Although all dogs are intelligent in their own ways, some belong to the smartest dog breeds. These breeds excel in learning and can be perfect working dogs. 

We’ve collected the data on dog intelligence and the most intelligent dog breeds for those who need an active and intelligent companion. So, let’s start.

Top Facts on Smart Dogs

  • The smartest dog ever was able to understand over 1,000 nouns.
  • An average dog has cognitive abilities as a 2–2.5-year-old human.
  • Larger dogs seem to be more intelligent than small ones.
  • Dogs are smart enough to come up with complex deceit plans.

Dog Intelligence Explained

Before we start discussing dog breeds and get into the dog intelligence ranking, we’d first like to note that dogs don’t have the same intelligence type as humans. They don’t need to understand patterns in order to pass IQ tests, and there’s no average IQ score for dogs. 

Aspects of Dog Intelligence

Since a dog’s intelligence cannot be measured in the traditional way, the scientists use three aspects that show what dogs can learn and what they should be able to do on their own. Besides these three, social intelligence — functioning with other dogs and humans — is now widely recognized as well. 

Instinctive Intelligence

It refers to what each dog breed does instinctively. For example, all retrievers should know how to fetch, while all guard dogs should instinctively keep an eye on threats. 

All dogs have instinctive intelligence, but it’s more developed in some breeds than others.

Adaptive Intelligence

Adaptive intelligence shows how good a dog is at problem-solving and learning new skills. 

Working and Obedience Intelligence

This intelligence type shows what a dog can learn from humans and its ability to perform different tasks and tricks. This is the intelligence type our list is mainly based on.

Top 10 Smartest Dog Breeds 

These ten breeds are the smartest ones we could find when applying all dog intelligence aspects. So, let’s look at our dog intelligence ranking to find out what makes them so great.

1. Border Collie

(American Kennel Club)

  • Size: 19–22 inches (male)

18–21 inches (female)

  • Weight: 30–55 pounds
  • Life Expectancy: 12–15 years
  • Breed Group: Herding
  • Temperament: Alert, affectionate

Border Collies are considered the smartest dogs in the world, since they are easily trainable and able to quickly learn new commands and names of objects. They outperform all other dog breeds in these two segments. 

This makes Border Collies the perfect work dogs, as they can be trained to do almost anything, and they quickly adapt to any new circumstances. 

They are very playful and affectionate and need a lot of mental stimulation, so they’re perfect for energetic owners with a lot of free time for training them.

2. Poodle

(American Kennel Club)

  • Size: 15+ inches
  • Weight: 60–70 pounds (male)

40–50 pounds (female)

  • Life Expectancy: 10–18 years
  • Breed Group: Non–Sporting
  • Temperament: Proud, active

Like Border Collies, Poodles are also easily trainable and quick-witted. They’ll learn new commands in no time. Poodles are also quite adaptable and are eager to please, as long as you’re consistent with your commands.

Just be aware that Poodles are quite energetic and need everyday exercise and walks. They love retrieving objects and swimming. So, they’re not for owners with low energy levels. 

Since Poodles are great around people, love children, and are smart dogs that don’t shed, they’re perfect for families — but only active ones.

3. German Shepherd Dog

(American Kennel Club)

  • Size: 24–26 inches (male)

22–24 inches (female)

  • Weight:65–90 pounds (male)

50–70 pounds (female)

  • Life Expectancy: 7–10 years
  • Breed Group: Herding 
  • Temperament: Fearless, Confident

German Shepherds are dogs especially famous for their police and military work. They are one of the dog breeds that are the easiest to train. They can learn commands in 5 or fewer repetitions, making them one of the most intelligent dogs.

Recently, they’ve even been trained to recognize COVID-19, and they do it with an 85–88% accuracy

German Shepherds are great family dogs and will do anything to please and protect their owners. But, German Shepherd dogs need to be trained and exercised all the time, as they need a lot of mental and physical stimulation.

