Does your dog make the list?
I am always inspired by the incredibly smart dogs we know and the difference they each make in somebody’s life.
Have you ever wondered exactly how smart your dogs is and what they are capable of?
I often do with Kilo the Pug. Do you measure by the number of tricks they can do or the type of talents they have developed or how fast they learn or how intuitive they are?
Dogs are capable of learning through simple reinforcement, but they also learn by watching humans and other dogs. Behavioral scientists have uncovered social-cognitive abilities in the domestic dog, similar to some in human children.
Different dog breeds were bred selectively with different strengths for different jobs and learn in different ways at different speeds. As well as varying by breed this can vary by individual dog. Different people have different needs and measures of “smarts” so what are the world’s most intelligent breeds?
Reportedly, the first intelligence test for dogs was developed in the late seventies. It included measurements of short-term memory, agility, and ability to solve problems such as detouring to a goal. It also assessed the ability of a dog to adapt to new conditions and cope with emotionally difficult situations.
There are some breeds of dogs like border collies that are known for having higher intelligence and others not so much, but what is it exactly that puts these dogs at the top of the list? Let’s find out!
Stanley Coren, on The Intelligence of Dogs
Stanley Coren is a neuropsychologist, Professor of Canine Psychology at the University of British Columbia, and author of the book: The Intelligence of Dogs. We were lucky enough to sit down with him for an interview when filming our documentary and really dig deep into what makes certain breeds of dogs “smarter” than others.
Different Types of Intelligence
Coren breaks down dog intelligence into 3 categories:
- Instinctive intelligence -a dog’s ability to perform the tasks it was bred for, ie: guarding, herding, hunting or providing companionship etc. This is measured by canine IQ tests and can vary by individual dog.
- Adaptive intelligence – a dog’s ability to learn and problem solve on its own. This also varies from dog to dog and can be measured by a canine IQ test.
- Working/Obedience intelligence – a dog’s ability to learn from humans. This is the form of intelligence that is considered most breed dependant and what most lists of “smartest dog breeds” are taking into account.
The good news about this is that just because your dog’s breed isn’t ranked highly on working/obedience intelligence, doesn’t mean that they aren’t intelligent in different ways like Kilo the Pug. Perhaps ways that are even more appealing to you- for example, a therapy dog who knows when you’re upset and need some love might be infinitely more valuable to you than a dog that will learn to “sit pretty”, “stay” or “roll over” the first time you ask.
When I look at how my pampered prince Kilo manipulates me and how resourceful he is at getting comfort, cuddles, and food, he seems very smart indeed and a great fit for my lifestyle.
“The Genius of Dogs” and “Dognition” – Dr Brian Hare
Dr. Brian Hare is an associate professor of evolutionary anthropology at Duke University in North Carolina and a member of the Center for Cognitive Neuroscience, which is a division of the Duke Institute for Brain Sciences. He received his Ph.D. from Harvard University, founded the Hominoid Psychology Research Group while at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, and subsequently founded the Duke Canine Cognition Center when arriving at Duke University.
Dr. Hare has published dozens of empirical articles in peer-reviewed scientific journals including Proceedings of the Royal Society, Current Biology, Nature Neuroscience, Science, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, PLOS Biology, Animal Behaviour, Animal Cognition and the Journal of Comparative Psychology. His publications on dog cognition are among the most heavily cited papers on dog behavior and intelligence.
He has also written the book “The Genius of Dogs” and started the research site www.dognition.com. Dr. Brian Hare, along with the world’s leading canine scientists and trainers, created the Dognition Assessment: interactive games and expert analyses that give you an unprecedented perspective on how your dog sees the world.
Breakthroughs in cognitive science, pioneered by Brian Hare have proven dogs have a kind of genius for getting along with people that is unique in the animal kingdom.
Brian Hare’s stunning discovery is that when dogs domesticated themselves around 40,000 years ago they became far more like human infants than their wolf ancestors.
Our List of The Smartest Dog Breeds
Number 12: Jack Russells
Highly energetic, fearless, lively and inquisitive, Jack Russell’s are highly trainable and excel at activities that exercise both the mind and body making them number 11 on our list.
