The smartest dog breeds might surprise you. These top ten canine Einsteins all share two qualities: the ability to quickly learn new commands, and the obedience to perform them 95% of the time or better. While not every dog fits on this list, recent research shows that all dogs are much smarter than we ever knew.
Is your dog a smartypants? Not sure? If you have a mixed-breed dog, we recommend trying a dog DNA test (this one gets high marks) to get more insight into your dog’s heritage. The smarter your dog, the more stimulation and companionship your dog needs, so it’s good to know what you’re working with.
For quick reference, here are the top 10 smartest dog breeds. These are referenced from Dr. Stanley Coren’s groundbreaking book The Intelligence of Dogs. More details plus pictures below.
- Border collie
- German shepherd
- Golden retriever
- Doberman pinscher
- Shetland sheepdog
- Labrador retriever
- Australian cattle dog
Let’s meet these masterminds of the dog world!
The top 10 smartest dog breeds
There’s a reason that people are devoted to this breed!
These beautiful dogs are a unique crossbreed of blue merle shepherds imported from England and the native Australian dingo. High energy and hard working, he thrives in an active home doing intensive sports like agility, rally obedience, herding trials, and flyball.
Ancient Roman cattle herders, cart pullers, and guardians, rottweilers are renowned for gentleness with family and friends, and strength and bravery in defending them. Thorough training and socialization is an absolute must for puppies to mature into solid canine citizens.
The papillon is named for their graceful feathered and raised ears. Royal portraiture shows small spaniels resembling the papillon as far back as the 16th century! They are active, companionable, and highly trainable—the smartest of the toy dog breeds.
The most popular breed of dog in the US 23 years in a row, the labrador retriever is named for the cold waters off Newfoundland where they were first bred. A short thick coat, webbed feet, and a heavy tail help the lab swim long distances in cold water. In addition to their hunting prowess, labs are popular favorites for canine water rescue, therapy work, and assistance dog training. Labs excel in the canine sport of dock jumping.
6. Shetland Sheepdog
The Shetland sheepdog may look just like a miniature collie, but they started out as a local variant of the Icelandic sheepdog found in the Shetland Islands. These little spitz shepherds were then bred to rough collies to create this unique breed. Playful and energetic, the sheltie is equally at home working on the farm or in the burbs, showing off in agility, flyball, and obedience.
5. Doberman Pinscher
The doberman pinscher was originally bred by a German tax collector for protection on his rounds. Modern dobermans are far less aggressive and make wonderful family dogs that love to play and are extremely loyal.
Originally hailing from Scotland, the golden retriever breed was started in 1865 from a lone yellow pup in a litter of black wavy-coated retrievers, crossbred with a local water spaniel by Lord Tweedmouth of Guisachan in Scotland. This gorgeous, friendly dog still excels in retrieving, as well as agility and obedience, and as service dogs.
The modern German Shepherd was standardized by breeder Captain Max von Stephanitz in 1889 with a goal of “utility and intelligence.” As Germany modernized and the need for working herding dogs seemed on the decline, von Stephanitz worked with police and dog clubs to develop a set of protection and obedience tests known as Schutzhund.
More than just a foofoo haircut, poodles consistently land on the list of smartest dog breeds. They were originally bred in Germany for bird hunting and water retrieving, and have been excelling at that task since before the invention of guns. Their storied history includes many occupations and locales, from herding sheep to crossing the battle field to bring supplies to the wounded to the performing arts. The poodle is remarkable for its loving nature, trainable intelligence, and sense of humor.
And finally, no list of smartest dog breeds would be complete without a mention of this handsome dog. Originally known as the “Scotch sheep dog,” the border collie hails from the highland border of England and Scotland. Bred to think independently and at long distances from human shepherds, they have the problem-solving intelligence and strong working drive to maintain control of the flock. Chaser, the dog who knows 1,022 toys by name, is an amazing example of her breed.
Tried that DNA test and spotted some unfamiliar breeds on there? You can get tons of fun breed info here, from least popular breeds to stinkiest dogs, laziest dogs, longest-living breeds, and more. Also, don’t forget training tips for your smart puppy.
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