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Top 6 Smartest Dog Breeds

When choosing a canine companion, most people seem to gravitate towards the “cutest” or the “friendliest” dog. Others target special needs dogs, seniors, and dogs with behavior problems in order to provide extra care and training. But have you ever walked into the animal shelter and asked to see the “smartest” dogs? Well, we have a quick list of the most intelligent dog breeds for future reference! However, be warned – the level of aptitude may vary on an individual basis…


  1. Border Collie – Coming in at number 1, the Border Collie is (allegedly) the Albert Einstein of dogs! Much of this is due to its origins as a herding dog in the British Isles – along the border of Scotland and Britain – hence the name “Border” Collie. “Collie” is believed to be an old Celtic word meaning “useful,” which is quite fitting for this hard-working dog. Aside from keeping the flock in check, the Border Collie has a large capacity for memorizing commands, tricks, and locations. In addition, it is known for its problem-solving capabilities and loyalty. Check out Chase, a famous Border Collie who knows 1,022 toys by name!
  2. Poodle – Undoubtedly the most well-known “fluffy” dog, Poodles have a reputation of being a bit pretentious due to the high maintenance they require. Maybe they have the right to be full of themselves, due to the extreme smarts they possess! Similar to the Border Collie, Poodles were bred originally in Germany in the 15th century as working dogs, specifically for hunting birds and retrieving water. Since then, they have also been known to herd flocks of livestock, transport supplies to soldiers in battle, and even dabble in the performing arts due to their ability to learn tricks. This multi-talented pooch has been popular among dog owners for quite a while!
  3. German Shepherd – Another dog hailing from good old Deutschland (Germany), the German Shepherd came about in the late 19th century thanks to Captain Max von Stephanitzwho standardized the breed. The captain’s goal was to have a dog that was useful and also very intelligent due to the modernization of Germany at that particular point in time. As herding dogs began to be “outdated,” he wanted a dog that was primarily skilled in obedience and protection. This obviously worked out very well, seeing as these days they are commonly used in police K-9 units for a multitude of tasks ranging from searching for missing people, to taking down assailants in the line of duty.
  4. Golden Retriever – This popular and almost universally-loved dog first emerged in Scotland in 1865 when Lord Tweedmouth of Guisachan (awesome name alert) had a black, wavy-coated retriever give birth to a litter of puppies. All of them looked like the mother, except for one “golden” pup, which was then bred with a local type of water spaniel to get the resulting Golden Retriever that we know and love today. Known as a typical “family dog” for its friendliness and loyalty, it is extremely skilled at retrieving (hence the name), agility training, and general obedience. It’s no wonder they are so popular!
  5. Doberman Pinscher – The Germans bred a lot of smart dogs back in the day, and this is one of them. This particular breed came about when a tax collector named Karl Friedrich Louis Dobermann wanted a dog to protect him while he made his rounds. Apparently people hated tax collectors so much that they would threaten his safety and physically harm him on a daily basis. Interestingly, they are a combination of ancestry from the Great Dane, the Greyhound, the German Shorthaired Pointer, the Rottweiler, and others. Because of their guard-dog talents, Doberman Pinschers have gotten a bad reputation for being “aggressive” dogs, although they are far from it. They are protective, but they are also known nowadays for being great family dogs, extremely trainable, and for being able to problem solve on their own. Luckily they are slowly but surely breaking the stereotype that they are “mean” and “scary!”
  6. Shetland Sheepdog – Jeez, it seems as if almost all of the dogs on this list are from Germany or Scotland! “Shelties” are from Scotland, although Border Collies have replaced them as herding dogs due to their slightly superior intelligence. Ironically, Shetland Sheepdogs are quite uncommon in present day Shetland, from which they originated. It’s also interesting to note that the breed was not simply selectively bred from the Rough Collie to achieve a smaller sized Collie, but it is actually linked to the Icelandic Sheepdog and Spitz. Although they are a working dog, they can be kept plenty busy with playing games, learning tricks, and spreading their love to whoever they meet.

