Larry Slawson received his Master's Degree from UNC Charlotte. He has 15+ years of experience with dogs and various pets.
10 of the World's Smartest Dogs
Throughout history, dogs have always held a special place in the human heart due to their companionship, courageousness, and loyalty towards their owners. In addition to these remarkable characteristics, dogs have proven extremely reliable to humans due to their high-degree of intelligence and capacity for learning. As with all animals, however, some dog breeds have shown a greater degree of intelligence than others due to years of selective breeding, genetics, and heredity. This article examines the 10 smartest (and most intelligent) dog breeds in the world. It provides a brief overview of each dog’s characteristics, capacity for learning, and overall intelligence level in regard to other breeds. It is the author’s hope that a better understanding (and appreciation) of dogs and their cognitive abilities will accompany readers following their completion of this work.
In selecting (and ranking) the 10 smartest dog breeds, a number of criteria was necessary for this list. First and foremost, the following breeds were ranked (primarily) by their capacity for learning. To accomplish this, it was necessary to investigate which dogs were capable of learning the most tricks and commands through training, repetition, and observation. Second, dogs on this list were ranked according to their trainability and capacity for learning new things on their own (through self-training). Finally, and critically, both adaptive and instinctive intelligence levels were considered for this list as both are indicative of a dog’s alertness and ability to respond to new situations in an effective manner. While shortcomings certainly exist, the author believes this criteria offers the best means for measuring and ranking the world’s smartest dog breeds.
The 10 Smartest and Most Intelligent Dog Breeds in the World
- Australian Cattle Dog
- Labrador Retriever
- Shetland Sheepdog
- Doberman Pinscher
- Golden Retriever
- German Shepherd
- Border Collie
10. Australian Cattle Dog
The Australian Cattle Dog, also known simply as the “Cattle Dog,” is a medium-sized breed of dog originally bred in Australia. The Cattle Dog is well-known for its brown or black coat and is classified as a working breed due to its ability to herd and guard (akc.org). The Cattle Dog is also known for its exceptional intelligence, and can easily be trained to obey new commands with only a few repetitions.
Similar to Labrador Retrievers, the breed is even capable of self-training through observation of actions. This is a particularly useful trait during herding, as both awareness and resourcefulness are crucial for success. The animal is also quite organized and is known to actively put away its toys or possessions after playing (petmd.com).
The Australian Cattle Dog is usually even-tempered; however, due to the fact that the animal was originally bred to bite reluctant cattle or sheep during herding, the dog is known to nip at individuals, particularly children, if proper training and obedience are not developed at an early age. For this reason, experts often suggest Cattle Dogs for families without small children (petmd.com).
The dog is also most suited for owners with plenty of energy, as they require lots of exercise, companionship, and mental stimulation to prevent boredom and destructive behaviors (a characteristic of most dogs on this list).
The Rottweiler is a large breed of dog believed to have originated in Germany during Roman times. The dog is well-known for its double-coat of black and tan fur, along with its impressive size (reaching weights of nearly 132-pounds when fully matured). Classified as a working dog, the Rottweiler is a perfect choice for herding, guarding, or participating in search and rescue operations with the police due to its exceptional intelligence and capacity for learning.
As with many of the dogs on this list, one of the things that makes Rottweiler’s so intelligent is their natural ability to learn new commands with only a few repetitions. Their intelligence is also displayed through the dog’s natural tendency to guard and protect its owners and companions. In several studies performed, Rottweilers were found to not only be highly alert to their surroundings but also capable of interpreting potential (and real) threats to themselves and their owners before dangerous situations could materialize.
Although generally mild-mannered, experts argue that a Rottweiler’s history should be thoroughly explored by potential owners as past experiences can result in overly aggressive behaviors that could be harmful. This is particularly true for families with small children. Rottweiler’s also require adequate mental and physical stimulation on a daily basis. Without this, the dog is known to become easily bored (often chewing and destroying various items).
The Papillon is a small but incredibly smart breed of dogs believed to have originated in either France or Belgium. Reaching only 11-inches tall and approximately 10-pounds in weight, the Papillon makes up for this small size with its remarkable intelligence and capacity for learning.
