Skip to main content

PawTracks may earn a commission when you buy through links on our site.

The 8 smartest dog breeds, ranked

Is your dog one of the smartest dog breeds? Let's find out

Dogs are known as “man’s best friend” for good reason, but did you know they also have a lot in common with us humans? Just like us, most dogs are fiercely loyal to their loved ones. Also like humans, some dogs are extremely intelligent, while others aren’t all that bright. In fact, most dogs are so clever they’re not only able to understand our language, but they can even understand our emotions. What makes some of our canine companions so intellectually gifted?

According to research, a dog’s intelligence is measure in three ways: adaptive intelligence (how easily a dog adapts to changes in his environment), instinctive intelligence (the original purpose of each breed), and obedience (how easily a dog learns tricks and commands). Is your fur baby one of the smart dog breeds? Keep reading to find out.

A closeup shot of a black and white Border Collie.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

#1: Border Collie

When it comes to intellectual prowess, you won’t find a dog breed capable of surpassing the border collie. In fact, the world’s smartest dog was a border collie named Chaser, who garnered media attention for learning over 1,000 nouns. Border collies excel in adaptive and instinctive intelligence trials, and they also come out on top in obedience training. One of the best measures of intelligence is how many repetitions a dog needs to learn a new task. The border collie surpasses all other breeds, picking up new commands in five repetitions or fewer. 

#2: Poodle

While the poodle is often mistakenly dismissed as a dainty – or even spoiled – breed, these curly-coated dogs got their start accompanying hunters, who tasked them with retrieving waterfowl. The world’s second-smartest dog breed scores high marks on obedience and adaptive intelligence tests, and they have the highest instinctive intelligence of all water retriever breeds. Impressively, Poodles have a success rate of 95% or higher when it comes to obeying commands. 

#3: German Shepherd

Highly intelligent, loyal, and tireless, German shepherds have worked alongside humans since the breed was first standardized in 1889. So, what makes German shepherds such a popular breed? In addition to their intelligence, shepherds are also renowned for their eagerness to please. A protective, affectionate breed, German shepherds usually make up some of the top spots in obedience competitions thanks to their ability to learn new tasks in very few repetitions. 

#4: Golden Retriever

Despite their playful demeanor, golden retrievers are roughly as intelligent as a two-year-old child. Originally bred to accompany hunters and retrieve their prey, modern-day goldens are often found working as search and rescue dogs. Their keen intellect, willingness to please, and ability to read and interpret our emotions make this family-friendly breed the fourth most intelligent on our list. 

A closeup shot of a Doberman Pinscher's profile.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

#5: Doberman Pinscher

Sleek, powerful, and noble, the Doberman pinscher hails from Germany. While their ancestry is mysterious, experts believe they’re a combination of several dog breeds, most notably the Rottweiler. Dobies are intensely loyal to their human family members, making them one of the most popular guard dogs. And that loyalty is the main reason they’re known as one of the smartest breeds around. While Dobies are gifted adaptive learners, the seat of their intelligence lies in their innate ability to assess a situation for potential threats

#6: Shetland Sheepdog

Shetland sheepdogs, affectionately known as Shelties, actually have a more famous ancestor: the collie. Coming in at #6 on our list, the Sheltie excels in working and obedience competitions, but their most notable trait is their instinctive intelligence. Shelties are so clever that they instinctively herd other animals — and sometimes people — without ever receiving instructions to do so. 

#7: Labrador Retriever

America’s favorite dog is also one of the smartest. Despite the breed’s name, Labs aren’t from Labrador. Instead, they come from another part of Canada: Newfoundland. Originally bred to retrieve water fowl, Labs and their ancestors have been working alongside humans for roughly 500 years. Hardworking, sociable, and easy to train, Labs are frequently found working as service animals. 

#8: Papillon

When we think of the smartest dog breeds, small dogs rarely come to mind. As it turns out, we’re wrong. Named for their butterfly-shaped ears, the Papillon originally hails from France, and it’s the only breed on our list that was bred as a companion animal. The eighth-smartest dog in the world is famous for being a lively, affectionate breed. Papillons learn quickly, and first-time owners are often surprised by how easy they are to train. But their intelligence means they require plenty of exercise and attention. 

