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20 Smartest Dog Breeds & What Makes Them Clever (With Pictures)

Written by: Misty Layne

Last Updated on May 20, 2024 by Dogster Team

german shepherd dog lying on wooden table outdoors

20 Smartest Dog Breeds & What Makes Them Clever (With Pictures)

We all think our dogs are the smartest in the world, but have you ever wondered which dog breeds are deemed the smartest? There are ways to test a dog’s intelligence, and many breeds have been tested to discover how well they do. So, which dog breed ended up being the most intelligent pup?

Here’s a look at the 20 smartest dog breeds, plus what makes each one so clever. You might be surprised by where some of these dog breeds rank! Have a look at the list to see where your canine companion ranks, and then keep reading to find out how you can test your dog’s smarts.

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How Are Smart Dog Breeds Classified?

A canine researcher named Stanley Coren wrote a book in 1994 that discussed the intelligence of dogs and included aspects of intelligence they could be rated by1. He then did a study to find out how smart the most common dog breeds were. During the study, he surveyed 199 obedience trial judges from the Canadian Kennel Club and American Kennel Club. Why did he survey the judges? To find out how dog breeds met specific criteria.

What were these criteria? The first was how fast a dog could obey a command they already knew on the first try, while the second was how many times it took a dog to pick up a new command. But how does knowing the answers to those questions help us figure out how bright a canine is? Well, the most intelligent pups will respond to known commands much faster than other dogs, and those who are smarter will also be able to pick up on new commands with far fewer repetitions than other dogs.

So, how smart dogs are classified or ranked depends on how well they meet these criteria.

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Top 20 Smartest Dog Breeds

1. Border Collie

border collie dog lying down on the grass
Image Credit: Elayne Massaini, Shutterstock
Height: 18–22 in
Weight: 30–55 lbs
Lifespan: 12–15 years

According to Coren’s list of smartest canines, the Border Collie is number one! What makes these pups so clever? Not only do these dogs rock the obedience and agility competitions, but they have fantastic problem-solving skills. After all, they were bred to be athletic and smart enough to traverse treacherous landscapes while working. And speaking of work, these canines are total workaholics who are happiest having a job!

Need more proof Border Collies are exceptionally intelligent? One Border Collie named Rico learned to respond to over 200 words2, while another named Chaser could recognize over 1,000 words!3

If you have one of these dogs, you need to be prepared to keep them occupied at all times with both physical and mental stimulation.

2. Poodle

poodle dog walking in a field
Image Credit: Francine parent, Shutterstock
Height: 15+ in
Weight: 50–70 lbs
Lifespan: 10–18 years

Poodles are known for being intelligent, especially when it comes to emotional and cognitive intelligence. These dogs are quick to pick up on what you’re feeling at any given time. The breed is aces at agility and obedience competitions, likely due to their history of working beside humans. Besides being initially bred as hunting dogs, these canines have also been used during wartime to help deliver supplies for soldiers on battlefields. These jobs require decision-making, quick learning, focus, and obedience.

The Poodle is incredibly easy to train because of their smarts and desire to please. They love engaging in challenging activities that make them think, like agility sports. Plus, this is a breed with a wicked sense of humor!

3. German Shepherd

german shepherd dog standing at the park
Image Credit: Bildagentur Zoonar GmbH, Shutterstock
Height: 22–26 in
Weight: 50–90 lbs
Lifespan: 7–10 years

German Shepherds being third on the list of smartest dogs should come as no surprise, considering how often these canines are used to work with the police and military. This breed can pick up a new command the first time around, has the ability and desire to be obedient, and is known for its intense focus. Best of all, these pups are versatile; years of guarding flocks have led to amazing problem-solving skills in the German Shepherd, which has resulted in the ability to quickly evaluate tricky situations and pick the best method for going forward. This, in particular, makes them such excellent police and military dogs!

This breed needs a job, so if you have one in your home, be prepared to train them and teach them how to help around the house.

4. Golden Retriever

golden retriever dog walking at the park
Image Credit: Burin P, Shutterstock
Height: 21.5–24 in
Weight: 55–75 lbs
Lifespan: 10–12 years

Golden Retrievers are one of the most popular dog breeds around, as they make fantastic pets due to their affectionate and loyal nature. But these dogs aren’t just friendly and happy-go-lucky! They are also fourth on the list of most intelligent canines.

Part of this is due to their ability to quickly learn and respond to commands, while another part is their willingness to comply with tasks given to them. This breed excels in a variety of areas, such as retrieving, hunting, search-and-rescue, and agility. Golden Retrievers also make fantastic service dogs for those with disabilities.