4. Golden Retriever

(American Kennel Club)

  • Size: 23–24 inches (male)

21.5–22.5 inches (female)

  • Weight: 65–75 pounds (male)

55–65 pounds (female)

  • Life Expectancy: 10–12 years
  • Breed Group: Sporting
  • Temperament: Friendly, reliable

Golden Retriever is not one of America’s favorite breeds for no reason. They quickly learn new commands, adapt easily, and are excellent at picking up their owner’s emotions. 

This makes their social intelligence extremely high and places them among the greatest social butterflies of the dog world.

Also, like most smart dogs we’ve mentioned, Golden Retrievers are energetic and need daily mental stimulation to stay well-behaved.

5. Doberman Pinscher

(American Kennel Club)

  • Size: 26–28 inches (male)

24–26 inches (female)

  • Weight: 75–100 pounds (male)

60–90 pounds (female)

  • Life Expectancy: 10–12 years
  • Breed Group: Working
  • Temperament: Energetic, loyal

Even though they are often represented as aggressive guard dogs in the media, they are actually one of the most intelligent dog breeds you can find. They are eager to please their owners and quick to remember commands. 

They can be one of the most obedient breeds if trained well. If not trained from an early age, they can become challenging to handle due to their size and strength.

They are social and one of the best dogs for an active dog owner. However, they tend to not get along with dogs that aren’t a part of their family, so take that into account if you’re adopting an adult Doberman.

6. Shetland Sheepdog

(American Kennel Club)

  • Size: 13–16 inches
  • Weight: 15–25 pounds
  • Life Expectancy: 12–14 years
  • Breed Group: Herding
  • Temperament: Affectionate, reserved with strangers

Shetland Sheepdogs are moderately active dogs that can adjust to any lifestyle as long as they get enough exercise. They are as obedient as a dog can be and are quick learners. 

Shetland Sheepdogs are also extremely socially intelligent. They are good at reading their owner’s feelings, and they love to please. 

Even though they are great with their owners, children, and other dogs, they don’t like strangers too much. Moreover, they tend to bark a lot, which makes them good guard dogs.

7. Labrador Retriever

(American Kennel Club)

  • Size: 22.5–24.5 inches (male)

21.5–23.5 inches (female)

  • Weight: 65–80 pounds (male)

55–70 pounds (female)

  • Life Expectancy: 10–12 years
  • Breed Group: Sporting group
  • Temperament: Outgoing, adaptable 

Labrador Retrievers have for long been the top choice for most dog owners in the US. And for a good reason — they are obedient, learn quickly, and can easily adapt to different situations. 

Since they are intelligent, they need to be well trained and challenged every day to prevent them from developing bad habits out of boredom.

Labs are one of the best family dogs, as they adore children, other dogs, and people in general. However, they are energetic and need a lot of physical activity and attention, so they are not for families that expect a lazy dog.

8. Papillon

(American Kennel Club)

  • Size: 8–11 inches
  • Weight: 5–10 pounds
  • Life Expectancy: 14–16 years
  • Breed Group: Toy
  • Temperament: Alert, Curious

Papillons are among the smartest small dog breeds and are the only toy dogs on our list. Even though small breeds are usually more difficult to train, Papillons are highly trainable. 

Like other dogs on this list, they are able to adapt quickly and are very obedient. But, they also need a lot of mental stimulation, meaning that if you don’t keep them busy, they might become frustrated and destructive.

Papillons are very playful and need a lot of attention. They want to be close to their owners and are great with other dogs too.

9. Rottweiler

(American Kennel Club)

  • Size: 24–27 inches (male)

22–25 inches (female)

  • Weight: 95–135 pounds (male)

80–100 pounds (female)

  • Life Expectancy: 9–10 years
  • Breed Group: Working
  • Temperament: Calm, Loyal

Rottweilers are one of the gentle giants of the dog world. They are working dogs known for their athletic build and extreme intelligence. There are almost no limits to what Rottweilers can learn to do, although some of them may be a bit stubborn. This is why early training is essential. 

