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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.  

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Mary Johnson
Mary Johnson is a writer and photographer from New Orleans, Louisiana. Her work has been published in PawTracks and…
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