The 20 Smartest Dog Breeds, Ranked
Dogs are way smarter than we give them credit for. In fact, while we’re busy bickering about the smartest dogs, they’re busy figuring out how to take over the world. OK, maybe they’re not quite that smart, but they certainly have dog experts chasing their tails as to which dog breed is the smartest. With the help of our canine experts, we managed to cut to the chase.
“It’s not a surprise that this hard-working, herding breed comes in first on our list,” say Caitie Steffen, pet expert at Whistle, and Angela Hughes, DVM, PhD, a veterinarian geneticist with Wisdom Panel. Border Collies are always eager to learn and please their owners, which earns them the top spot in this smartest dogs ranking. “How can you argue with a dog with a vocabulary of over 1,000 words?” adds holistic pet therapist and author, Sally Morgan, referring to Chaser, a famous border collie from South Carolina who was once profiled on CBS’s 60 Minutes.
The poodle has been selected as one of the top-ranked dog breeds for intelligence over and over because of its ability to be loyal, smart, and gentle, according to Lazhar Ichir, founder of Breeding Business, an educational platform for ethical dog breeders. “Poodles learn quickly and often surprise their owners by how human-like they can be.” Wendy Hauser, DVM, adds that poodles are readily trainable and enjoy activities that allow them to be challenged, such as hunting, tracking, agility, and obedience work.
German shepherds are known to be intelligent and alert, so it’s no surprise they’re often employed as service dogs for law enforcement, search and rescue, and disability assistance (many seeing-eye dogs are German shepherds). Bred as herding dogs, German shepherds are adept at evaluating situations and determining the best course of action, adds Jill Cline, PhD, site director of the Royal Canin Pet Health and Nutrition Center in Lewisburg, Ohio.
Goldens are known to be calm and easy to train. What makes them some of the smartest dogs is that they’re only too happy to “comply with commands or tasks asked of them by their owners, and they can be relied upon to be consistent with their behavior in a variety of situations,” says Dr. Cline. Golden retrievers are used as service, search and rescue, and therapy dogs.
A true working dog, these sleek dogs are in demand for their intelligence, trainability, and protective personalities, according to Dr. Hauser. They’re a quick study as service dogs, particularly in law enforcement, say Steffen and Dr. Hughes. “Dobermans are so mentally active that they get bored without sufficient intellectual stimulation,” points out Caleb Backe, a health and wellness expert for Maple Holistics. It may cost a bundle to own a dog (and this is exactly how much it costs), but if you’re looking for a guard dog, a Doberman may actually be worth it.
This small herding dog is intelligent, alert, active, fast, and often vocal, which makes them great herding dogs. “Shelties are capable of following detailed directions and also independent problem solving,” says Morgan. “Natural family dogs, they are also people-pleasers and love nothing more than a good cuddle,” adds Dr. Hauser.
Labs (like goldens) show good judgment and bravery, according to Ichir, which makes them wonderful service dogs, especially for people with disabilities. They’ve been ranked among the smartest dogs because they are highly emotionally intelligent and trainable, according to our panel of experts. Here are the 18 best dog breeds for kids.
These big-eared pups are one of the oldest dog breeds—their line can be traced back almost 700 years—which means they’ve had generations of breeding to become one of the smartest around, say Steffen and Dr. Hughes. Papillons excel at both agility-training and trick-training.
This strong breed dates all the way back to the Roman Empire, when they were used to herd livestock. “Today, rotties are revered as one of the smartest dogs for their sharp perception, unwavering loyalty, and acute awareness; it’s why they’re often employed as search and rescue dogs, guard dogs and police dogs,” Morgan says. Here are 7 reasons why you might want to get a big dog, like a Rottweiler.
Australian cattle dog
This tough herding dog from “down under” shares qualities with the other herding breeds, including an uncanny knack for knowing when and how to solve problems. “They’re eager to learn and respond well to reward-based training, allowing them to participate in a vast array of enjoyable activities including agility, flyball, and Frisbee,” add Steffen and Hughes.