So you're looking for a smart dog, or at least wondering which dog breeds fit the bill. Canine intelligence, much like human intelligence, can be measured in a variety of different ways. Are the smartest dog breeds easily trained, or does it mean having a supreme gift like a heightened sense of smell? Obviously, there's no one right answer when it comes to dog intelligence, but there are certainly a few markers that would indicate your dog's ability to learn.
Back in the '90s, the often-cited canine psychologist Stanley Coren published his book "The Intelligence Of Dogs," which contains a judging rubric of sorts. It divided intelligence into distinct categories, including instinctive intelligence, adaptive intelligence, and working intelligence.
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How Smart Is Your Dog? How To Measure Canine Intelligence
Instinctive intelligence is exactly what it sounds like — a set of natural, innate traits dog breeds inherit from their ancestors. These behaviors are intuitive, like herding or hunting, and come to your dog without trying.
Adaptive intelligence in dogs, contrary to instinctive intelligence, is all about responsive behaviors. It's how dogs react to situations, how they use the tools around them to achieve goals.
Working intelligence, or trainability, refers to how dogs comprehend and learn behaviors from humans. Some smart dog breeds, according to Dr. Coren, can learn up to 165 words in commands.
The smartest dogs breeds often exhibit all three types of intelligence, but working intelligence is believed to be the best way to rank canine smarts. How does your dog measure up? Check out the 13 smartest dog breeds below.
The Smartest Dog Breeds
Border collies are generally at the top of every list of smartest dog breeds because, well, they're smart. Collies are originally herders meaning they have natural protective and leadership instincts. They are incredibly loving pets with high energy levels and steadfast work ethics.
Known as "shelties," these attention-loving dogs are kind of like miniature collies. They also are originally herders, making them intelligent, quick thinkers who are fiercely loyal and loving. Shetland sheepdogs are bright, quick learners who train especially well.
Golden retrievers are some of the most popular dogs in America. Their lustrous coats make them great beauties of the dog world, but they definitely have brains too! These Scottish gun dogs have been put to work for a long time, serving as hunting helpers as well as guides for the blind.
The German shepherd is the jack of all trades when it comes to work. Confident and determined dogs, German shepherds often find themselves police and military dogs. They are very intelligent and trainable, making them excellent at highly specialized tasks like sniffing out drugs or explosive devices.
While the poodle has a reputation for being... snooty, it's not hard to see why a dog of such intelligence can feel a bit above it all. All jokes aside, poodles can be proud, but they are not prissy. These athletic dogs are keenly intelligent and naturally trainable.
Despite their small size, papillons are hardy, genial dogs. These dogs are named for their large ears that flap around like a butterfly (which is "papillon" in French). Papillons consistently take home first prize in agility events and are extremely trainable dogs. (It doesn't hurt that they're super loving either!)
One of America's most popular dog breeds, the labrador retriever is friendly and fun-loving. Consummate athletes, lab retrievers thrive on high-energy situations. They are incredibly loving, emotionally intelligent animals who learn and adapt easily to humans, making them wonderful companions and family dogs.
Traditionally a barge dog, a schipperke is known affectionately as Belgium's "little captain." Don't be fooled by the schipperke's small stature because this dog is both strong and cunning. They were originally bred as ratters and watch dogs, making them keen, stealthy observers and hunters. Schipperkes are known to be mischievous with a cat-like hunting style.
Pembroke Welsh Corgi
A herding dog, the Pembroke Welsh corgi strikes the perfect balance of affectionate without being needy. The agreeable dog is sensitive and alert, making them a great family dog. But as happy as they are, they are also fiercely brave and independent, showing their leadership instincts by corralling you into playtime or a walk.
These strong, athletic dogs are the picture of both physical and mental intelligence. Doberman pinschers are sleek, muscular dogs who are not scared of anything. They are competent (and frankly terrifying) watch dogs whose alertness and vigilance mean nothing happens without their knowledge. They are fiercely loyal and loving.
Australian Cattle Dog
Related to the dingo, the Australian cattle dog can look intimidating. With a sturdy, muscular frame, these dogs are natural protectors. While they may look close to their wild dog relatives, Australian cattle dogs can be cautious, meaning their stealth and cunning is what usually drives their behavior. They are obedient, trainable dogs who make loyal companions.
English Springer Spaniel
These lovable "bird dogs," English springer spaniels are full of equal parts energy and intelligence. Trained hunting companions, these dogs are consummate people pleasers who have high amounts of emotional intelligence. Being highly trainable also means they are even-tempered who are known to have good manners (they are English after all!). They are needy dogs, however, so make sure you're prepared to love this dog as much as this dog loves you!
Make no mistake, rottweilers are big dogs — they're descended from the Roman mastiffs after all. But these dogs aren't all brawn, rottweilers have plenty of brains to go along with their strong, sturdy exteriors. These confident dogs are surprisingly gentle while playing but are fiercely protective over those they love. They can also be quite silly, which might not be obvious when you meet them!