Next time you are looking for a new companion, are you going to be on the lookout for one of these brainiacs? Do you have one of these dogs and have a story about their smarts? Let us know in the comments!

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{ 20 comments… add one }
  • Margaret Scarcille December 9, 2015, 12:43 pm

    The person who made this list of the 5 smartest dogs has never encountered a Boston Bull Terrier. You only have to show them something twice and it is routine from then on. They have ESP – it’s scary. They are a
    step ahead of you most of the time.


    • VetDepot December 9, 2015, 2:06 pm

      You’re right, I’ve never encountered a Boston Bull Terrier! 😛 I would like to! I’m guessing you have some of your own?

  • Pam Green December 9, 2015, 1:01 pm

    this is really a list of the most easily trainable dogs, particularly emphasizing trainability for high scoring formal Obedience competition. that’s not the same as independent problem solving intelligence nor intelligence for any special purpose (such as herding livestock). generally the herding breeds (which include a few who are not in the AKC Herding Group) and the gundog breeds are the ones who are most inclined to work in partnership with a human handler, at a task that requires the dog to think for herself for moment to moment tactics but also obey directions from the handler with handler often at a distance and dog feeling very excited. these dogs also obviously greatly enjoy the tasks they were bred to do and intrinsically know generally how to do those tasks. so training is for refinement of skills, addition of special tasks, putting some moves on cue (ie handler direction). My favorite breeds are all herding breeds. They will disobey a command that is wrong or stupid. they can be “stubborn” about keeping control of their livestock. they understand livestock more than 99% of humans ever will. these same dogs are “stubborn” about following scent to find the lost person or insisting there’s a live victim underneath a collapsed building.
    in any case a smart dog is a two edged sword : you have to be able to stay ahead of the dog mentally. you have to be willing to think and you have to be smarter than the dog is. a smart dog is a responsibility and is not an easy dog. but I do love smart, self-confident, assertive dogs, and I am willing to go to the effort to be smarter and more confident and assertive myself.

    • VetDepot December 9, 2015, 2:03 pm

      Thank you so much for your in-depth comment! I do admit that I have very little experience with herding dogs (I have owned mostly Chihuahuas my whole life, LOL) so I am going purely based on what I can find with internet research. In the future perhaps I can make a more specific list for each “type” of intelligence – trainability, problem-solving capacity, service, herding, etc. You sound very educated and knowldgeable on the matter so if you’d like to impart your wisdom, feel free to do so! 🙂 In terms of problem-solving and independent thinking, what do YOU believe are the top smartest dogs based on your experience?

  • Stacie December 16, 2015, 7:15 am

    Jack Russells!!!

    • Joanna Poppink December 16, 2015, 10:44 am

      I had a Jack Russel/Corgi combo. Brilliant, and with a terrific sense of humor. 🙂

      • VetDepot December 16, 2015, 10:46 am

        OMG pictures please! That sounds like an amazing combination!

  • Norma December 16, 2015, 7:35 am

    Where is the Labrador Retriever? These dogs are so intelligent that they are used as service animals for the blind and others. It’s not just training…if anyone thinks that these dogs just do what they are trained to do, they are grossly underestimating them. I have had dogs all of my life…many different breeds…and my Yellow Lab is the smartest dog I have ever owned. She is the only dog I know that has invented a way to tell me she does NOT want something ( other than ignoring or walking away). When I ask her if she wants to go out, she will either go to the door (yes) or she will walk around my recliner and stand at the foot, and stare at me (no). She taught herself this signal. I was amazed when I realized what she was doing. I am sure other dogs have done similar. If you really pay attention to your dog, you will be amazed at how human-like and intelligent they are.