We love working with Sweetie, Lulu and Shivers at events and on TV projects.
Read: Is A Jack Russell Terrier The Right Breed For You?
Number 11: Australian Cattle Dog
Energetic, muscular and highly intelligent, Australian Cattle Dogs respond well to structured training and require activities to challenge them physically and mentally. These adorable pups are number 10 in our list.
Number 10: Rottweiler
Originally bred to drive cattle and pull carts, these dogs are as smart as they are feisty.
Number 9: Papillion
These cute little dogs have beauty and brains!
Number 8: Australian Shepherds
Aussies were bred in the US to herd livestock. They remain a working dog breed at heart. Loyal, responsive and active, they are happiest when they have a job to do.
We commonly see them in trick shows, disc and agility competitions and TV commercials like our friend Cohen the Australian Shepherd.
Number 7: Shetland Sheepdog
A Herding breed that is well loved both on farms and in family households, these dogs are energetic, affectionate and responsive to training. They tend to do very well at obedience work.
Number 6: Doberman Pincher
Historically, this breed has been internationally known as a security dog, used for personal protection, policing, guarding, and even in war.
Number 5: Labrador Retriever
Popular family, therapy, and assistance dogs have high intelligence and gentle, eager-to-please, welcoming spirits, this breed is number 7 in our list.
Number 4: Golden Retriever
Goldens are often seen as the ultimate family pet and generally do well with children because of their loving and generous spirit.
They also make wonderful Service Dogs like Dog Guide Flicka who is a PTSD Service Dog and Therapy Dogs like Smiley.
Number 3: German Shepherd
German Shepherds are highly trainable, loyal and protective and are the most popular dogs in law enforcement, military and guarding, along with Belgian Malinois.
Number 2: Poodle
Active and elegant, Poodles are extremely intelligent and trainable. This puts Poodles at number 2 on our list.
Number 1: Border Collies
Consistently considered to be the smartest dog breed on many measures, Border Collies can learn many words, skills, and tricks with good training. They frequently win trick, herding, and agility competitions and are great to work with on TV series, films, and commercials in our experience.
See More Amazing Border Collies In Our Breed Spotlight
More ‘Top Dog Breeds’ Lists:
Small Dog Breeds for Special Needs
Dog Breeds For Fighting Depression
Dog Breeds for Kids and Families
Dog Breeds Suited For Apartments
Best Dog Breeds for Lazy Owners
Which Dog Breed Are You At A Party?
Did your dog’s breed make this list? Do you agree with this list? Is your dog intelligent in unconventional ways? Share your stories in the comments below!
Please note that we are TV producers and dog lovers, not scientists or vets or behaviorists, so our list is based on our own experiences working with dogs and studying the human-dog bond, plus other expert research.
The Daily Pip says
Ruby is part poodle! Does that count? She’s actually pretty smart, but she has some terrier in her, too, so also a little stubborn.
Talent Hounds says
Absolutely – I personally think mixes are often super smart. #RescuesRock
Brando and Bogart says
We have two Border Collies! They deserve to be #1 on this list!
Talent Hounds says
They sure do !!!
Flea Christenson says
I’m not arguing with any of these! I think herding dogs in general are the most brilliant. My mutts, not so much. But they’re cute!
Talent Hounds says
Yes, I agree. Herding dogs do best on many measures but then you see the service dogs and they are amazing. Then I think of how Kilo the Pug manages his lifestyle and family LOL- pretty smart, although he does use his looks.
Cathy Armato says
Great post, this is so interesting! I knew Border Collie would be in the #1 slot but a couple of the others did surprise me. Thanks for sharing these videos too, I just can’t get enough of Guide Dog puppies in training!
Love & Biscuits,
Dogs Luv Us and We Luv Them
M. K. Clinton says
Bentley and Pierre are protesting this list since neither of their breeds are listed. LOL!
My last dog was a border collie and chow mix, which was a funny combination: he was incredibly smart and knew exactly what you wanted him to do, but his chow half made him pretty stubborn and independent. Henry is pretty smart (in my eyes, anyway!), but the terrier part keeps him mischievous.
