There are plenty of smart dogs out there, but some breeds are especially known for their high levels of intelligence. Measuring intelligence in dogs is not an exact science. We tend to look at several abilities and compare them to stages of human development. Dogs are generally considered to have the intelligence level of toddlers. Several factors go into that determination, including word comprehension, reasoning and problem-solving capabilities, responsiveness to training, communication skills (with humans and other animals), memory, and ability to predict human behavior. The most intelligent dog breeds typically score high in all of these categories.
Here are 10 of the smartest dog breeds.
Dogs learn best with positive reinforcement, such as a treat or praise. When you make training seem like a fun game, a dog is more likely to stay engaged for longer and learn what you're trying to teach it.
Most smart dogs also are high-energy dog breeds. They need lots of mental and physical stimulation to prevent them from getting bored. Otherwise they might find their own activities to entertain themselves that aren't always ideal, such as tearing up your sofa. Still, these dogs can pick up training quickly and often make excellent working dogs and service animals. They enjoy doing a job that allows them to use their brains.
The border collie is often considered the smartest of all dogs and the overachiever of the canine world. Originally bred as a herding dog, border collies can perform just about any job you give them. Extremely energetic, athletic, and driven, they are always up for learning something new. In fact, if you don't keep them constantly moving and working, they might start getting destructive in the home.
HEIGHT: 18 to 22 inches
WEIGHT: 28 to 48 pounds
PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS: Rough or smooth medium-length double coat; body is slightly longer than it is tall; long head that comes to a point at the nose with ears standing erect and tips curling over
The Australian shepherd is bright, active, and friendly. Its background as a herding dog has made this breed a diligent worker that desires physical activity and mental challenges. The Aussie is a fast learner and always looking for a new challenge. These dogs need to be kept busy with work, or they might become bored and frustrated. Dog sports are ideal for this breed.
HEIGHT: 18 to 23 inches
WEIGHT: 40 to 65 pounds
PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS: Medium to long coat in blue merle, red merle, black, or red; feathering on the back of the legs; generous mane around the neck
Toy, miniature, or standard in size, the poodle is gifted with some of the best canine brainpower. Poodles originated as hunting dogs and continue to be diligent workers and trusty companions. They can easily learn even the most complex tricks. For instance, you can teach a poodle to balance on a ball, jump through a hoop, or work as a service dog.
HEIGHT: Standard: 15 inches; miniature: 10 to 15 inches; toy: 10 inches and under
WEIGHT: Standard: 45 to 70 pounds; miniature: 15 to 18 pounds; toy: 5 to 9 pounds
PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS: Curly, dense, single-layer coat that may be one of many solid colors, including white, black, gray, brown, and apricot
The Australian cattle dog is an extremely focused and driven dog breed that forms a close bond with its owner. This dog was bred to herd cattle and is happiest with a job to do. Without stimulation, it might find undesirable ways to keep busy (e.g., destructive behavior or wandering away to explore). But like most smart dogs, cattle dogs are very good at reading people and will often be able to anticipate their humans' next move.
HEIGHT: 17 to 20 inches
WEIGHT: 35 to 50 pounds
PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS: Powerful, muscular body; short, dense double coat; wide-set, erect ears; feet are small and round with short toes; long tail is held down and curves upward
The German shepherd is a loyal, protective breed that has so much energy and intelligence that it sometimes comes across as high-strung or anxious. German shepherds need a job to do. Something as simple as supervising and protecting children can give this breed a sense of purpose. These dogs generally pick up training fast and thrive on performing tasks for their humans.
HEIGHT: 22 to 26 inches
WEIGHT: 60 to 100 pounds
PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS: Large, athletic build; double coat comprising a thick undercoat and a dense, slightly wavy or straight outer coat; tan and black or red and black coloring
The Shetland sheepdog is always watching its environment, eager to learn or waiting for a signal from you to engage in a task. Shelties are very good at reading people and can easily understand the behaviors that are expected of them. They tend to form close bonds with their owners and are extremely responsive to training.
HEIGHT: 13 to 16 inches
WEIGHT: 15 to 25 pounds
PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS: Outer coat of coarse fur; soft, dense undercoat; full mane; feathering on the legs and tail
Don't let the papillon's delicate frame fool you; this is more than a lap dog. These little dogs are friendly, alert, and active. They might snuggle in your lap for a bit but then will be looking for something interesting to do. Like many small dogs, the papillon has a bit of a stubborn streak. However, if you make training worthwhile (with high-value rewards), then the dog will learn quickly.
HEIGHT: 8 to 11 inches
WEIGHT: 6 to 10 pounds
PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS: Straight, long, single-layer coat; erect ears; alert demeanor
The Rottweiler is an expert at reading people by studying body language and facial cues. These dogs are typically very affectionate and playful with people they know but might be more controlled and stoic with strangers. Rotties can be trained fairly easily once you earn their trust. They can learn to perform many actions and will always keep an eye on the environment to make sure everyone is safe.
HEIGHT: 22 to 27 inches
WEIGHT: 80 to 130 pounds
PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS: Large, muscular body; short, somewhat coarse but shiny black coat; clearly defined rich tan facial markings
The Jack Russell terrier, along with the closely related Parson Russell terrier, is a fearless, energetic dog with a sharp wit and a stubborn streak. Because of their energy and brainpower, these terriers excel at dog sports, such as agility. Their desire to keep moving can make training challenging at first. But keep them motivated with rewards, and you will see how many complex tricks these dogs can learn.
HEIGHT: 10 to 15 inches
WEIGHT: 13 to 17 pounds
PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS: Square, compact build; head is small and blocky with almond-shaped dark eyes and dropped ears set high; slim, erect tail
On the surface, the golden retriever might just seem like a happy, goofy dog. But goldens are both smart and huge people-pleasers and thus excel in training. These traits make golden retrievers excellent as service animals. The breed also excels in dog sports. Above all, the golden can learn to fit in to many different types of households.
HEIGHT: 21 to 24 inches
WEIGHT: 55 to 75 pounds
PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS: Sturdy, muscular frame; broad head; light to dark golden coat; friendly and intelligent eyes
Breeds to Avoid
If you are expecting your dog to learn complicated tricks or reliably engage in a job, then there are some dog breeds you might want to avoid. It's not that these breeds are dumb. They just might be hard to train or tend to have an independent, stubborn streak. Some breeds that are often difficult learners include the Afghan hound and Pekingese. Dogs that are generally more aloof and independent include the basenji, borzoi, and shiba inu.