Breeds
A Labrador Retriever in a field of flowers.
Share this image

The 5 Smartest Dog Breeds Brag About How Intelligent They Are

Of course the German Shepherd and Labrador Retriever have something to say on the topic, but we also talked to some of the other smartest dog breeds.

Lynn M. Hayner  |  Jul 26th 2017


In Stanley Coren’s 1994 Intelligence of Dogs report, Coren focused on working and obedience intelligence, referring to a breed’s capability of learning commands. By the way, my German Shepherd repeatedly and annoyingly cites this report when I question her behavior. Let’s hear straight from the mouths of five of the smartest dog breeds. Do they revel in their brainiac reputation? And in the interest of stirring up controversy, I asked: How do you feel about other breeds out-ranking you?

Smartest Dog Breed #1: Poodle

A poodle lounges on a couch.

Poodle, Photography courtesy Mary Olund.

I find myself ranked No. 2 in intelligence, falling supposedly behind the No. 1 Border Collie. Rather frequently, when I query people about the top intelligent breeds, they forget to mention me. Perhaps people are distracted by our beauty, or our famous Poodle cut? Keep in mind that the cut was developed for a functional, not fanciful, reason: to facilitate retrieving in cold waters.

All of our varieties (Toy, Miniature, and Standard) shine brilliantly in obedience classes. Athletic as well as intelligent, we also excel in tracking, agility, and even herding on occasion. The Border Collie may disagree, but we go on record believing that organizing sheep doesn’t employ all that much brain power.

Smartest Dog Breed #2: German Shepherd Dog

A German Shepherd leaps through an agility course.

A German Shepherd. Photography courtesy Deborah Stern.

When Coren’s report was published, we appealed the case with the World Canine Council. How could we, the world’s most trainable and esteemed working breed, be ranked third? After decades of litigation, the Court ruled against us. GSD v. Coren, 597 U.S. 343 (2016) (Shepherd, Justice German D., dissenting). But Coren’s rankings aside, we know we’re the world’s most intelligent breed.

After all, we were bred explicitly by Captain Max von Stephanitz for trainability and aptitude. Many breeds were developed for specific sporting, hunting, guarding, or herding skills. We, however, excel in military and police work, search and rescue, protection, and service work. These tasks, the most important human-directed tasks trusted to canines, are the jobs given to us, the German Shepherds. Need I say more?

Smartest Dog Breed #3: Shetland Sheepdog

Two Shetland Sheepdogs jump over an obstacle on an agility course.

Two Shetland sheepdogs. Photography courtesy Eva Gibson/Inner Mountain Photography.

In Coren’s report, we were named the sixth most intelligent breed. Our personality combines intelligence with great sensitivity, sweetness, alertness, and humility. Our focus and responsiveness are renowned. We look to our beloved family members with eager attentiveness: What would you like me to do next?

And while our brainpower and athleticism often leads to obedience and agility success, we accept our awards graciously. We’ll also accept our ranking in Coren’s study without loud complaint. I am however, slightly rolling my eyes that we rank below the exuberant (no one should be that happy!) Golden Retriever.

Smartest Dog Breed #4: Labrador Retriever

Two Labrador Retrievers courtesy Black Dogs Rule and Deborah Stern

Two Labrador Retrievers. Photography courtesy Black Dogs Rule and Deborah Stern.

I’m No. 7 on Coren’s famous list. How six breeds out-rank me is inexplicable, but I’m too good-natured to complain. We sporting group breeds hunt, point, flush, and retrieve for hunters. And as my name suggests, I’m all about retrieving birds, balls, discs, slippers, or anything else you throw. My earlier forefathers worked with Newfoundland fisherman.

My sporting background facilitates my work, but I also learn human commands effortlessly. I relish implementing your requests, specifically when you ask me to retrieve for you. My athleticism, intelligence, and mild temperament facilitate my search and rescue work, explosive detection, and service and therapy jobs as well. I’m also the No. 1 most popular breed in the world. Great choice, people!

Smartest Dog Breed #5: Basenji

A Basenji dog. Photography courtesy Linda Siekert and photographer Debbie A. Maerker

A Basenji dog. Photography courtesy Linda Siekert and photographer Debbie A. Maerker.

I slipped on to this list to evidence my own cleverness. I’m here to defend my low rankings on Coren’s list. Generally people are preoccupied with me being barkless. But my barklessness contributed to my highly successful hunting. And I’m not altogether silent anyway.

Now concerning intelligence, let me enlighten you about truly gifted canines. Why should anyone focus on how well I obey arbitrary commands uttered by humans?  I can likely hunt my own food better than any breed listed above. Heck, the German Shepherd would probably hold a Stay command even if he was starving and six rabbits walked by! How smart is that? Doesn’t my shrewdness and discernment count toward intelligence?

Besides, these days, now that you all have mastered the art of positive training, I can excel in a plethora of sports, such as agility and obedience. I just ask for a decent day’s wage. Or in my case, high-value treats perhaps?

What do you think? Did your dog make the list of smartest dog breeds? Do you disagree with our list of smartest dogs? Tell us in the comments!

Thumbnail: Photography by Shutterstock.

Read more about dog breeds on Dogster.com: