All dogs are known for their loyalty and companionship, but many breeds are celebrated for their intelligence, too. The smartest dogs can quickly learn and understand new cues, exhibit problem-solving skills, and show their independent side.
But earning a spot on the list of smartest dog breeds is more than just how fast a pup can learn new tricks. Experts say signs of dog intelligence are a combination of various factors, not just how trainable they are. In fact, some smart pups show their intelligence in ways that can be frustrating for first-time dog parents. Clever dogs with high cognitive abilities may be more likely to show off their creative problem-solving skills, like how to steal snacks off the counter or unlock a gate.
Wondering if your pooch makes the list of most intelligent dog breeds? Here are some of the smartest dogs by breed and the features that make them so clever.
1. Border Collie
Border Collies are some of the most talented pups you’ll ever meet and are known to quickly learn and respond to cues during training. Need proof? Just look at Rico, a Border Collie who can respond to more than 200 words.
These pups are superstars in agility and obedience competitions, and they have exceptional problem-solving skills. The uber-trainable Border Collie is part of the herding group, so they are happiest when they have a job to do. Their boundless energy means they can work for extended periods without tiring, so they’re excellent companions for farmers and ranchers. Puzzles and energy outlets like dog sports will help them live fulfilling lives if they’re not rounding up sheep on the farm.
Originally bred as a hunting dog, Poodles have a long history of working alongside their humans. This strong connection to their people means they’re relatively easy to train—they aim to please. Present-day Poodles might be a more common sight curled up on the couch at home, but these smart pups are still frequently at the top of the winner’s podium at obedience and agility competitions.
3. German Shepherd
German Shepherds are considered one of the smartest dog breeds due to their exceptional intelligence, trainability, and versatility. Their instincts from hundreds of years protecting flocks (hence the “shepherd” name) are still intact today. Because of years spent problem-solving in the field, the adaptable and hard-working German Shepherd still excels in jobs that many humans would find demanding and stressful, like police and military work or on search and rescue missions.
4. Golden Retriever
With training, Golden Retrievers can excel in various tasks such as hunting, retrieving, obedience, and even service and therapy work. These intelligent sporting dogs have a notoriously gentle nature. Their ability to learn quickly and respond well to commands means they’re relatively easy to train with a pocket full of treats to reward their food-motivated minds.
Goldens are known for being very loyal and affectionate family pets, solidifying their stature as one of the most popular dogs in the U.S. Their gentle demeanor and eager-to-please nature make them an ideal breed for first-time dog parents.
5. Doberman Pinscher
Doberman Pinschers are exceptionally intelligent, loyal, and trainable. These versatile dogs excel in obedience competitions as well as police and military work. While they are known for being highly perceptive, they are also very curious pups. To live their best lives, Dobermans should get plenty of exercise and be able to use their brains as well as their bodies. Their intelligence and athleticism make Dobermans well-suited for active families who have plenty of time to train and play.
6. Shetland Sheepdog
Shetland Sheepdogs are known for their high intelligence, trainability, and excellent problem-solving skills. Also known as Shelties, these quick learners excel in herding, agility, obedience, and working as therapy dogs. While considered affectionate and loyal family pets, their energetic nature and intelligence means they’re best suited for active families who enjoy spending time outside.
7. Labrador Retriever
Labrador Retrievers are some of the friendliest dogs you’ll ever meet, but they’re also super smart! Labs have a long history of working alongside their humans to hunt and retrieve, meaning they’re instinctually perceptive and quick to learn. With adequate training, Labs can become champions in retrieving, obedience, and service and therapy work. They are also loyal and affectionate family pets, making them a popular choice for households with children. Like Golden Retrievers, Labs have a gentle demeanor and eagerness to please that makes them an ideal breed for first-time pet parents.