Similar to the Chihuahua, the Papillon is well-known for its bravery, and are often described as “big dogs in little bodies” due to their self-assurance and feistiness (petmd.com). As a result, the Papillon makes for a great companion, as they form close bonds to their owners. Although a great pet for families, experts agree that the Papillon should always be supervised around small children, as their small size makes them extremely delicate and prone to injury.
Aside from their companionship and loyalty, the Papillon is perhaps “the most responsive and obedient of the toy breeds,” and is capable of learning new commands with only a few repetitions. As a result, mental stimulation is a must for this breed, as owners should devise games and tasks that actively engage the Papillon’s mind to prevent boredom and frustration. Because of their self-assured nature and stubbornness, experts also suggest that “structured expectations for behavior” should be incorporated into obedience training to prevent bad habits from forming early on (petmd.com).
7. Labrador Retriever
The Labrador Retriever, also known simply as the “Lab,” is a highly intelligent breed of dogs known for its gentleness, affection, and companionship. For these reasons, the Labrador Retriever is often a favorite of households with kids, as it is known to easily bond with children of all ages. The Labrador Retriever is exceptionally smart and easily trainable, making the dog a favorite of police, rescue crews, and disability services.
Unlike many breeds, the Lab is also quite observant and is capable of self-training through the observation of actions by its owner. Although little is known about the dog’s origins, experts believe that the first Labs were bred during the early 1800s. It wasn’t until the 1880s, however, that modern Labs were first developed in England. To this day, Labs come in a variety of colors, including black, red, or yellow, and reach relatively large weights of 80-pounds.
Labrador Retrievers are generally even-tempered, and are particularly quick, athletic, and full of energy. For these reasons, the Lab is often labeled as “hyperactive” by many owners, as the dog requires lots of mental and physical stimulation on a daily basis (particularly during its first three years of life).
6. Shetland Sheepdog
The Shetland Sheepdog, also known as the “Sheltie,” is a breed of herding dogs originating in Scotland. Although relatively small, reaching only 24-pounds (maximum), the Shetland Sheepdog is an incredibly hard-working and intelligent dog.
Although originally bred for herding sheep and various farm animals, the Shetland is now prized for its companionship qualities, loyalty, and ability to learn a large array of commands with only a few repetitions. For its devotion to families, the Shetland is often referred to as “shadows,” as they rarely leave their owner’s side. Due to their gentleness, they are also great dogs for households with children.
Because of the Shetland’s remarkable intelligence, the animal is often a favorite of dog sports and various shows, as the Sheltie is easy to train and extremely obedient. Their agility and small size also make them graceful jumpers, allowing them to perform various tricks with ease. Because of their capacity for learning, however, the Shetland requires extensive one-on-one time from its owner.
Without proper mental and physical stimulation on a daily basis (such as fetching balls or advanced training), the Sheltie is known to exhibit behavioral issues such as excessive barking and incessant chewing (particularly with items in households). For owners up to the challenge though, the Sheltie makes for a remarkable companion to both children and adults, alike.
5. Doberman Pinscher
The Doberman Pinscher is a medium-sized dog breed popular in both the United States and Canada. The Doberman was originally bred as a guard dog during the 1890s by Karl Friedrich Louis Dobermann, a tax collector working in Germany at the time. The dog is well-known for its exceptional intelligence, loyalty, alertness, and companionship. Although a relatively stubborn breed (requiring consistent training), the Doberman Pinscher can easily be trained for either dominance or docility (petmd.com).
Reaching nearly twenty-eight inches and approximately 100-pounds, the animal is a perfect choice for guard dogs, as they are well-known for both their fearlessness and courage. For this reason, the United States Marine Corps often used Dobermans in their “war dog” program during World War II, as the breed provided its Marine companions with excellent protection (particularly during night patrols).
Due to their natural tendency to bond with only one person, Dobermans are not the best choice for families with children. As with most intelligent breeds, the Doberman also requires mental and physical stimulation on a daily basis, requiring highly-energetic and involved owners. Failure to do so often results in boredom and destructive behaviors.
4. Golden Retriever
The Golden Retriever is one of the most popular breeds of dog in the United States, and is well-known for its intelligence, learning capacity, loyalty, and friendly disposition. The retriever was originally bred to accompany hunters, particularly bird hunters, as the dog’s soft mouth allowed it to retrieve game without damaging its outer components. In more modern times, however, the Golden Retriever is a popular choice for families as the dog’s gentle nature makes it an excellent companion for children (akc.org).