    • VetDepot December 16, 2015, 9:44 am

      Agreed! I honestly think that many if not all dogs have the potential to be extremely intelligent, intuitive, and independent thinkers. This list was just what I researched online as far as dog breeds that have been around for centuries to have a specific purpose that requires a specific “intelligence.” Because actual intelligence is somewhat relative to people depending on your definition, I purely based this list off of intelligence equating to service related tasks.

  • Linda December 16, 2015, 7:59 am

    I’ve had German Shepherd Dogs and Poodles. My Belgian Sheepdogs were a lot smarter having had one that could actually think for himself. He also knew what we were talking about at all times. I never had that experience with any other breed.

    • Sue December 16, 2015, 8:52 am

      Australian Shepherds deserve a strong mention …incredibly intelligent and their basic personality is wanting nothing more than to please their people so training is an absolute snap and joy. I have owned them for 30 years and currently have an Aussie and a Shetland Sheepdog. No comparison, the Aussies are the MIND READERS and are more sound and confident. My Aussie housetrained in a couple days, never needed a leash and responds by a whistle or snap your fingers…best lap cuddle dogs. If you havnt had one your missing out. They have a reputation for being high strung but not true. They do everything with Gusto including behave! and they can turn it off and settle on a couch for 10 hours too. Smart and Attached to your hip. (:

      • VetDepot December 16, 2015, 9:15 am

        Thank you for your comment! I absolutely *LOVE* Aussies so much, and I have always wanted one very badly! You are right, they ARE mind readers and completely loyal and smart – although sometimes they can give the impression that they are just high strung and not so smart. I think because they are just so filled with excitement, sometimes they cannot contain themselves which results in them acting a little crazy. That can go for any dog though really, so the fact that they have that reputation is irritating!

  • Carol December 16, 2015, 8:26 am

    We “inherited” a wonderful male golden retriever when neighbors divorced. (He was always down the street at our house anyway, playing with our dogs and swimming in the pool.). I started taking him to visit at a local nursing home and rehab center. With no formal training as a therapy dog, he seemed to know what each patient needed from him. He would announce his arrival with a bark and the patients who could would pour into the hallway to see him. He would slowly and quietly creep into those rooms whose patients were seriously
    ill or in “end of life care.” He would stand motionless at the side of a dying patient’s bed, letting them stroke his head as best they could (sometimes with one finger). Other patients needed more coaxing to engage but he somehow knew just how to do that, too. He’s 13 now and still going strong!

    • VetDepot December 16, 2015, 9:27 am

      That is an absolutely heartwarming story, it almost brought a tear to my eye! I love success stories such as those, where a discarded dog ends up becoming a therapy dog and changes people’s lives around them. I think that’s the future of shelter animals (and it has already begun on a somewhat small scale), is to “rehome” them into facilities where they can be full time therapy dogs for terminally ill people, hospice care recipients, prisoners, mental health patients, etc. So far the few programs that have done so have been VERY successful, and I just love the idea that animals that were abandoned (and in many cases set to be killed in the shelter) are proving that they are actually more influential and productive members of society than the idiot owners who gave them up. 🙂 Personally, I have a Jindo/Corgi mix that was set to be euthanized in a shelter because of a skin problem (which has since cleared up due to a change in diet), and being “uncooperative with staff.” I rescued her an hour before she was killed, and she quickly became the best dog that I have ever had. She loves everyone, dogs, humans, all creatures, and is so incredibly gentle and has a way about her that inspires pure love and joy. She would make the perfect therapy dog!

  • Sandy Todd December 16, 2015, 8:58 am

    I work for a rescue and wish that you had mentioned mix breeds! If you adopt a dog with DNA from a few of these breeds just think of the brillant dog you’d have! Also many of these “smart “breeds end up in shelters for no reason of their own so check rescues first!

