There are plenty of smart dog breeds out there, but some are especially known for their high levels of intelligence. Measuring intelligence in dogs is not an exact science. As humans, we tend to measure canine intelligence in human terms. We look at several abilities and often compare them to stages of human child development. Dogs are often considered to have the intelligence level of toddlers around two to three years of age. Several factors are considered:
- Word comprehension (how many words understood)
- Reasoning and problem-solving capabilities
- Responsiveness to training
- Communication skills (with humans and other animals)
- Ability to predict human behavior
Most smart dogs are high-energy dog breeds. One could argue that the smartest dogs are the most stubborn, which might make training more difficult. These dogs may train their humans more than humans could ever train them. However, the majority of people feel that the smartest dogs are fast learners and, therefore, the easiest to train.
The best way to cultivate your dog's intelligence is to keep your dog engaged and mentally and physically stimulated. Dogs learn best when they are motivated to get a reward or need to use up excess energy. Bond with your dog, provide frequent exercise, practice training regularly, play fun games, and allow your dog to participate in dog sports.
Dogs that perform well as working dogs or service animals can generally be considered intelligent. These dogs are smart and energetic, so they tend to enjoy doing a job that allows them to use their brains.
Think of brilliant dogs like gifted children in school: They get bored if they are not challenged. Most of the smartest dogs really benefit from a job or a daily routine of tasks. This list covers 10 popular dog breeds that are often considered the smartest.
- 01 of 10
The Border Collie is often considered the smartest of all dogs and the overachiever of the canine world. If most dogs have the intelligence of the average two-year-old child, then a Border Collie might be as smart as a child aged three or more!
Originally bred as a sheepdog, Border Collies can perform just about any job you can give them. Extremely energetic, athletic, and driven, the Border Collie is 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: Medium-sized; 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
- 02 of 10
One of the world's most intelligent dog breeds, the Australian Shepherd is brilliant, active, and friendly. Its background as a sheepdog has made this breed a diligent worker that desires physical activity and mental challenges.
The Aussie will learn much faster than you expect and be quickly ready to move onto something new. Aussies need to be kept busy with work or they become bored and frustrated. Dog sports are ideal for this breed, especially those that engage the Aussie's natural athletic ability.
Height: 18 to 23 inches
Weight: 40 to 65 pounds
Physical Characteristics: Medium-sized sturdy body; medium to long coat in blue merle, red merle, black, or red with feathering on the back of the legs and a generous mane around the neck
- 03 of 10
Despite its fancy or even prissy appearance, the poodle is a highly intelligent dog. Toy, miniature, or standard in size, this breed is gifted with some of the best canine brainpower.
The poodle originated as a hunting dog and continued to be a diligent worker and trusty companion. Poodles are often seen as performing animals, especially the smaller ones. You can teach a poodle to balance on a ball, jump through a hoop, or do a wide range of other actions.
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 coats that may be one of many solid colors, including white, black, grey, brown, and apricot
- 04 of 10
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 ways to keep busy that you might not like (destructive behavior or wandering away to explore).
Treat your Australian cattle dog well and the two of you will be friends for life. These dogs stick close to their owners and make sure everything is running smoothly. Like most smart dogs, they are very good at reading people and will often be able to anticipate your next move.
Height: 17 to 20 inches
Weight: 35 to 50 pounds
Physical Characteristics: Powerful, muscular body with a short, dense double coat; wide-set, erect ears; feet are small and round with short toes; long tail is held down, then curves upward
- 05 of 10
The German Shepherd Dog is a loyal, protective breed that has so much energy and intelligence that it sometimes comes across as high-strung or anxious. German shepherds thrive when given an important job to do. Something as simple as supervising and protecting the children gives the GSD a sense of purpose. This breed needs plenty of mental stimulation and exercise in order to thrive.
German Shepherd Dogs are often found working with police or military operations. They can learn most actions in just a few steps. Once trained, German shepherds will do what you ask and then look for the next task to perform.
The Belgian Malinois, which also looks a lot like a German shepherd, is also an intelligent and energetic dog breed.
Height: 22 to 26 inches
Weight: 60 to 100 pounds
Physical Characteristics: Large, athletic build with a double coat, comprised of a thick undercoat and a dense, slightly wavy or straight outer coat with tan and black or red and black coloring
- 06 of 10
The Shetland Sheepdog is smarter than one might initially think. In fact, the breed is sometimes misjudged as aloof. The Sheltie can be quiet and graceful as well as energetic and playful. Independent and wise, this sheepdog is always watching its environment, eager to learn, or waiting for a signal from you.
Shelties are very good at reading people and can easily understand the behaviors that are expected of them. Shelties form close bonds with their owners and are extremely responsive to training. The Collie, a close relative of the Sheltie, has a similar level of intelligence.
Height: 13 to 16 inches
Weight: 15 to 25 pounds
Physical Characteristics: Double coat—outer coat consists of long hair that’s harsh to the touch, while the undercoat is shorter, furry, and dense—with a full mane with feathering on the legs and tail
- 07 of 10
Don't be fooled by the delicate frame of the papillon. This is more than a lap dog. In fact, the papillon is one of the smartest of all the toy breeds. These little dogs are friendly, alert, and active.
The Papillon might snuggle on your lap for a bit, but before long 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. Teach this cute little dog a variety of fun tricks and you can impress your friends.
Height: 8 to 11 inches
Weight: 6 to 10 pounds
Physical Characteristics: Petite yet hardy toy with a straight, long, single-layer coat with frills, and a butterfly-like appearance of its erect ears and alert demeanor
- 08 of 10
The Rottweiler is one of those dogs that really knows how to read people by studying body language and facial cues. This breed may show a different side of its personality based on how much it trusts a person. The typical Rottweiler has an affectionate, playful side shown to trusted family members and a stoic, controlled side shown to strangers.
Rotties can be trained fairly easily once you earn their trust and get past their headstrong ways. Rottweilers 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 with a rugged short, somewhat coarse, but shiny black coat with clearly defined rich tan facial markings
- 09 of 10
The Jack Russell terrier seems to be missing from many smart dog breed lists. Perhaps it is because this clever little dog moves too fast to be noticed by some. The Jack Russell, along with the closely related Parson Russell Terrier, is a fearless, energetic dog with a sharp wit and a stubborn streak.
There's no fooling this little terrier. Good luck trying to stop this dog from getting what it wants. Because of their energy and brainpower, these breeds excel at dog sports like agility and barn hunting. Their desire to keep moving can make training challenging at first but rewarding once you see how well these dogs can perform.
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
- 10 of 10
The Golden Retriever is one of the world's most popular dog breeds. This is also one of the friendliest dogs you'll ever meet. On the surface, the breed may seem goofy, but a Golden can learn to do just about anything.
The Golden Retriever's intelligence and love for people make it one of the best dogs for work as a service dog. The breed also excels in all kinds of dog sports. Above all, the Golden makes an excellent companion for basically any kind of household. Honorable mention goes to this breed's cousin, the Labrador Retriever, which shares many of the same traits as the Golden.
Height: 21 to 24 inches
Weight: 55 to 75 pounds
Physical Characteristics: Sturdy, muscular, medium-sized dog with a lustrous gold coat with a broad head, friendly and intelligent eyes, and short ears
Some Dogs Are Not Known for Their Smarts
If you are expecting your dog to fetch your morning paper or anticipate your every move, then there are few dog breeds that you might want to avoid. It's not that these dogs are dumb. However, they can be tough to train or may have an independent streak.