Having one of these pups in your life means plenty of fun, but you do need to help the Golden Retriever stay occupied by giving them plenty of mental stimulation in the form of challenging puzzles and by teaching them new tricks!

5. Doberman Pinscher

Doberman pinscher dog running
Image Credit: Rita_Kochmarjova, Shutterstock
Height: 24–28 in
Weight: 60–100 lbs
Lifespan: 10–12 years

The Doberman Pinscher is a breed that often gets a bad rap, but this breed is, in actuality, brilliant, fiercely loyal, fearless, gentle, and easy to train. They excel as guard, military, and police dogs due to their intelligence and fearless nature. Plus, the Doberman has plenty of stamina to keep them going, is very perceptive and curious, and quite fast. All of this adds up to one amazing working dog!

This is one breed that needs plenty of exercise to stay happy. They also need plenty of mental stimulation, so they’re best suited for those with time to devote to play and training.

6. Shetland Sheepdog

Shetland Sheepdog (Sheltie) dog in the kitchen, eagerly asking for food
Image Credit: OlgaOvcharenko, Shutterstock
Height: 13–16 in
Weight: 15–25 lbs
Lifespan: 12–14 years

You might be a bit less familiar with the Shetland Sheepdog than some of the other breeds on this list, but rest assured, this canine has the intelligence to be on here. Bred to be the “Collie’s little cousin”, these dogs can do all the same things big herding dogs are capable of and are often found working to herd sheep, chickens, and ponies. These pups are known for their eagerness to please, motivation to try and try again until they get it right, problem-solving skills, and ability to pick up on new commands with few repetitions. Some areas in which the Shetland excels include agility, therapy dog work, obedience, and herding.

The breed is loved for more than their smarts, though; these dogs are energetic, fun-loving family pets and excellent at being guard dogs. They require incredibly active families who can keep up with the Shetland’s high energy. This breed will love outdoor adventures and playtime!

7. Labrador Retriever

labrador retriever dog standing in the grass
Image Credit: Alexander Rim, Shutterstock
Height: 21.5–24 in
Weight: 55–80 lbs
Lifespan: 10–12 years

You probably aren’t surprised to see the Labrador Retriever on a list of the smartest dog breeds. Much like the Golden Retriever, this is a highly popular breed and one that is known for being intelligent. When it comes to how smart they are, Stanley Coren highlighted the breed’s amazing sense of smell and their capability to make sound judgments based on that.

It isn’t only the Lab’s sense of smell that makes it so clever, though. Labs have worked at the side of humans for quite a long time, hunting and retrieving, so they are highly perceptive. In fact, the breed is known to sometimes train themselves by merely watching and imitating humans! They’re easy to traditionally train, too, as they’re eager to learn, and with training, the Lab excels in service work, obedience, and retrieval.

This breed is known for its friendly, gentle nature, as well, which makes them a wonderful family pet. Just be sure you’re keeping them entertained with plenty of play and games!

8. Papillon

Beautiful red and white papillon portrait on the spring grass
Image Credit: Mariya Kuzema, Shutterstock
Height: 8–11 in
Weight: 5–10 lbs
Lifespan: 14–16 years

The smallest of the smart dogs (at least according to Coren’s study) is the Papillon! These adorable pups are highly perceptive and quick to learn. Plus, the breed can trace its roots back nearly 700 years, meaning these pups have had plenty of time to evolve when it comes to intelligence. The breed is incredibly agile, excels at obedience, and has a high aptitude for learning. Add in their high energy, confidence, and playful natures, and it’s easy to see how the Papillon makes a fabulous pet!

This is one breed that will enjoy having playtime more often than not. To work off some of that energy and keep them mentally stimulated, consider setting up an agility course in your backyard and engaging them with puzzle toys.

This breed is known for its friendly, gentle nature, as well, which makes them a wonderful family pet. Just be sure you’re keeping them entertained with plenty of play and games!

9. Rottweiler

Rottweiler dog standing at the park
Image Credit: Sinseeho, Shutterstock
Height: 22–27 in
Weight: 30–135 lbs
Lifespan: 9–10 years

The Rottweiler is another dog that sometimes gets a bad rap as they can be somewhat intimidating at first glance due to their size. But these dogs are some of the sharpest around, with their strong sense of awareness. And with the right training, this breed can do exceptionally well when it comes to obedience.

These dogs are incredibly loyal, affectionate, athletic, and eager to please, so they work equally well as guard dogs, search-and-rescue dogs, police dogs, and family pets. For those living as family pets, though, you’ll want to ensure they get plenty of training and socialization early on. You’ll also need to keep them on their toes with plenty of physical activity, as well as puzzle games and challenges!

10. Australian Cattle Dog

Australian Stumpy Tail Cattle Dog in lying on the grass outdoors
Image Credit: Yana Tinker, Shutterstock
Height: 17–20 in
Weight: 35–50 lbs
Lifespan: 12–16 years

Next up, we have another working dog—a herding dog, to be exact, just as the name suggests. The Australian Cattle Dog is known for being smart and picking up new commands quickly. Coren also stated that the breed is so intelligent and organized they “put their stuff back after using it”. These pups are eager to learn and keen to please, so training them should come easily.

They can make good pets, too, but they need a home where they can stay busy with a job. Otherwise, you’ll find them herding small children or smaller pets or engaging in behaviors you wish they’d avoid. This breed absolutely needs to have a job (preferably herding), so spending a lot of time outdoors will do them good.

11. Pembroke Welsh Corgi

pembroke welsh corgi dog limping
Image Credit: Jus_Ol, Shutterstock
Height: 10–12 in
Weight: Up to 30 lbs
Lifespan: 12–13 years

The Pembroke Welsh Corgi may be best known for being a favorite of Queen Elizabeth, but you should also know the breed is quite intelligent. Coming in at eleventh place on Coren’s list, this breed is known for being athletic, incredibly skilled in tracking, and highly obedient. These canines are also surprisingly fearless, which means they’re pretty effective at being a watchdog!

If you have one of these dogs, you’ll need to keep them busy, preferably with a job, as that will make them happiest. Without a job, you may find this breed doing their own work, whether that’s being on the lookout or herding children. Engage your Pembroke Welsh Corgi in puzzles, agility training, and more to keep them entertained!

12. Miniature Schnauzer

miniature schnauzer dog sitting outdoors
Image Credit: Debra Anderson, Shutterstock
Height: 11–14 in
Weight: 10–15 lbs
Lifespan: 12–15 years

The Miniature Schnauzer may be the smallest Schnauzer, but they’re big on cleverness! These pups are quick to learn new things, extremely agile, love to be challenged, and eager to please. This makes the breed obedient, intelligent, and relatively easy to train. Plus, the Miniature Schnauzer is incredibly friendly, highly confident, and playful.

Those Miniature Schnauzers living as pets rather than mousers (which was their original purpose) will need to be kept occupied with not only play but also obedience and agility training. Keep challenging them, and you’ll surely have a happy, fulfilled dog on your hands!

13. English Springer Spaniel

English Springer Spaniel standing in field
Image Credit: Martin Christopher Parker, Shutterstock
Height: 19–20 in
Weight: 40–50 lbs
Lifespan: 12–14 years

Not only is the English Springer Spaniel a beautiful dog, but it’s also exceptionally bright. This breed has a fabulous memory, is eager to please, and is highly alert, all of which are marks of intelligence. You’ll find this sporting pup quite trainable; you’ll also find the breed is fantastic when it comes to hunting and retrieving.

These dogs can make wonderful pets, as well, especially for active families who spend a lot of time outdoors. However, they become incredibly attached to their people, so they’ll be very unhappy if you do something without them!

14. Belgian Tervuren

Image Credit: S.M, Shutterstock
Height: 22–26 in
Weight: 45–75 lbs
Lifespan: 12–14 years

Here’s another dog breed you might not be as familiar with, but the Belgian Tervuren is quite deserving of being on this list! These hard-working canines are excellent at such endeavors as herding, tracking, and agility. They are also incredibly attentive and protective (which is what makes them such superb herders). This breed’s high intelligence also means they’re fantastic at doing tricks!

The breed is a bit rare, though they are somewhat easier to find in the U.S. If you have the pleasure of being the parent of a Belgian Tervuren, you can expect an incredibly energetic dog that needs plenty of physical activity to do, as well as a wide protective streak. Training and socialization are musts for these canines, as are assigning them tasks!

15. Schipperke

Belgian Barge Dog (Schipperke)
Image Credit: Welshea, Shutterstock
Height: 10–13 in
Weight: 10–16 lbs
Lifespan: 12–14 years

If you’ve never seen a Schipperke before, you might be surprised to find it looks very similar to a fox. The breed was bred to have a fox-like face, but though they may look a bit small and delicate, these pups are quite strong and muscular. This breed is a working one, as they were originally bred to be pest control, and these dogs still prefer having a job to do today. These dogs are confident, curious, brave, and just a bit mischievous. They excel at hunting and tracking (due to their past) and tend to be on alert most of the time.