    • VetDepot December 16, 2015, 9:10 am

      I am also very involved in the rescue world, so I definitely share your sentiment! I didn’t mention mixed breeds in this article because I figured the reader could infer that a mix of these breeds and other ones are ideal. Check out this post where I talk about the advantages of having mixed breed dogs vs. purebred dogs: http://blog.vetdepot.com/national-mutt-day-why-mutts-are-marvelous

      I have also volunteered for over a year and a half in a local county shelter so I know that many of these purebred breeds end up in the shelters, as well as such “designer dogs” as well. It is absolutely ridiculous and I am extremely passionate about people adopting dogs and NOT buying from pet stores or even breeders for that matter. Unfortunately, there are many that see nothing wrong with doing so, and are not as radical as me (which in my opinion isn’t even that radical, just logical) so I cannot COMPLETELY denounce people’s actions when it comes to buying from a “responsible breeder” – which in my opinion doesn’t exist.

  • Heather December 16, 2015, 10:53 am

    I could not agree more with the list. Being heavily involved in rescue, you will also find these traits in mixed breeds. I have a puppy mill chihuahua. Sometimes I wonder if the lights are even on… But she is a precious companion. Shelties are without a doubt the most sensitive dog I have had the pleasure of having. they are amazingly intuitive.

    I always remind people, the smarter the breed, the more challenging they are to handle. Being in rescue I have seen many of these dog be surrendered because they are smarter than their owners. They are highly trainable but left to their own devises, they will make up their own rules.

    How blessed we are that there as many personality types in our dogs as their are people. I always tell my rescue team there is a lid for every pot.

    • VetDepot December 16, 2015, 11:09 am

      Thank you! 🙂 Due to all the criticism of this article I was beginning to doubt my own work. LOL. While I assert my pro-rescue/pro-adopt/anti-petshop/anti-breeding ideology wherever I can, I cannot shove my viewpoints down everyone’s throat. I am also heavily involved in rescue and it is such a complicated, emotionally exhausting, discouraging and depressing line of social work to be a part of. Of course, the success stories and positive outcomes of rescue animals more than makes up for all the heartache, but it truly is a difficult scene to be a part of. I commend you and thank you for your efforts! <3

  • Conina Howard December 17, 2015, 2:11 pm

    And then you get a freak of nature within a breed. I have been honoured to share 8 years with an extraordinary dog who came in the shape of an Old English Sheep dog. You might say he is a herding working breed and therefore will be smart. That would be true. This dog,.. was the cleverest dog I have ever encountered. I showed him a task once and he learnt it immediately. The tasks became more complicated to prevent boredom, exercise was not enough to keep this fellow in tune. His own solving problems were where he excelled. I never taught him the following:
    Opening doors with any type of knob, lever, round, hexagon etc. Opening zippers in handbags, retrieving the car keys and hiding them. Opening the fridge for a snack. Opening car doors, opening car windows, sounding the horn in the car. Turning knobs on top of windows, turning on the hose, Diving for items in the bottom of the pool. Diving of the diving board and climbing out the pool via the rail bars. Climbing a mesh 6 ft fence and lobbing over the other side. Carrying his bowl and throwing it in the air for hint to feed him. Picking up the handset when the phone rang (awkward when owner not at home!) And the most amazing of all, he saved me from falling off a cliff, he grabbed my shirt at the top of the neck and pulled me back to safety.
    I did teach him to: Carry shopping bags from the car to the house. Handing pegs up when hanging clothes to dry. Find objects by scent. retrieve scented objects within other objects. All basic obedience. To go on children’s play sets, ( slippery dip, climbing ropes, obstacles) excelled at agility. He learnt approximately 100 words and 50 commands. I have never met another dog quite like him. A labradoodle came close once, but not like this fellow. It was a pleasure working and sharing my life with this dog.

    • VetDepot December 21, 2015, 8:42 am

      What a wonderful story, and a very lucky owner you are! 🙂 Sounds like the best dog EVER! Also, thankfully he saved you from falling off of a cliff! OMG. Dogs save our lives in so many different ways, it’s almost ridiculous. They are amazingly special creatures that often have more compassion and consideration than human beings. Thank you for sharing! 🙂

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