The dog is also well-known for its long golden coats, as well as its relatively large body (reaching upwards of 75 pounds). Similar to German Shepherds in intelligence, it has been found that the Golden Retriever is capable of learning a new command with less than five repetitions of an action (thesmartcanine.com).
The retriever’s intelligence is also considered “adaptive,” in that the dog possesses the ability to learn new things on its own without assistance (learning from various mistakes until it perfects particular actions). It is also believed that the Golden Retriever is capable of understanding human emotions to a degree, as the breed is known to both cuddle and “kiss” when its owners display sad dispositions (thesmartcanine.com). It is estimated that retrievers are capable of learning over 200 different commands in their lifetime, making them one of the smartest dog breeds in existence.
3. German Shepherd
The German Shepherd is a highly sought-after breed of dog known for its remarkable intelligence and learning capacity. Known for their loyalty and courage, the German Shepherd is well-suited for a variety of roles, including companionship, herding, and guarding/protection. For this reason, the shepherd is a popular choice for both families and professional organizations (including both the police and military).
The German Shepherd was originally bred “specifically for intelligence,” and is capable of learning new “tasks after only a few repetitions” (petmd.com). After five repetitions of an action, it has been discovered that German Shepherds are capable of obeying new commands 95-percent of the time; a remarkable feat for any canine (petmd.com).
Reaching nearly twenty-six inches and approximately ninety pounds, the German Shepherd possesses a relatively large build. Despite its size, the dog is quite agile and muscular, making it a popular choice for shows and sports as well. Although generally not aggressive, the shepherd is known for its protectiveness over owners; making the animal an excellent choice for guard dogs.
The Poodle is a breed of dog believed to have originated from either Germany or France. It is currently ranked as the second smartest dog breed in the world, as the Poodle possesses a remarkably high-level of intelligence, obedience, and capacity to learn quickly (akc.org).
Poodles come in three varieties that include the standard, miniature, and toy. Although originally bred for hunting and retrieving (particularly items from the water, due to its tremendous swimming abilities), the Poodle is now renowned for its remarkable companionship qualities, as well as its natural ability to perform well in both sports and dog shows.
Poodles are well-known for their dark eyes, fluffy coats, and drooping ears. The Poodle is also relatively calm-natured, with a warm disposition, making it a popular breed for both children and families. As with most intelligent dogs, however, the Poodle requires mental and physical stimulation on a daily basis, in order to prevent boredom and general frustration.
Border Collie Quote
"If you don't have work for a border collie or time to train it properly, your bright young border collie will invent his own work, and chances are you won't like it."
— Donald McCaig
1. Border Collie
The Border Collie is a breed of dog first bred in Scotland for the purpose of herding livestock and various farm animals (akc.org). Border Collies are incredibly smart, and are often cited as the most intelligent breed of dog in the world due to their ability to solve complex problems, and to obey multiple commands. The breed is well-known for its black and white coat, medium build, and abundance of energy. The Border Collie is also known for its exceptionally long lifespan, living upwards of 17 years.
Because of their ability to learn quickly, this breed requires exceptional levels of mental stimulation (on a daily basis), along with daily exercise to satisfy its high levels of energy. For this reason, the Border Collie is often best-suited for the outdoors as they quickly become bored inside enclosed areas.
Without proper care and stimulation, the collie is known to become distressed or frustrated. For owners that are up to the challenge though, the Border Collie makes for an excellent companion for both children and adults, alike. As a result of its exceptional intelligence, the Border Collie is also well-suited for both dog sports and shows and often excels in actions/events requiring speed and agility.
- “German Shepherd Dog Breed Information, Pictures, Characteristics & Facts.” Dogtime. Accessed September 8, 2019.
- Greenberg, Aurora. “German Shepherd Dog Dog Breed Information.” American Kennel Club, November 6, 2017.
- Greenberg, Aurora. “Golden Retriever Dog Breed Information.” American Kennel Club, November 6, 2017.
- Kriss, Randa. “Border Collie Dog Breed Information.” American Kennel Club, November 6, 2017.
- Latimer, Matt. “Australian Cattle Dog Dog Breed Information.” American Kennel Club, November 6, 2017.
