy dog.
Given that bloodhounds have a sense of smell that is three million times better than a human’s, which in addition to their intelligent nature, makes them perfect for tracking or finding people, according to Steffen and Hughes, it just seems wrong not to give them at least an honorable mention here. Fun fact: The Bloodhound’s ability to trail a scent is so accurate that it will hold up in a court of law.