The World’s Most Intelligent Dog Breeds:
Does your dog make the list?
I am always inspired by the incredibly smart dogs we know and the difference they each make in somebody’s life. Have you ever wondered exactly how smart your dogs is and what they are capable of? I often do with Kilo the Pug. Do you measure by the number of tricks they can do or the type of talents they have developed or how fast they learn or how intuitive they are?
Dogs are capable of learning through simple reinforcement, but they also learn by watching humans and other dogs. Behavioral scientists have uncovered social-cognitive abilities in the domestic dog, similar to some in human children.
Different dog breeds were bred selectively with different strengths for different jobs and learn in different ways at different speeds. As well as varying by breed this can vary by individual dog. Different people have different needs and measures of “smarts” so what are the world’s most intelligent breeds?
Reportedly, the first intelligence test for dogs was developed in the late seventies. It included measurements of short-term memory, agility, and ability to solve problems such as detouring to a goal. It also assessed the ability of a dog to adapt to new conditions and cope with emotionally difficult situations.
There are some breeds of dogs like border collies that are known for having higher intelligence and others not so much, but what is it exactly that puts these dogs at the top of the list? Let’s find out!
Stanley Coren, on The Intelligence of Dogs
Stanley Coren is a neuropsychologist, Professor of Canine Psychology at the University of British Columbia, and author of the book: The Intelligence of Dogs. We were lucky enough to sit down with him for an interview when filming our documentary and really dig deep into what makes certain breeds of dogs “smarter” than others.
Different Types of Intelligence
Coren breaks down dog intelligence into 3 categories:
- Instinctive intelligence -a dog’s ability to perform the tasks it was bred for, ie: guarding, herding, hunting or providing companionship etc. This is measured by canine IQ tests and can vary by individual dog.
- Adaptive intelligence – a dog’s ability to learn and problem solve on its own. This also varies from dog to dog and can be measured by a canine IQ test.
- Working/Obedience intelligence – a dog’s ability to learn from humans. This is the form of intelligence that is considered most breed dependant and what most lists of “smartest dog breeds” are taking into account.
The good news about this is that just because your dog’s breed isn’t ranked highly on working/obedience intelligence, doesn’t mean that they aren’t intelligent in different ways like Kilo the Pug. Perhaps ways that are even more appealing to you- for example, a therapy dog who knows when you’re upset and need some love might be infinitely more valuable to you than a dog that will learn to “sit pretty”, “stay” or “roll over” the first time you ask. When I look at how my pampered prince Kilo manipulates me and how resourceful he is at getting comfort, cuddles, and food, he seems very smart indeed and a great fit for my lifestyle.
“The Genius of Dogs” and “Dognition” – Dr Brian Hare
Dr. Brian Hare is an associate professor of evolutionary anthropology at Duke University in North Carolina and a member of the Center for Cognitive Neuroscience, which is a division of the Duke Institute for Brain Sciences. He received his Ph.D. from Harvard University, founded the Hominoid Psychology Research Group while at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, and subsequently founded the Duke Canine Cognition Center when arriving at Duke University.
Dr. Hare has published dozens of empirical articles in peer-reviewed scientific journals including Proceedings of the Royal Society, Current Biology, Nature Neuroscience, Science, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, PLOS Biology, Animal Behaviour, Animal Cognition and the Journal of Comparative Psychology. His publications on dog cognition are among the most heavily cited papers on dog behavior and intelligence. He has also written the book “The Genius of Dogs” and started the research site www.dognition.com. Dr. Brian Hare, along with the world’s leading canine scientists and trainers, created the Dognition Assessment: interactive games and expert analyses that give you an unprecedented perspective on how your dog sees the world.
Breakthroughs in cognitive science, pioneered by Brian Hare have proven dogs have a kind of genius for getting along with people that is unique in the animal kingdom. Brian Hare’s stunning discovery is that when dogs domesticated themselves around 40,000 years ago they became far more like human infants than their wolf ancestors.
Our List of The Smartest Dog Breeds
Number 12: Jack Russells
Highly energetic, fearless, lively and inquisitive, Jack Russell’s are highly trainable and excel at activities that exercise both the mind and body making them number 11 on our list.
We love working with Sweetie, Lulu and Shivers at events and on TV projects.
Number 11: Australian Cattle Dog
Energetic, muscular and highly intelligent, Australian Cattle Dogs respond well to structured training and require activities to challenge them physically and mentally. These adorable pups are number 10 in our list.
Number 10: Rottweiler
Originally bred to drive cattle and pull carts, these dogs are as smart as they are feisty.
Number 9: Papillion
Despite being devastatingly cute, these little dogs have beauty and brains!
Number 8: Australian Shepherds
Aussies were bred in the US to herd livestock. They remain a working dog breed at heart. Loyal, responsive and active, they are happiest when they have a job to do.
We commonly see them in trick shows, disc and agility competitions and TV commercials like our friend Cohen the Australian Shepherd.
Number 7: Shetland Sheepdog
A Herding breed that is well loved both on farms and in family households, these dogs are energetic, affectionate and responsive to training. They tend to do very well at obedience work.
Number 6: Doberman Pincher
Historically, this breed has been internationally known as a security dog, used for personal protection, policing, guarding, and even in war.
Number 5: Labrador Retriever
Popular family, therapy, and assistance dogs have high intelligence and gentle, eager-to-please, welcoming spirits, this breed is number 7 in our list.
Number 4: Golden Retriever
Goldens are often seen as the ultimate family pet and generally do well with children because of their loving and generous spirit.
They also make wonderful Service Dogs like Dog Guide Flicka who is a PTSD Service Dog.
Number 3: German Shepherd
German Shepherds are highly trainable, loyal and protective and are the most popular dogs in law enforcement, military and guarding, along with Belgian Malinois.
Number 2: Poodle
Active and elegant, Poodles are extremely intelligent and trainable. This puts Poodles at number 2 on our list.
Number 1: Border Collies
Consistently considered to be the smartest dog breed on many measures, Border Collies can learn many words, skills, and tricks with good training. They frequently win trick, herding, and agility competitions and are great to work with on TV series, films, and commercials in our experience.
More ‘Top Dog Breeds’ Lists:
Did your dog’s breed make this list? Do you agree with this list? Is your dog intelligent in unconventional ways? Share your stories in the comments below!
Please note that we are TV producers and dog lovers, not scientists or vets or behaviorists, so our list is based on our own experiences working with dogs and studying the human-dog bond, plus other expert research.