- "Poodles." PetMD, January 2, 2018.
- Slawson, Larry. "The Australian Cattle Dog: A Guide for Owners." PetHelpful. 2020.
- Slawson, Larry. "The Border Collie: A Guide for Owners." PetHelpful. 2020.
- Slawson, Larry. "The German Shepherd: A Guide for Owners." PetHelpful. 2020.
- Slawson, Larry. "The Golden Retriever: A Guide for Owners." PetHelpful. 2020.
- “What Are The Smartest Dog Breeds?” CanineJournal.com, April 26, 2019.
© 2019 Larry Slawson
Larry Slawson (author) from North Carolina on September 18, 2019:
Thank you Miel. I'm so glad you enjoy them :)
Miel Reyes from Philippines on September 18, 2019:
I love reading your articles. I learn a lot plus they're very interesting. Thanks for your posts.
Larry Slawson (author) from North Carolina on September 18, 2019:
@Miel I'm glad you enjoyed! I'm so sorry that your dog died too :( That's really sad.
@Robert Thank you so much. I'm so glad you enjoyed!
Robert Fillman from Idaho, United States on September 18, 2019:
Eye-opening info. Thanks
Miel Reyes from Philippines on September 13, 2019:
I believe dogs, in general, are intelligent creatures. But, I've constantly wondered the top breeds in intelligence. Thanks for the info:-) It's good to know my favorite breeds of dogs are on the list. Unfortunately, these breeds cost a lot in my country if you want to own them. And a month ago, my 4-yr-old ShiPoo died and broke my heart.
Larry Slawson (author) from North Carolina on September 12, 2019:
@Tommi I was actually surprised about the Papillon as well. From what I read, the Papillon does best when its trained from an early age though. So maybe that's what was going on.
@Eric So glad you enjoyed my friend!
@Chris I'm glad you enjoyed! That's a funny story, haha! You never know. Maybe he thought he could read haha. My friend actually had a Border/Australian Shepherd mix one time. It was such a good dog. Really intelligent too.
Chris Mills from Traverse City, MI on September 11, 2019:
Good article. Thanks for all the information. I have a border/Australian shepherd mix. He has lots of energy and gets frustrated when he is kept inside for too long. He is loyal and bonded to me to a fault. Is he smart? I suppose most dog owners think their animal is smart. We were walking along a 12 foot high fence the other day. At one point, there was a red and white sign that warned that unauthorized vehicles would be towed. Darby, my dog, walked over to the fence and stared up at the sign. He stared for maybe 5 to 10 seconds. No, I do not think he was reading it. haha. But he was curious enough to check it out. I've never seen a dog focus on a detail of their surroundings like that.
Eric Dierker from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A. on September 11, 2019:
Really cool, thank you. That was a fun read with a lot of info.
Tommi Grace from Woodward on September 10, 2019:
I am really surprised the Papillon is on the list. My dad's dog is a Papillon and he isn't very smart at all. He is sweet (most of the time). But my dad tried to teach him good manners to no avail. He is about 12 years old now and still won't go outside to potty every time.
Jak on September 09, 2019:
Boxer # 1
Larry Slawson (author) from North Carolina on September 09, 2019:
Thank you Lorna! Sounds like a really great dog :) My wife and I are thinking about getting a Lab for our youngest child. Figured it would be a good choice since they are so gentle.
Lorna Lamon on September 09, 2019:
Interesting article Larry. Our dog was a rescue dog and I'm not really sure what breed he was, however, he did have a lot of Lab in him which made him very gentle. He definitely wasn't intelligent but made up for it by being goofy and loving. I miss him.
Larry Slawson (author) from North Carolina on September 08, 2019:
Thank you Pamela! I have too. I actually owned a border collie several years ago. Hands down, the absolute best dog I ever had. She was incredibly smart.
Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on September 08, 2019:
I have had some of those breeds through the years, but not a border collie. They are all smart and learn quickly. This is a good list of very smart dogs.
Larry Slawson (author) from North Carolina on September 08, 2019:
Very cool, Liz. I had a Yellow Labrador when I was little. They are great dogs!
Liz Westwood from UK on September 08, 2019:
We have a chocolate labrador in our family. He is very gentle with young children and I think quite bright.