In the post-lockdown world, humans are increasingly grumpy, tired and lonely, and increasingly prescribing themselves dog exposure as therapy. The collective need for our beloved pets actually caused the rates of dog sales and adoptions to soar.
And it’s a smart idea, considering the mutual psycho-social health benefits provided by the unshakeable friendship between dogs and humans. But when it comes to picking the right breed, smart dog breeds are popular for a reason.
The most intelligent dogs are highly adaptable fast-learners that are more easily trained in terms of behavior and communication. These breeds can do more than learn cool tricks and dominate competitions, though – they will show loyalty and consistent behaviors and will require less conditioning to learn not to tear up the furniture, jump on strangers or bark, for example.
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Intelligence will likely vary from one individual dog to the other, relying on the interaction of family genetics and environmental factors, but generally speaking, it is measured based on the number of repetitions of a command it takes for the dog to figure out what you want them to do, their rate of reaction and their memory skills. Today, clever dogs come in all shapes and sizes.
Types of intelligence of dogs by Stanley Coren
Famed canine behavior researcher Stanley Coren was able to define the following three types of dog intelligence in his book The Intelligence of Dogs:
- Instinctive intelligence, which refers to a dog’s ability to perform the tasks it was bred for, such as guarding, herding or supplying companionship
- Adaptive intelligence, which refers to a dog’s ability to solve problems independently
- Working intelligence, or trainability, which refers to a dog’s ability to learn from humans and is usually what most people think of when they think of an “intelligent dog”
In reality, all three types combine to form intelligence as a fluid dimension which involves problem solving capabilities, obedience, memory skills and social training.
That being said, let’s check out the 13 most intelligent dog breeds in the canine kingdom:
The 13 most intelligent dog breeds
The Border Collie is a uniquely intelligent, athletic and energetic breed that is highly trainable and excels in agility and obedience. Actually, dog experts like to call Border Collies ‘the most intelligent workaholics’ in the world of dogs. Always alert and ready to respond to commands, these bright dogs are a pleasure to work or live with. That makes them well suited for families who spend a lot of time outdoors, although their herding instincts make them less suitable pets for small children.
Because of their extraordinary capacities, Border Collies require a lot of physical and mental stimulation in order to be optimally fit, healthy and happy. They are the most content when they have a job to do! Border Collies also need a lot of training and socializing in order to form appropriate canine manners and make the most out of their emotional intelligence, so potential owners should be well-prepared for the commitment.
Known as the most employable dog breed, German Shepherds are not only cherished by dog owners everywhere but also often hired by the police and military forces for tasks such as search and rescue operations. Much like Border Collies, German Shepherds are able to understand a new command after only five repetitions and follow the first given to them 95% of the time, which is a definitive sign of their high intelligence and trainability.
These trustworthy and adaptable dogs have proved themselves as diligent workers that are invaluable to humans for certain jobs. For example, as a breed valued for its sharp sense of smell, they have incredible abilities for detecting otherwise undetectable trace chemicals. In fact, a German Shepherd’s sense of smell is so strong that within six months of training, it can be trained to identify breast cancer with 100% accuracy.
Golden Retrievers are one of the friendliest and loyal dogs around, but there’s even more to them than their sunny, outgoing demeanor – they have a great deal of obedience and working intelligence, which makes them trainable and reliably predictable, as well as adaptive intelligence that gives them amazing communication skills.
It can be easily said that Golden Retrievers are the best at reading human emotions and responding accordingly out of all dog breeds, so they are naturally great with children and other pets, and they make excellent therapy dogs. Eternally energetic and playful, Golden Retrievers have many talents and unlimited enthusiasm for learning, so they will make a great addition to any home in need of a furry companion.
Did you know that Poodles are some of the best swimmers around? These elegant dogs are the best at catching birds or other prey in the water and have excellent innate swimming skills. Originally bred as hunting dogs, their intelligence allowed them to quickly understand their owner’s commands and act swiftly.
Poodles are very well-balanced and excel at showing instinctive, obedience and adaptive intelligence. Their emotional intelligence is also very developed, so they are sensitive to stress and need a peaceful and happy home, as well as a lot of mental stimulation and physical activity.
Being such a smart and proud breed, the poodle is an all-time favorite among dog owners for all the good reasons and what’s more, they are 100% hypoallergenic!
Australian Cattle Dog
Related to the famous Australian wild dog dingo, the Australian Cattle Dog is a prized herding dog with a compact but muscular frame and the unique ability to move, chase and hunt livestock. Also called Blue Heeler or Queensland Heeler, this sturdy herder with boundless energy is a master of strength and agility and is also said to be intelligent enough to outsmart their owners at times.
In order to thrive, the Australian Cattle Dog requires a lot of attention, challenge and stimulation, so they are the best fit for active families that either like to be involved in sports, running and dog competitions, or have work to be done.
Not only are Dobermans great working dogs, but they are also one of the most intelligent dog breeds in the world with a solid obedience intelligence and affinity for adaptive learning. These dogs have immense physical power and insanely precise instincts, so they are best at gauging perceived threats in nearly all kinds of situations and environments.
That makes sense, since the Doberman was specifically bred to be the ultimate guard dog – a job that demands consistent alertness and differentiation between sensory stimuli, as well as strong natural protective instincts.
If you’re looking for a formidable guardian for yourself, your family or your assets, look no further than the Doberman Pinscher. Their loyalty is boundless, and their cognitive abilities, paired with their athletic prowess, make them exceptional guard dogs that can also be very loving and fun.