Talent Hounds says
Our dog before Kilo for almost 17 years was Isabelle – half Lab half chow apparently. Fantastic dog- smart, great runner, loving, affectionate, easy to train and super loyal. She seemed smarter than our pure lab as was not as greedy and was a great problem solver. My husband still says BEST EVER
My corgis didn’t make the cut. But I see cattle dog on there and that is another favorite breed of mine.
Tenacious Little Terrier says
Mr. N has all three! We think… he doesn’t often get a chance to hunt down rodents but he certainly tries.
Pawesome Cats says
This was a really interesting post – I was thinking that poodles and german shepherd would be near the top of the list as I’ve had friends with both breeds and they’ve known every trick in the book.
What a fascinating read, quite enjoyable. I will definitely agree that Labradors should be on this list. Our Black Lab, who passed, was extremely intelligent. He amazed us with so many talents, many that he learned himself without any training. He could carry a glass of tea into the kitchen, pour it into the floor, drink it up not leaving a spot, return the empty glass to its original position, without anyone suspecting a thing (so he thought), he could open any cupboard or refrigerator to have a buffet lunch while we were at work, open cheese wrappers without tearing the plastic… & many more talents which would require an entire book, haha.
Golden Daily Scoop says
Yay! We made it to number 4! BOL! I actually thought the poodle would be number one! Great post, it’s fun to learn about other breeds!
Talent Hounds says
Goldens are probably number 1 on most measures for me (don’t let Kilo know). I would have loved one but I just needed a smaller, slightly less active dog for this stage.
Ruth and Layla says
Layla is a HaShiPoo and very smart – actually she surprises me sometimes
Lola The Rescued Cat says
This was very interesting and we learned a lot. All of the brands are very good looking dogs.
Dash Kitten Crew says
I was surprised the Papillion is classed as brainy. Oops I had it down as a flake ‘worn’ by silly ladies – obviously these pups are on the right track finding the one person who would worship at their paws LOL!!!!
Talent Hounds says
To be honest, I was too but we found them on so many lists and we met a few that seemed to confirm.
Tonya Wilhelm says
I like that you said “Different Types of Intelligence” I’m often so crushed when a dog owner says they have a stupid dog or a stupid breed. It’s just not true. And believe me, these dogs know that their human doesn’t believe in them.
Talent Hounds says
Yes, I totally agree. Some people don’t train their pugs (however, their resourceful little smarties do train them LOL). They do not think they are smart but Kilo has lots of tricks. Obviously, he is no herding dog and may not learn as fast or work remotely but he certainly knows the words he likes best and he is such a snuggly love bug.
Rebecca at MattieDog says
Poodles! We just love them – they are truly smart and in very real, practical ways! They learn easily, can do tricks with little effort and are super sweet. Can you tell we’ve had Poodles in our family 🙂
Beth Patterson says
This is a pretty interesting list. I wonder if IQ is measurable between breeds, what the difference between the smarter breeds and not so smart breeds is. We had a Poodle and although she was great, I don’t know that seemed smarter than our other dogs. But this does explain why so many service and working dogs are breeds that are in the top tier.
Sweet Purrfections says
I’ve also read that intelligent dogs need a lot of activity or they can get into trouble. My sister has Australian Shepherds and I love them.
Kitty Cat Chronicles says
Love Goldens and Border Collies! I’m also partial to Jack Russells, since my Lucy girl is a JR. Interesting to know her breed is one of the smartest!
Totally agree with this list
Katie Allan says
Huskies never make these lists! Even though they are very smart dogs, they are way too stubborn! Echo is part collie and he is super smart.
What a fun post! I think my favorite thing about training and tricks is that Rooney looks so happy when we work on training. He loves the rewards and it is so clearly fulfilling for him.
Very interesting! I always thought that German Shepherds were really smart. It’s great to see that I was right. Intelligence tests are still being created to understand intelligence in kitties. The problem is that they aren’t motivated by or bred for the things dogs are, so the same tests don’t really work. Cats can be very smart, though!