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How Smart Are Border Collies? Facts & FAQ

Written by: Kathryn Copeland

Last Updated on June 1, 2024 by Dogster Team

Brown border collie dropping the ball to a person's hand

How Smart Are Border Collies? Facts & FAQ

Border Collies are known for their shaggy and striking black and white coats as well as for their shepherding skills. They are loving companions with a very strong work ethic – a Border Collie without a job to do is an unhappy dog!

You’ve likely heard that Borders are smart, but perhaps you’re wondering just how smart they are. Border Collies have been proven through various studies to be the smartest breed of dog.

If you’d like to learn more, we’ll discuss just how intelligent these dogs are and how they are smart in more than one way.

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Research Tells Us the Border Collie Is Intelligent

Most of the attention on Borders for their smarts comes from Dr. Stanley Coren, Ph.D.1, neuropsychological researcher and canine expert. Dr. Coren wrote The Intelligence of Dogs, where he consulted with 200 dog-obedience judges on their expert opinions on dog intelligence.

Over 190 judges placed the Border Collie in the top 10 for intelligence. What sets these dogs apart is how quickly they learn.

The criteria were based on dogs that could learn new commands in less than five repetitions. The faster they learned, the higher they ranked.

They also looked at how often the dogs would obey the command, and of course, the more often the dog obeyed, the higher their intelligence was ranked.

Border Collies obeyed a known command on the first try with a 95% or higher success rate! This, and that they were consistently able to learn new commands under less than five repetitions, is why the Border Collie was placed in the number one spot as the brightest dog.

training a border collie
Image By: Melounix, Shutterstock

The Top 10 Brightest Dogs

Now that you know the Border Collie came in at number one, we’ll cover the entire top 10 smartest dog breeds because we’re assuming you’re curious:

  1. Border Collie
  2. Poodle
  3. German Shepherd
  4. Golden Retriever
  5. Doberman Pinscher
  6. Shetland Sheepdog
  7. Labrador Retriever
  8. Papillon
  9. Rottweiler
  10. Australian Cattle Dog

These dogs obeyed commands 95% or more and understood new commands in less than five repetitions.

How Does the Average Dog Stack Up?

Out of 138 breeds, Borders came in at number one. Dr. Coren stated that 51% of any dog’s intelligence comes from their genes, and the other 49% is from environmental circumstances.

There are three types of canine intelligence that are measured, which are adaptive, instinctive, and working/obedience. Dr. Coren only measured the working/obedience because it’s how dogs relate to humans.

What all this means is that measuring intelligence ultimately depends on the individual dog and their temperament, environment, and upbringing. But, the average smart dog typically learns a new command after about 25 to 40 repetitions, which makes the Border Collie about five times faster.

Additionally, those average dogs obeyed a known command on the first try with a 50% or higher success rate. Again, the Border has about double the success rate for obedience.

This is nothing against average dogs. They are all smart in their own way. Remember, this is in comparison to a dog that has an intensely strong work ethic. Other dogs will demonstrate intelligence in different ways.

Border collie during obedience training
Image By: sonsart, Shutterstock

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Other Ways the Border Collie Is Smart

So, now you know that Border Collies excel in the working/obedience aspect of intelligence, but what about the other two – instinctive and adaptive? These dimensions are much more difficult to measure, but they are an important aspect to canine intelligence.

Instinctive Intelligence

Instinctive intelligence refers to a dog’s natural or inborn traits that were bred into them. All dog breeds were bred by humans with specific jobs in mind, and the Border was bred to be a sheepdog.

Well, it should come as no surprise that the Border Collie clearly excels as a sheepdog. In many circles, they are widely acknowledged to be the world’s best sheepdogs. But they are also more than capable of herding cattle as well.

If you’ve ever seen the Border in action when herding sheep (and if you’ve ever seen the movie Babe, you have), you can see how incredible they are at herding. Their instinctive intelligence with how they round up the sheep and move them in formation toward a specified direction is unquestionably incredible!

Because while they do take direction from humans, they are capable of performing this task on their own with little training. Additionally, Border Collies that have never interacted with a sheep their entire lives still have those herding instincts. They will most definitely nip at our heels in order to herd us.

We can all agree that the Border Collie rates very high in instinctive intelligence! It’s just never been measured.

Adaptive Intelligence

Adaptive intelligence refers to any dog’s ability to learn through problem-solving and social skills on their own. If a dog is talented at finding hidden treats or can figure out how you are feeling by your facial expression, this is adaptive intelligence.

This is the type of intelligence that varies significantly from dog to dog, and this includes the Border Collie. Many Border owners will tell you that their dog has very high adaptive intelligence.

But because this particular form of intelligence is so individual, it can’t be measured. While we can claim the Border also likely excels in this area, we can’t state this with absolute certainty.

border collie puppy practicing tricks
Image By: Geertes, Shutterstock

The Smartest Dog in the World

Not only are Border Collies considered the smartest breed, but the smartest dog is also a Border Collie.

A Border Collie living in the United States by the name of Chaser was named the smartest dog in the world. She lived until she was 15 but died in 2019. What made her so intelligent was her ability to learn and identify 1,022 nouns – which turned out to be over a thousand toys that she could locate and retrieve every time!

Her owner, Dr. John Pilley, worked on teaching her words that had meaning to her, which is why they are all toys.

She began to learn the names of things as well as identify them by adjectives. For example, Dr. Pilley taught her to pick out a blue ball, and after some time, he could provide her with multiple balls and have her identify them as being smaller, bigger, slower, and faster.

Dr. Pilley did everything with positive reinforcement and with the concept that dogs shouldn’t be forced to do anything. He believed that Chaser should have joy in everything she did.

Final Thoughts

The Border Collie is an amazing animal! And they are also amazing companions! But they are not for everyone. With their boundless energy and strong drive to work, they need owners who give them that necessary job and can keep up with their walking needs.

People looking for a quiet and cuddly dog that doesn’t need a lot of exercise need not apply. But outdoorsy, energetic people who will appreciate this breed’s intelligence will not regret bringing home one of these incredible dogs!

See also:


Featured Image Credit: Anaite, Shutterstock

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