Since the Stone Age, canines have been humanity's faithful companion. For centuries, humans purposefully bred dogs to be perfect helpers and friends. Aside from being man's best friend, the smartest dog breeds have been field guides, war buddies, detectives, film stars, and security guards.
As canine researcher Stanley Coren, PhD, points out in his book The Intelligence of Dogs, pups have saved countless human lives during our long association, both physically and mentally.
So, if you're seeking a dog friend who can follow your cues to the letter, or just an agreeable family pet who rolls over for a treat on command, the smarter dogs will probably be easier to train. Their love and devotion is a huge bonus.
Decoding Dog Intelligence: What Makes Them Smart?
Experts say signs of dog intelligence are a combination of various factors, not just how trainable they are. In fact, some of the ways the brightest dog breeds display their intelligence can be frustrating for dog parents. Dogs with high cognitive function are more apt to show off their creativity, critical thinking skills, and problem-solving abilities, like how to unlock the back door and make a break for it or swipe beef jerky out of a grocery bag.
According to Stanley Coren, PhD, of the University of British Columbia,
“There are three types of dog intelligence: instinctive (what the dog is bred to do), adaptive (how well the dog learns from its environment to solve problems) and working and obedience (the equivalent of ‘school learning.’)”
Understanding Canine IQ
Stanley Coren developed the criteria for ranking the most intelligent dogs. Coren contacted obedience trial judges from the AKC and CKC to help evaluate various dog breeds. As a result, he was able to compile useful data and rank most of the popular types of dogs.
Even if some breeds seem brighter than others, trainers say any dog can learn the basics like "sit" and "stay," even if it takes certain pups a bit longer to catch on. The important thing is understanding what your doggo was bred for and how that can help you motivate your pet.
The smartest dog breeds typically have a combination of all four intelligence types. They have a natural ability to learn, remember things quickly, obey commands, and accurately problem-solve.
The Smartest Dog Breeds Ranking Criteria
Measuring a dog's intelligence is based on the following four factors, according to This Old House.
Adaptive intelligence: the dog's problem-solving skills
Instinctive intelligence: the dog's built-in, natural abilities
Obedience intelligence: the dog's ability to consistently obey commands
Work intelligence: the dog's capability to learn new commands and tasks quickly and easily.
The number of repetitions the animal needs to master a new command indicates intelligence. In other words, “smarter” dogs learn new commands with fewer repetitions.
How often your dog obeys a known command on the first attempt denotes how smart a pup is. So, if your dog obeys a known command on the first try 19 out of 20 attempts, they’re a top-10 smarty-pants doggie.
Most Intelligent Dog Breeds
Here is a comprehensive list of the most intelligent pups. Don't let the precious floofs fool you. These dogs are all brilliant.
According to the book The Intelligence of Dogs by Stanley Coren, the Border Collie is the smartest dog breed in the world. The American Kennel Club (AKC) describes the Border Collie not only as “smart, affectionate, and energetic,” but also as a “remarkably bright workaholic.”
Athletic, curious, and agile, these dogs are smart enough to learn cues quickly and understand how to follow a routine. Border Collies can be trained to handle any daily tasks without much coaching.
The Poodle is often considered a high-maintenance pet thanks to their bountiful curly hair. They may look fancy but that does not make them less clever. Poodles receive high marks for both their emotional and cognitive intelligence. In fact, the Poodle ranks second among the most intelligent dog breeds, right after the Border Collie.
According to Coren's ranking, the noble German Shepherd is the second most intelligent herding dog and the third most intelligent dog in general. German Shepherds were bred for their superior intelligence and they can master a new command on the first try.
This breed has laser-sharp focus and is easy to train because they possess the will and ability to be obedient. German Shepherds also have a strong protective instinct regarding their fellow “pack” members, meaning you and your family.
In Coren’s ranking, the smartest of the small dog breeds is the Papillon. As one of the oldest surviving dog breeds, the Papillon has had plenty of time over the centuries to evolve into one of the smartest dogs in the world.
The relatively compact Shetland Sheepdog can do everything a bigger herding dog can do. But because of their smaller size, this breed tends to require far less food.
These dogs are eager to please and persistent. Shelties can learn new commands in just a few repetitions and keep at a task until they master it. Because of their intelligence, obedience, and agility, they rank sixth on Coren’s list of the smartest dog breeds.
As we've learned, canine intelligence isn’t strictly about brainpower. With Golden Retrievers, their willingness to comply with commands or tasks, is what earned them their spot as the fourth most intelligent dog breed. Because their first impulse is to please their humans, these beautiful pups can be depended upon to behave consistently no matter the situation.
The breed's delightfully chaotic coat and amiable disposition create the impression of a living, breathing, cuddly toy. But the Barbet is a solid and strong dog bred over time to be an expert hunter and swimmer. Barbets are very intelligent animals and learn new commands and tasks quickly. These pooches are gentle by nature and are good housemates as long as they can get those zoomies out with regular exercise.
The extremely intelligent and easily trainable Doberman Pinscher was originally bred by a tax collector in Germany who killed time during the off-season to breed the ultimate canine bodyguard. And who would need this level of protection more than a tax collector?
The renowned "Sleuth Hound" has one job and they do it very well - find people who are missing or in hiding. An off-the-clock Bloodhound is a docile and even demure creature, but put them on a scent and they are single-minded and relentless, just as they were bred to be.
Coren ranks the Labrador Retriever as the seventh most intelligent breed of dog. These pooches have an especially keen sense of smell and are known for self-training. Labs can and want to learn from their humans, but their process is watching and imitating the behavior. This completely lovable and family-oriented floof-ball is the most popular dog breed in the United States. This breed is heaven-sent for people with disabilities, and one of the finest emotional support dogs across the board.
Hailing from Wonalancet, New Hampshire, the Chinook is a spunky and tough working dog best known for their intelligence, patient disposition, and eagerness to please their humans. This breed was once on the verge of extinction, and the Chinook is still among the rarest of the AKC breeds.
Even if some breeds are more mentally on the ball, trainers say any dog can learn the basics like sitting and staying. It just might take them longer to catch on. The important thing is knowing what your pooch is bred for and therefore how to motivate them.
But keep in mind that the smartest aren't always the best choice as a pet. Your job is to find a breed that suits your lifestyle and to concentrate on bringing out the best in your dog.
Frequently Asked Questions
How smart are dogs compared to humans?
According to several behavioral measuring tools, a dog’s mental abilities are comparable to that of a 2-2.5-year-old human toddler.
What are the two most intelligent dogs?
Border collies and poodles are generally considered the most intelligent dogs.
What is the smartest dog in the world?
A Border Collie named Chaser could identify more than 1,000 proper nouns throughout her life of 15 years.