Smartest Dog Breeds: 5 Breeds That Might Be Smarter Than You


If we’re really being honest - there are definitely smart dogs and… less than smart dogs out there. Although every dog is charming in his or her own way, some breeds are just naturally more intelligent than others. In this article, we’re going to take a look at some of those breeds and do a deep dive into what makes them so smart. You may be surprised (and intimidated) by just how smart dogs can be. Some may even be smarter than you!

What Is Canine Intelligence?

Before we discuss breeds specifically, it’s important to first discuss how dog intelligence is tested. Doggy IQ can be tested differently depending on the organization doing the testing, but it ultimately comes down to looking for a few different factors. While human IQ tests look at things like vocabulary, math, reading comprehension, etc, canine IQ tests are checking for trainability, temperament, and their availability to problem solve. 

It’s important to note that these IQ tests are also very subjective. Some people consider obedience to be indicative of intelligence, but studies don’t necessarily show that a more obedient dog is smarter than a less obedient one. There also is no standard test, so results can vary widely depending on who is administering them.

Canine scientists do agree that intelligence, when it comes to dogs, has two different facets, though - instinctive and adaptive. Instinctive intelligence is the natural ability that generally comes with a specific breed or group (example - terriers are usually very good at hunting). Adoptive intelligence is that specific dog’s ability to learn (example - learning tricks like “sit” and “stay” as well as language comprehension). 

This is such a fun and interesting conversation among both canine scientists and dog owners that major news outlets have even picked up on it. For owners who want to give their own dog an at-home IQ test, The Today Show posted a version very similar to how they test IQ in the lab. It includes a few tasks to have the dog perform, each assigned a point value. The total can indicate just how smart your dog is, so you can compare it to the smartest breeds (according to science, anyway). 

Now, without further ado, let’s talk breeds! 

#1) The Border Collie

At the top of most canine scientist’s list is the Border Collie.

Much of their natural intelligence comes directly from their incredibly strong instincts to herd (instinctive intelligence). This instinct is so strong that they are often difficult dogs to have in families with small children, as they can nip and bite at their heels even as puppies. 

Border Collies also have strong adaptive intelligence. They are quick problem-solvers, and learn very quickly from previous experiences. They also pay very close attention to their owners, and pick up even the smallest details of their actions to adapt their behavior. It can sometimes feel like Border Collies are trying to train us instead of the other way around!

Border collies are also able to understand more words than any other breed of dog. Interestingly, there are some studies that even claim to have potentially identified a gene that may be responsible for their incredibly high intelligence - CTNND2. Time and additional research will tell!

#2) The Poodle

This one may surprise some people! Poodles are usually seen as precious angels, pampered and happy to sit on a plush cushion while their owners take care of their every desire. 

However, on most lists, Poodles rank as the second smartest dog breed out there (falling just behind the Border Collie). If you stop and think about it, that’s probably not a surprising face - almost every well-trained circus dog is a Poodle. Poodles can learn a new trick after being shown the behavior less than five times! That’s pretty impressive, and goes to show just how smart these dogs are. To compare, it takes most other dogs between 25 and 40 repetitions before they are able to master a trick. 

An interesting fact about Poodles is that they were used by the United States military in World War Two! They’re great at solving problems, and are very loyal companions, which makes training them a breeze.

#3) The German Shepherd

Number three on our list is the German Shepherd. This breed should hardly be a shocker. They’re usually seen as one of the most smart, brave, protective breeds out there, which is why they are so popular as police dogs.

German Shepherds score high in both instinctive and adaptive intelligence. They learn quickly, remember commands, and are very driven to protect and defend. They also make excellent service dogs, as they can be told what their job is and will stick to it. German Shepherds live to work, and can become very destructive if not given a job and told what to do. In fact, these dogs were originally bred strictly for their innate intelligence. They are also very agile and have great stamina so, when they set their mind to something, good luck tearing them away!

#4) The Golden Retriever

The smart and beautiful Golden Retriever is next on our list of the smartest dog breeds. Besides being incredibly intelligent, they are also one of the top breeds that people choose to be their family pets (and for good reason). 

One of the reasons they score so highly, on both lists, is that they learn incredibly quickly. Their high adaptive intelligence is shown by the fact that 95% of Golden Retrievers will obey a command after being told just once. To contrast, most other breeds of dogs will obey a command like that less than 50% of the time. This strong obedience is why families love to have them as pets, plus they’re absolutely adorable.

Most Golden Retrievers are able to learn around 200 different commands. They are also commonly seen as both therapy dogs and assistance dogs, because they are both sweet tempered and incredibly aware of their owners. 

#5) The Doberman Pinscher

Clocking in at number five is the sleek, intimidating Doberman Pinscher.

One look at a Doberman Pinscher and you can just tell that they’re smart. They make such great guard dogs not only because of their intelligence and perception, but also because they seem to just be able to intuit what is going on in any given situation, which allows them to act quickly. They also are incredibly good judges of character, able to sense who is friend and who is foe in a heartbeat.

That instinctive intelligence combined with their adaptive intelligence is what makes Doberman Pinschers such great dogs, both for families and for a specific job. In fact, because they are so easy to train and eager to please, Dobermen also make excellent therapy dogs as well as strong search and rescue dogs. Don’t let their looks fool you. They truly have not earned their scary reputation, as anyone who has owned one can tell you. 

All dogs have the ability to learn, even though it may take some of them longer than others. Even if you have one of the dogs considered not as smart (we’re looking at you Afghan Hound), they can still be incredible, devoted, amazing pets. Intelligence impacts things like how quickly they can learn new tricks and how obedient they are, but we all know those aren’t the main factors in how much we love our dogs. All dogs deserve love, no matter how high their IQ is.