Smart dog professions

Many of the smartest breeds on our list started out as hunting or herding dogs. But most people don’t live on a farm these days, and out of close to 330 million Americans, only 15 million have a hunting license. So, what’s a smart dog supposed to do? You’ll commonly find intelligent dog breeds working in the following professions:

  • Law enforcement: Dogs who work in law enforcement specialize in different fields. While some dogs are trained to tackle and pin fleeing suspects, others are tasked with crowd control, tracking, bomb detection, drug detection, and cadaver detection. 
  • Service: Service dogs are essential to many people living with disabilities. Some of these breeds are well known for being guide dogs for the blind. Other service dogs receive specialized training to detect seizures and work with those affected by post-traumatic stress disorder. 
  • Search and rescue: Search and rescue (SAR) dogs have one of the most important jobs in the world. When someone is lost in the woods or missing after a disaster, SAR dogs are sent in to locate them. 
A red and white Papillon sits in a field of grass.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Have you been wondering if your dog is one of the smartest breeds? Do you want to make sure your next dog is intelligent? Now you know the eight smartest dog breeds in the world. Feel free to bookmark our list for future reference, and remember to show dumb dogs plenty of love, too.  

Mary Johnson
Contributor
Mary Johnson is a writer and photographer from New Orleans, Louisiana. Her work has been published in PawTracks and…
8 effective ways to help your obese dog lose weight
Obesity in dogs isn't a good thing, but here's how you can help out your pup
Vet weighing a dog on a scale

If you share your life with a dog who loves food more than life itself, it's hard to ignore those pleading eyes. Many pet parents understandably give in to this begging, but too much of a good thing can contribute to obesity in dogs, which equates to a number of health problems for your pet. According to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention (APOP) 2018 Pet Obesity Survey, 55.8% of dogs in the U.S. are considered overweight or obese. Can you say with confidence that your dog isn't in that small majority?

It’s essential that pet parents control the situation so that they don't have obese dogs, as it puts them at risk for several health conditions, including osteoarthritis, Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, joint injury, and various forms of cancer. National Pet Obesity Awareness Day, which falls on October 13, offers a great reminder of the importance of keeping your pet’s weight in check. No matter the time of year, though, the following are effective ways to help your obese dog get back in shape.
Consult with a veterinarian before developing a weight-loss plan

Read more
Looking for an easygoing pet? Consider these 6 calm dog breeds
These calm dog breeds are perfect for chill pet parents
Golden retriever puppies in green field

Few quests are more fun and gratifying than finding a new best furry friend. The adorable meet-and-greets, the excitement of bringing your new family member home, and the promise of spending forever together can leave you jumping for joy.

However, you may prefer a dog that doesn't jump (for excitement reasons, at least). While some prospective pet parents want a high-energy pup or new running buddy, others may want a more laid-back dog. The good news? Both future pet parents have options. However, calm dog breeds have their benefits. For instance, they may be less likely to jump all over strangers and house guests and adapt better to new environments, making it easy for them to take on road trips and park adventures. A calmer dog may do better in homes with small children.

Read more
Why do dogs like squeaky toys? The reasons are sweet and instinctual
The science and psychology behind dogs' love for squeakers
A brown and white border collie carrying a stuffed toy caterpillar in its mouth

If you have a particularly playful dog at home, it's not unusual to spend nearly as much money buying squeaky toys as you do on your dog's food. Destructive dogs have a knack for de-stuffing and de-squeaking toys in record-setting time, but it's still worth it when you're cleaning up shredded toys instead of your new shoes.
But why do dogs like squeaky toys so much? There's something about the high-pitched sound that gets most dogs worked up, but there's no denying that some pups are downright obsessed. Here's what you'll want to know.

Squeaky toys allow your dog to indulge their natural hunting instincts

Read more