The 10 Smartest Dog Breeds & What Makes Them Clever

Ever wondered which dogs get top marks for smarts? See if your pup made the cut!

miniature dog poodle in a colorful ball pool
Image Credit: Darren William Hall, Shutterstock
Last Updated on November 24, 2023 by Dogster Team

Editor’s note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author and not necessarily those of

For dogs at the top of their class, there is no price to pay for being smart. Bulldogs don’t look at Poodles and say, “Wow, what a dork!” — though Poodles do seem to have a very good opinion of themselves. Dogs usually seem to realize that everyone has his place in the world, whether they’re a super-cute (but lacking in brains) Cavalier King Charles Spaniel or a super-smart Siberian Husky.

Whether they discuss the concept of intelligence amongst themselves, we don’t know. But we humans have developed general criteria for what makes a dog smart.

What Makes a Dog Breed Smart?

  • Ease in Training — If a dog can learn obedience commands quickly and perform specific complex jobs (such as rescue work) or tricks with a minimum of training, that’s a pretty smart dog.
  • Desire to Please — This is essential in training. A smart dog cannot be inordinately stubborn nor apt to do things his way. He needs to care about fulfilling a task simply because his owner asked it, even it’s something as inane as fetching your slippers.
  • Focus — A smart dog should be able to focus on things for a substantial amount of time and also to switch the object of his focus when his owner redirects it. A dog with his head in the clouds will have trouble learning.
  • Good Memory — If you have a good memory, it doesn’t necessarily mean you are intelligent. It’s really a separate thing. But a smart dog needs to have a capacity to learn and remember commands because, unfortunately, a dog can’t take notes or send text messages to himself during class.
  • Adaptability — If a dog can adjust to new situations and adjust his own training to meet different challenges, that’s a genius canine.
  • Problem Solving — Some dog lovers feel that their pet’s ability to problem solve has lessened since domestication. Whether or not that’s true, smart dogs still show remarkable skills such as figuring out how to get onto the kitchen counter and behind the toaster for a tiny piece of cheese.
  • Persistence — You could also use “tenacity.” Basically, a smart dog will not give up until a job is done. Often, smart dogs will reevaluate a failed situation and come up with a creative solution. A dog needs to be a diligent worker to be smart.

Why Some People Want a Smart Dog Breed

Smart dogs are a joy to train. They are excellent companions for people who like to spend a lot of time with their dog. A smart dog who is bored may become a destructive dog, so this one-on-one time is essential, whether it’s spent teaching commands or tricks or working out doggie treat puzzles. Other people choose a smart dog breed because they think it makes them look smart (and I imagine their smart canine is well aware of the silliness of this). And sometimes owners pick a smart dog breed because they feel sort of simpatico with it, a feeling they are both just a cut above the rest, intellectually speaking.

People who should not own a smart dog-breed include:

  1. Those who want a dog to pass them the remote.
  2. Those who prefer a more vapid and cuddly type of canine.
  3. Those intimidated by Standard Poodles.
  4. Those who think that, because their dog can chase pigeons, he’s super smart.
Image Credit: GettyImages

Why Some Dog Breeds Are Smart

Certainly, some dogs evolved on their own as the smart ones in the pack. These dogs were leaders who excelled at hunting and finding food, and keeping everyone in the pack in their proper place. There were also, as a side note, very virile (this does not necessarily apply to smart humans, all you supervirile men out there).

Humans bred certain breeds over the years with intelligence in mind, whether for a specific job, a general quickness in learning, or an ability to perform. Smart dogs have astounded humans by continuing to expand their problem solving and adaptive intelligence.

The 10 Smartest Dog Breeds

  1. Poodle — Have your pick: small (Toy Poodle), medium (Miniature Poodle), or large (Standard Poodle). Poodles are extremely adaptable creatures — they excel at many things including water sports and performing and doing tricks. They are focused with good memories and are very trainable. The only area they lack in is a desire to please. Poodles often want to do things their way.
  2. Siberian Husky — This dog breed is much more than just a sled puller. The Siberian Husky is an excellent navigator as well; some Huskies have even found their way home over hundreds of miles without a driver. Quick and focused, this breed can also be a bit stubborn.
  3. Doberman Pinscher — This noble dog breed was represented as a monster in the 1980s on TV and in films. Dobie owners know this was a lot of hype, and yet this gentle canine is often still viewed as mean and stupid. This is in spite of the brilliance of those 1980s canine actors, performing dangerous feats and acting as if they were going to rip someone’s throat out without actually doing it (that can be hard to do).
  4. Border Collie — The amazing smarts of this dog breed are not solely connected to the fact that they are excellent herders. What Border Collies do is use their instincts to guide their work, so they can often herd alone.
  5. Australian Cattle Dog — This dog breed is also a herder. He shines in his focus and ability to problem solve. The Aussie is known for his organizational skills. For instance, it’s a simple task to teach an Aussie to put his toys away. He is also a persistent little bugger.
  6. German Shepherd — Every dog owner knows the German Shepherd is one smart cookie, and many non-dog people do as well. One of the most adaptable dog breeds, German Shepherds have been famous for their performances in movies and on TV, their contribution as war dogs, and their partnerships with policemen in the K-9 units. This breed is easily trained and has a passionate desire to please.
  7. American Pit Bull Terrier — You may be thinking, “wrong list,” but this is one of the smartest dog breeds around. This dog has the desire to please (and then some), and it’s probably the most tenacious breed of all. And they are extremely adaptable (think of the dogs rescued from fighting who become great family pets). Just because they have lots of brawn doesn’t mean they don’t have lots of brains.
  8. Parson Russell Terrier — Some of you may remember this dog breed as the Jack Russell Terrier. Talk about persistence and alertness — a Parson Russell Terrier outdistances most breeds. This is a very adaptable breed that lives for its owner’s praise. They’re darn good at running through little shoots and chasing a decoy and getting into tiffs over who won.
  9. Papillon — This is the little dog breed with butterfly ears. But don’t equate his fancy appearance with vapidness. The Papillon is often called a “big dog in a little body,” and he has the intelligent characteristics that are sometimes associated with larger dogs. Their intelligence seems to take a holiday sometimes, though, when they forget that they are small and thus can’t take on, say, an American Pit Bull Terrier.
  10. Shetland Sheepdog — This dog breed didn’t play Lassie like his cousin the Collie — he was working his smallish bum off herding instead of accumulating fame and wealth. The Sheltie is sort of an uber herding dog, and it’s those skills magnified that make him such a smart dog. He focuses on his family and is persistent in his work, whatever that may be. Add excellent problem-solving skills and a great memory, and the Sheltie puts Lassie to shame.

All dogs have so much to give. Smart or dumb or in between, it doesn’t matter because it’s the intangibles that count the most. They include loyalty and affection and companionship and funny moments, such as when your dog chases his tail (even smart dogs do that). But you do have to wonder about the intelligence of the first dog that took up with humans — it’s still up for grabs whether he was extremely smart, extremely hungry, or just plain stupid.

Don’t see your dog here? Maybe she’s featured in The Top 10 Dumbest Dog Breeds.

Featured Image Credit: Darren William Hall, Shutterstock

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