Don’t let those cute butterfly ears fool you—Papillons are perceptive little dogs. These tiny balls of energy are quick to learn, making training a breeze. They are also highly active and excel in agility and obedience. Despite their small size, Papillons are confident, energetic, and make loyal family pets. Their affectionate and playful nature also makes them a popular choice for households with children.
Big, burly Rottweilers are known for their loyalty and smarts. With proper training, eager-to-please Rottweilers can excel in obedience competitions and as service dogs. Their intelligence and athleticism make them well-suited for active families who can ensure their Rottweiler gets plenty of mental stimulation, physical exercise, and early socialization. Puzzle toys and enrichment games are a great way to keep your Rottie from getting bored.
10. Australian Cattle Dog
Another member of the herding group, Australian Cattle Dogs are known for their intelligence and ability to learn new cues quickly. These energetic dogs have a strong desire to please their pet parents, and they make good companions for families who have lots of time to spend with their pooch outdoors, playing and engaging their natural instinct to herd and chase.
11. Miniature Schnauzer
The scruffy-faced Miniature Schnauzer is a smart dog breed due to their alert, playful nature. Originally bred to work on farms in Germany, these pups still love having a job to do and require quite a bit of exercise and mental stimulation to be their happiest selves. Agility and obedience training are great ways to engage your Miniature Schnauzer, as they are perceptive and quick to learn new skills.
12. English Springer Spaniel
English Springer Spaniels are another highly intelligent sporting dog known for their trainable, friendly nature. These smart dogs excel in hunting and retrieving skills, and they’re wonderful family pets that just want to be near their people. Their active nature and desire to please make them an excellent breed for active families who enjoy hunting and hiking.
13. Belgian Tervuren
Like other members of the herding group, Belgian Tervuren are a hard-working dog who loves having a job to do. These super-smart pups are very energetic, so they need lots of mental and physical challenges to keep them engaged. Consistent training and socialization is a must for Tervs, and tasks like herding, agility, and obedience will help them flex their muscles as well as their brains. As natural athletes, Tervs are well-suited for active families who enjoy being outside.
They may be small in stature, but the ever-alert Schipperke was originally bred to work. They would hunt rats and protect Belgian boats, so present-day Schipperkes still love having a job to do. These independent dogs do well when they have enough room to play and exercise, so a home with a fenced yard is a good fit. Puzzle toys and ongoing obedience training can also help keep their minds stimulated.
Perhaps no dog in history has a reputation for being as intelligent as Lassie! The perceptive, protective hero we know from the popular show is not far from Collies’ true nature. These herding dogs are alert and friendly—they’re problem-solvers as much as they are family pets.
While known for their trainability, super-smart Collies appreciate a little extra mental stimulation to keep them challenged. Collies can excel in herding, agility, and obedience competitions.
No dog’s nose is quite as notable as the Bloodhound’s, and their keen sense of smell has been used to track animals and humans for centuries. These determined dogs are frequently used in search and rescue missions. When not working the trail, Bloodhounds are loyal pups that can be excellent companions for families.
Their instinctual ability to follow a trail with dogged determination does come at a price. These pups are independent by nature and have been known to follow a scent for 130 miles—meaning nothing can get in the way of their nose if they’re on the scent! Lots of playtime and a fenced yard can help your Bloodhound explore and exercise safely.
17. German Shorthaired Pointer
German Shorthaired Pointers are excellent hunting dogs that have a strong desire to please their parents. This means they’re relatively easy to train, but they still require lots of exercise and activity to be their best selves. Loyal and affectionate, GSP dogs are great family pets and well-suited for active, outdoorsy families.
Briards are another type of herding dog known for their smarts. These big, wavy-haired pups aren’t as well-known as some of their counterparts, but Briard parents will tell you these smart dogs are wonderful family pets who love having a job to do. Briards are excellent companions for active families—running and hiking can be good ways to burn off their herding energy. Once they’ve stretched their legs, Briards are happy to hang out at home with family members of all ages.
Featured Image: iStock/happyborder
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