Among the toy breeds, the Papillon is considered to be one of the most intelligent and most trainable dog breeds. These cute, tiny dogs excel in obedience and agility, boasting lightning-fast reflexes which they inherited from their spaniel ancestors. Besides competitions, the areas where Papillons truly shine is hunting and stalking small prey such as birds, mice, lizards and insects, and their keen senses can also make them great watch dogs.
In fact, humankind has been enamored with the Papillon breed for nearly 600 years – including a long list of royalty and artists who favored Papillons for their unique characteristics, including the cute wing-shaped ears. To this day, they are known as highly intelligent companion dogs that get well with children and bond deeply to their owners. In addition, Papillons are easily adaptable to just about any setting and have no difficulty getting along with other pets.
Dating as far back as the Roman Empire, the Rottweiler is one of the oldest dog breeds used for herding cattle. When the Romans migrated across large territories, they required powerful drover dogs to protect their cattle during the journey, so Rottweilers came to be one of the fiercest dog breeds out there, both in terms of loyalty and physical strength.
As long as the owner is able to provide a Rottweiler with strong leadership he can trust and respect, and a regular job to perform, this dog will be incredibly loving, playful and gentle with its owners, while protecting them with calm confidence and determination. Since Rottweilers are highly intelligent, they demand more stimulation, so it’s crucial to invest enough time in training and socialization and common activities with their families.
The Labrador Retriever is a energetic breed that enjoys popularity for its warmth, friendliness and keen intelligence. This is a very sweet-natured, loving dog that adores people and fully devotes to its family and their needs, so it’s no wonder that Labs excel at people-oriented tasks such as being service dogs and therapy dogs.
True to their name, they are also quite accomplished as retrievers for hunters and search and rescue dogs. Labrador Retrievers were originally bred to help local fishermen on the island of Newfoundland with fetching ropes and retrieving fish, so naturally their retrieving abilities is where they shine the strongest.
Labs are courageous and agile, curious and sweet, with immense working stamina and deep adaptive intelligence which makes them learn quick, bond with humans and anticipate their needs. However, since they were bred for physically taxing jobs, they demand 30-60 minutes of exercise every day, or they might start behaving in destructive ways.
The Sheltie is a highly trainable and responsive dog with amazing obedience intelligence. But what really sets them apart from other smart breeds is their ability to herd with little to no human training, developed instinctively thanks to their Scottish ancestors who were tasked with herding flocks of animals across treacherous terrains.
Besides being a top notch herder, this breed makes excellent watchdogs and children companions. They have affectionate, easy-going personalities that react well to socialization and are very susceptible to behavioral training. Just like other watchdogs, Shelties tend to bark a lot, but are actually much less stubborn than other breeds and keeping them mentally and physically active will eliminate the issue.
Pembroke Welsh Corgi
The Pembroke Welsh Corgi is an extremely smart dog that enjoys great popularity as one of the world’s leading herding breeds, regardless of its size. Their distinct herding intelligence, combined with an ability to adapt and learn independently and communicate effectively makes them world-class working dogs.
Corgis are true leaders with a pushy personality and sharp problem-solving skills, as well as a ‘big dog’ bark designed to keep them relevant on the field. They are short but muscular and powerful, built for speed and agility.
Corgis are also very sensitive and affectionate towards their human families. Even though they were bred to be independent and assertive in order to do their herding job well, corgis make loving and playful pets that enjoy human company and a variety of activities.
Despite their humble beginnings, Miniature Schnauzers are a distinguished breed recognized for its intelligence, high energy and fun-loving yet dependable disposition. Since they are a terrier breed, they can be quite stubborn in games, and this sassy and independent streak makes them think like they are in charge sometimes. Still, they are very smart and tend to excel in obedience training because of their ability to learn new commands from 5-10 repetitions.
This family-focused dog thrives on affection and usually forms deep, lasting bonds with its owners, which makes it great for anyone looking for a bright and lovable companion. Another thing that makes this breed so wildly popular is their good health. Miniature Schnauzers are generally healthy with an average lifespan of 14 years. They are a bit more demanding on the grooming side, though, because they get pretty shaggy if left unchecked for longer periods of time.
English Springer Spaniel
Named for the way he springs at game to flush it for the hunter, the beautiful English Springer Spaniel was bred as a gun dog and hunter’s companion but has since developed into a very popular family dog with versatile outdoor skills. Provided enough training, these smart dogs can adapt to almost any home, but just like any other hunting dog, their athletic nature and enormous stamina will require plenty of daily exercise.
English Springer Spaniels have a general happy attitude that pairs well with children and older people and can bring much needed smiles to patients in hospitals and nursing homes, so they are often employed as therapy dogs. Given their high intelligence and strong desire to work and be around people, English Springer Spaniels make excellent companions to individuals and families with active lifestyles and plenty of attention to shower them with.
Have you found your new friend yet?
Now that you’ve had a good glimpse of the most intelligent dog breeds out there, we hope you are much better prepared to decide which breed is the ideal match for you. And whether you are looking for a fierce watchdog, a sweet-natured companion, or a playful, energetic pup that will bring joy and fun to the whole family, you will definitely be able to find a highly intelligent breed to suit your needs in our list.
That being said, keep in mind that intelligence is a dimension that can be purposefully stimulated to grow and develop, so in the end the cleverness of your dog will inevitably depend on how much you stimulation, exercise and training you provide.