If you have one of these dogs, you should be sure you have enough room for them to exercise and play, as they’re rather energetic and relatively independent. Engage them with puzzle toys and challenges, and take time for obedience training to keep them fulfilled.

16. Collie

rough collie standing outside
Image Credit: Rita_Kochmarjova, Shutterstock
Height: 22–26 in
Weight: 50–75 lbs
Lifespan: 12–14 years

You likely aren’t surprised to find the Collie on this list; after all, Lassie was a Collie! But did the television show and films do justice to how clever this breed is? They came pretty close, actually. Collies are protective, alert, highly perceptive, quick to adapt, and excellent at solving problems. They are fantastic in the areas of obedience, agility, herding, and guiding because of all of those things, too.

These dogs are equally sweet, lovable, and fun, as they are intelligent, making them fantastic family pets. They’re easy to train and are great with children. They’ll want extra mental stimulation in their lives, though, so they don’t become bored.

17. Keeshond

Keeshond running in the forrest
Image Credit: Andrea Schmoell, Shutterstock
Height: 17–18 in
Weight: 35–45 lbs
Lifespan: 12–15 years

You might not know this breed, but they are more than just an adorable fluffball. The Keeshond, formerly known as the Dutch Barge Dog, is quite intelligent. Bred to work as guards on barges, these dogs are known for being hard-working, sociable, alert, and quick to please. Though they no longer work on barges, they still work, particularly as therapy or guide dogs, where they excel.

They can make excellent pets, too, although they have a reputation for being a bit clingy with their humans. They may be better off in a home where someone is there more often than not. Being a pet parent to one of these dogs also means guaranteeing they have plenty to do in the form of mental stimulation to keep them from being bored!

18. Bloodhound

bloodhound on the porch
Image Credit: Anna-Tronova, Shutterstock
Height: 20–26 in
Weight: 90–110 lbs
Lifespan: 10–12 years

If you have a Bloodhound, you know just how smart these pups are! Known for their keen sense of smell, the Bloodhound is fantastic at using that nose for tracking and problem-solving. In fact, these dogs make excellent search-and-rescue pups for precisely those reasons. The breed is also incredibly determined, so they won’t stop until they find what they’re tracking.

However, that determined spirit means the Bloodhound is rather independent, so watch for that! If you have a Bloodhound as a pet, ensure you have a fenced-in area so they can explore safely and engage in plenty of playtime (including tracking games) to keep them occupied.

19. German Shorthaired Pointer

German Shorthaired Pointer at the park
Image Credit: IRINA ORLOVA, Shutterstock
Height: 21–25 in
Weight: 45–70 lbs
Lifespan: 10–12 years

The German Shorthaired Pointer is a hunting dog that is easy to train because of the breed’s strong desire to please, propensity for learning and obeying new things quickly, and self-control. Those aspects of their personality also make the breed quite clever! And though the breed has been bred for hunting, they can make wonderful pets, too.

This breed is confident and loyal, as well as quite affectionate. They’ll do best in homes where there is plenty of outdoor adventuring to be had. This breed will also do well with obedience training and other exercises that keep them challenged and thinking on their feet.

20. Briard

Image Credit: Lenkadan, Shutterstock
Height: 21–27 in
Weight: 65–80 lbs
Lifespan: 10–12 years

The final dog on this list is the Briard, which you may be less familiar with than other canines on this list. These shaggy pups are herding dogs known for being intelligent. They are alert, dedicated, and enjoy having a job to do.

The breed can make a great pet, too, especially for those big on hiking or running. These dogs are active, so they’ll need to work that energy off! They’ll also enjoy having a job around the home that keeps them busy and mentally stimulated. Because of their alert personality and dedicated nature, they can make fabulous watchdogs for children.

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How Can I Determine How Smart My Dog Is?

Think where your pup ranked on this list isn’t quite right? Think your dog is one of the smartest around? Well, you can determine just how smart they are right there in your home! How so?

With a doggie IQ test, of course. With this test, you’ll be putting forth a few tasks for your pet to see how well and quickly they can accomplish them. These tasks will test your dog on cognition, problem-solving, learning, ability to make associations between objects, reasoning, and more. Have fun!

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A dog’s intelligence can be measured, and dog breeds are classified into groupings by how smart they are. The dogs on this list are some of the smartest around, with each breed being clever for different reasons. If you want to test just how smart your pup is, you can give them a doggie IQ test at home that will test them on various skills.

Fetaured Image Credit: lancegfx, Pixabay

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