Chapter 5

What are the most intelligent dog breeds?

All dogs are adorable and deserve our love, but undoubtedly some breeds characterise in exceptional intelligence and ability to learn quickly. Find out which factors determine the dog’s intelligence and which breeds are known to be the smartest.

A smart dog

Reading time : 5 min


What is dog’s intelligence?

A Labrador Retriever running

Have you ever wondered which dog breeds are the most intelligent? And which factors determine whether a dog is smart or not? The answers to these and many more questions can be found in the book The Intelligence of Dogs written by a psychologist, Stanley Coren. To classify the dog breeds according to their smarts, Coren interviewed almost 200 dog-obedience judges and created a list of the most intelligent dog breeds. Even though the book was written in 1994, it was updated in 2006, and it remains a reliable source of information about dogs’ intelligence up to this day.

Types of dog intelligence and measuring methods

In The Intelligence of Dogs, the author distinguished three types of dog intelligence:

  • Instinctive – what the breed was developed to do,
  • Adaptive – the dog’s ability to learn how to solve problems from the surrounding,
  • Working and obedience – how much effort the dog puts in learning what they are asked by humans.

Behind all these three types, there’s a dog’s willingness to communicate with humans, by understanding them and by expressing themselves.

When it comes to measuring dog’s intelligence, it’s based on how many repetitions of a command a dog needs in order to learn a new trick. The dogs that are on top of the most intelligent breeds, can learn a new command in less than 5 repetitions!

Are big dogs smarter than small ones?

Although it is not scientifically proven, research suggests that big breeds might be more intelligent than smaller ones. The former tends to remember more precisely and for a longer period of time, but it’s also worth mentioning that most of these breeds were developed to execute specific tasks and thus naturally have some traits that small dogs lack. However, the smaller breeds were often bred from larger ones, so the drives and instincts that you find in the big dogs can also be found in them.

Which dog breed is right for you?

Take the test and find out the dog breed that matches your personality and lifestyle.

The list of the 10 most intelligent dog breeds

A Border Collie doing a trick

Take a look at the list of the 10 most intelligent dog breeds according to Coren’s classification.

#1: Border Collie

The smartest dog of all, the Border Collie learns a new command in under five repetitions and can follow it at least 95% of the time. Sounds impressive, doesn’t it? Apart from that, this breed understands routines and can be trained to execute tasks on their own, in their owner’s absence. Brilliant as they are, these herding dogs make great helpers for shepherds and do fantastic at agility competitions. They are very energetic and athletic, which means that they need plenty of physical stimulation on daily basis, apart from the mental one.

#2: Poodle

Not only hypoallergenic and undeniably cute, but also exceptionally smart. That’s how you can describe the holders of the second place in Coren’s ranking, Poodles. With their high level of emotional and cognitive intelligence, this breed is easy to train and thrives in challenging situations, especially during such activities as hunting, tracking, agility, and obedience work. During wartime, Poodles were used to deliver supplies to soldiers, as their character traits made them perfect candidates for this role. Nowadays, they are great companions that combine cuteness with intelligence.

#3: German Shepherd

One of the five most popular dog breeds in the US, the German Shepherd seems to have it all. Intelligent, energetic, loyal, and obedient, this breed is often employed to work as police dogs, seeing eye dogs, and medical assistance dogs, but they are also excellent family pets. They are so smart that they can learn a new trick after just one repetition, and they have the ability to assess difficult situations and adapt their behaviour accordingly.

#4: Golden Retriever

Originally bred for hunting and retrieving games, Golden Retrievers do great at performing many other tasks, for example working as service or therapy dogs, or during search-and-rescue operations. Apart from their smarts, this breed is dependable and obedient, complying with their owner’s commands without second-guessing. Because of their character traits, as well as their agility, they are often chosen by people with disabilities.

#5: Doberman Pinscher

Doberman Pinscher was bred by a German tax collector in the 19th century, when he wanted a dog to be both his guard and companion. This breed can fearlessly protect you and your family in any situation, but they also get along great with kids and are gentle. The intelligence of the Doberman Pinscher allows them to learn new commands and tricks quickly, thanks to which they are reliable companions to their owners.

#6: Shetland Sheepdog

Showing a striking resemblance to their bigger cousin, the collie, the Shetland Sheepdog always takes a high place in agility and obedience competitions since the breed was recognised by the American Kennel Club in 1911. They were originally bred to be herding dogs and to help farmers on the Shetland Islands protect sheep, ponies and poultry. The breed’s high intelligence was a necessity to execute their tasks, sometimes without the supervision of humans. The Shetland Sheepdog is always eager to learn new cues, and their affectionate nature makes them great family dogs that get along very well with children. That said, the breed’s ability to detect danger means that you should not be concerned about your safety with this dog on the watch.

#7: Labrador Retriever

The most popular dog in the US since 1991, the Labrador Retriever is not only a family’s favourite, but also excels in agility, obedience, and retrieving competitions. Bred in the 16th century in the Newfoundland, this dog was originally used on fishing boats to retrieve fish. Labradors have an impressive sense of judgement based on their observations, and they’re known for learning from their environment, by watching and imitating. What makes them so popular is not only their remarkable smarts, but their lovable nature, friendliness, and drive to get along with people. This breed is also often chosen by people with disabilities, and as emotional support dogs.

#8: Papillon

The only toy breed in the top 10 of the most intelligent dog breeds, Papillons are just as smart as they are adorable. Taking their name from their tall, pointed ears that look like butterfly wings (and “papillon” is French for “butterfly”), they can astonish you with their ability to learn new tricks and to perform them, which is not surprising knowing that the dogs are great attention seekers. Papillons like pleasing people, and their charming personalities make them great companions.

#9: Rottweiler

With their roots going all the way back to Ancient Rome, the Rottweiler was originally used to herd livestock. Nowadays, the breed is often used as search-and-rescue dogs, guard dogs, and police dogs. They’re suitable for these roles thanks to their ability to learn quickly, both when they’re still puppies and as adult dogs. Their exceptional loyalty and devotion make them amazing companions and loving friends.

#10: Australian Cattle Dog

Bred by British settlers in Australia to herd cattle in the rough conditions of the continent, the Australian Cattle Dog might not be among the most popular ones, but they definitely stand out from the rest when it comes to their intellect. Able to follow herds and guard them for a long time without the supervision of humans, these dogs are highly motivated and need plenty of stimulation. Hence, they’re not the best choice for busy owners that live in cities. The Australian Cattle Dog is extremely organised, up to the point that they put the toys back in place after playing with them.


If you’re looking for a dog that will learn new cues and tricks quickly, and that will be always eager to play, choosing one of the 10 most intelligent breeds should satisfy you. However, remember that these dogs usually need a lot of mental and physical stimulation, so you would need to devote your free time to them.

Continue reading our guide

This article is a part of a complete guide on the subject. Do not miss the next chapters.

Which dog breed is right for you?

Take the test to find out!

Choosing a dog that matches your personality and lifestyle will ensure your well-being and his!