They adapt easily, but they tend to be territorial. This makes them not that tolerant of strangers but great guard dogs.

Socially, they’re not as friendly as some other breeds. They can be a bit aloof at times and are not big fans of young children.

10. Australian Cattle Dog

(American Kennel Club)

  • Size: 18–20 inches (male)

17–19 inches (female)

  • Weight: 35–50 pounds
  • Life Expectancy: 12–16 years
  • Breed Group: Herding
  • Temperament: Protective, curious

Australian Cattle Dogs are extremely intelligent when it comes to understanding commands. They have a strong work drive, meaning that their energy levels are off the charts. They also love to run, so they make perfect running partners.

Unlike most dogs on our list, the Australian Cattle Dogs are not that socially adaptable. Although they love their owners and will be more than happy to obey them and spend time together, they can be a bit aloof at times. 

They can react negatively to strangers and other dogs, and they are very protective. 

Facts and Stats on Dog Intelligence

We’ve learned about different breeds and what makes them intelligent. But, how smart are dogs actually, and what makes them smart? Let’s find out.

The smartest dog ever was able to understand over 1,000 nouns.

(American Kennel Club, 2019)

Besides this, Chaser, a Border Collie, could differentiate between big and small, different colors, fast and slow, and more — showing how intelligent dogs can be.

This is much more than an average dog can do. According to a study done on 165 dog owners, dogs respond to about 89 words on average.

An average dog has cognitive abilities as a 2–2.5-year-old human.

(CBC, 2018)

The smartest ones can reach the cognition of a three-year-old child. For example, most dogs need around 200 milliseconds to understand the difference between a word they know and a nonsense word, just like a human toddler.

Cats, on the other hand, have intelligence equivalent to 18–month–old humans. But these are all estimations, and as we all know, not every pet is the same.

Larger dogs seem to be more intelligent than small ones.

(Psychology Today, 2019, Frontiers in Neuroanatomy, 2017)

Bigger bodies usually mean bigger brains. Although bigger brains don’t always mean higher intelligence, dogs considered to be the most intelligent are mainly larger breeds, with a few exceptions.

A study has also found that a Labrador Retriever has 627 million neurons while a smaller dog they’ve also examined had only 429 million neurons. This can be compared to cats with 250 million neurons and humans with 16 billion

Dogs are smart enough to come up with complex deceit plans.

(Psychology Today, 2021)

Contrary to popular belief that dogs are always honest, they are actually capable of lying and deceiving. 

The thing is, they are aware that other living beings have their own thoughts and points of view that are different from theirs. This allows them to plan things, and sometimes, deceive their owners and other furry family members.

FAQ

Which breed of dog is the most intelligent?

According to some studies, Border Collie is considered to be the smartest dog breed. They have an extraordinary ability to learn new words, tricks, and commands in general. They are very obedient, and they require a lot of mental stimulation to stay happy.

(Stanley Coren, 2021)

What are the top 5 smartest dogs?

The top 5 smartest breeds are:

  1. Border Collie
  2. Poodle
  3. German Shepherd
  4. Golden Retriever
  5. Doberman Pinscher

(Stanley Coren, 2021)

What are the least intelligent dog breeds?

Some of the least intelligent dog breeds are Borzoi, Chow Chow, Bulldog, Basenji, and Afghan Hound. 

But this is only in terms of obedience, training, and use as a working dog. So, those listed as the dumbest dog breeds are not necessarily dumb in the traditional sense of the word. 

Afghan Hounds, for example, are extremely stubborn and don’t care much about listening to commands. They’d rather do what they want, but for some owners, this type of dog can be ideal.

(American Kennel Club, Stanley Coren, 2021)

Conclusion

As you can see, dog intelligence is a complex subject. What we might consider intelligence is really closer to obedience, and some dogs are more willing to please their owners than others.

However, these dogs also require a lot of mental stimulation every day, which is why they are only suitable for people who have time for them and want to spend that time training them. If you fit that criteria though, one of these breeds could just be your perfect companion.

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