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Does your dog ever amaze you by her ability to understand commands? To learn new tricks quickly? Experts measure intelligence in dogs in a few ways, and the smartest dog breeds might surprise you. If your dog didn’t make the top ten list, but you’re convinced of her superior intellect, don’t despair—research shows that most dogs are much smarter than we give them credit for.

The top ten canine Einsteins below all share two qualities: the ability to quickly learn new commands, and the obedience to perform the 95% of the time or better. While not every dog fits on this list, recent research, such as that by Dr. Brian Hare, shows that most dogs are much smarter than we ever knew.

10. Australian Cattle Dog
Australian Cattle Dog Breed

There’s a reason that people are devoted to this breed! These beautiful dogs are a unique crossbreed of blue merle shepherds imported from England and the native Australian dingo. High energy and hard-working, these smart dogs thrive in an active home doing intensive sports like agility, rally obedience, herding trials, and flyball.

These dogs are known for an incredible work drive—so much so that experts recommend owners ensure their dog is engaged in work, sport, or exercise as they can be mischievous. They’re famous for their intelligence and are even known to outsmart their owners on occasion!

9. Rottweiler
Rottweiler Top 10 Smartest Dog Breeds

Ancient Roman cattle herders, cart pullers, and guardians, rottweilers are renowned for gentleness with family and friends, and strength and bravery in defending them. These dogs can be quite silly and playful, despite their size.

They were one of the first breeds used as guide dogs and are still used in some search and rescue missions. Thorough training and socialization is an absolute must for puppies to mature into solid canine citizens.

8. Papillon
papillon top 10 smartest dog breeds

The Papillon is named for its graceful feathered ears. Royal portraiture shows small spaniels resembling the Papillon as far back as the 16th century! This toy breed is active, athletic, and companionable—the smartest of the toy dog breeds. Papillons are frequent winners at agility competitions and have a reputation for being highly trainable, even by less experienced owners.

7. Labrador Retriever

The most popular dog breed in the U.S., the Labrador retriever is named for the cold waters off Newfoundland where they were first bred. A short thick coat, webbed feet, and a heavy tail help this intelligent dog swim long distances in cold water.

In addition to their hunting prowess, Labs are popular favorites for canine water rescue, therapy work, and assistance dog training. Labs excel in the canine sport of dock jumping.

6. Shetland Sheepdog
Shetland Sheepdog - Smartest Dog Breeds

The Shetland sheepdog may look just like a miniature collie, but they started out as a local variant of the Icelandic sheepdog found in the Shetland Islands. These small dogs were then bred to rough collies to create this unique breed.

Playful and energetic, the sheltie is equally at home working on the farm or in the ‘burbs, showing off in agility, flyball, and obedience. These dogs are well-known for their intelligence and skill at herding but are also good guard dogs as they bark and are wary of strangers.

5. Doberman Pinscher

The Doberman pinscher was originally bred by a German tax collector for protection on his rounds. In WWII, they were trained to guard sleeping troops, lead soldiers through the jungle, and give warning barks if there were enemies hiding close by.

Modern Dobermans are far less aggressive and make wonderful family dogs that love to play. Muscular in build, they’re renowned for their loyalty and fearlessness and are one of the most recognized guard dogs.

4. Golden Retriever

Originally hailing from Scotland, this popular dog breed was started in 1865 from a lone yellow pup in a litter of black wavy-coated retrievers, crossbred with a local water spaniel by Lord Tweedmouth of Guisachan.

This gorgeous, friendly dog still excels in retrieving, as well as agility and obedience, and as service dogs. But their favorite job is being the family pet. Americans love this dog breed because they’re highly trainable and have a loving personality.

3. German Shepherd

The German shepherd was standardized by breeder Captain Max von Stephanitz in 1889 with a goal of “utility and intelligence.” The modern German shepherd dog is well-known for its ability to learn commands for many different tasks—which is one reason why these beloved dogs rate so high in intelligence.

Known for athleticism, loyalty, and confidence, German shepherds can be wonderful family dogs as well as skilled herders, military canines, and assistance dogs.

2. Poodle

More than just a foofoo haircut, poodles consistently land on the list of smartest dog breeds. This intelligent dog was originally bred in Germany for bird hunting and water retrieving.

Their storied history includes many occupations and locales, from herding sheep to crossing the battlefield to bring supplies to the wounded to the performing arts. These hunting dogs are remarkable for their loving nature, trainable intelligence, and sense of humor. The standard, miniature, and toy poodle are all highly athletic, intelligent, and trainable dogs.

1. Border Collie
Border Collie - Smartest Dog Breeds

And finally, no list of smartest dog breeds would be complete without a mention of this handsome dog. Originally known as the “Scotch sheepdog,” the border collie hails from the highland border of England and Scotland.

Bred to think independently and at long distances from human shepherds, they have the problem-solving intelligence and strong working drive to maintain control of the flock. Chaser, the dog who knows 1,022 toys by name, is an amazing example of the intelligence of her breed.

Want more?
The next 10 dog breeds are pretty darn smart too:
  1. Pembroke Welsh Corgi
  2. Miniature Schnauzer
  3. English Springer Spaniel
  4. Belgian Shepherd Dog (Tervuren)
  5. Schipperke
  6. Belgian Sheepdog
  7. Collie
  8. Keeshond
  9. German Shorthaired Pointer
  10. Flat-Coated Retriever

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1,087 Posts
There are two problems with any list of "smartest" dogs.

First, we humans consider dogs that are highly trainable and cooperative with us as smartest, but some dogs that are independent and low on desire to cooperate with and please humans are very smart. They just apply their smarts to what they want, not what we want.

Second, within any given breed there are geniuses and dummies. I have Rottweilers and often referred to my most beloved girl as "the blonde Rottweiler".

7,443 Posts
Agreed. I think these lists should be titled something like "most biddable dog breeds," because that's what most people who are looking for "smart" dogs really want.

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3,606 Posts
Also these lists never mention things like when your 'smart' dog figures out how currency works and starts stealing your socks and attempting to trade them for a bite of your sandwich. Or when you have a notoriously fast learner like a Border Collie and accidentally reward them once when they sit and happen to bark at something at the same time, and now they believe that you ALWAYS want them to bark when they sit. Or when you come down with a cold for a few days and suddenly your 'smart' dog is a very BORED dog who is discovering all kinds of fun new games like "pull up the rug" or "shred the mail".

...I have two very smart dogs, and I love them dearly, but they're not for everyone, lol.

12,462 Posts
My canine intelligence test: If you're walking your dog and she walks on one side of a tree while you walk on the other, can she figure it out and back out of it or do you have to walk around to the other side of the tree for her? If she figures it out, she's smart-enough for me. If she continues to walk in circles around the tree until there's no lead left, she is as smart as a jellyfish.

Humana intelligence is measured by the ability to explain what I'm talking about. I think I failed.
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