These dog breeds are the most intelligent
Domestic dogs have descended a long way from their common ancestor, the wolf, and nowadays there is a breed with physical characteristics and personality traits to suit everyone’s taste. That includes intelligence—if a smart pooch is your thing, then look no further than this list.
Because of the popularity of the toy and miniature varieties, not to mention their absurd hairdos at exhibitions, poodles have come to be viewed as fancy, ineffectual creatures. But in fact, they were originally bred as highly capable hunting dogs.
At any size, they are highly intelligent, easy to train, and loyal to their owners. But all that intelligence means they require stimulation, so make sure you can give them enough attention to avoid any undesirable behaviours. This is a dog that will require your time but also your energy.
2 German Shepherd
German Shepherds have acquired an ill-deserved reputation for ferocity. Their size and strength mean that they can certainly do a lot of damage, but a dangerous German Shepherd almost always reflects the irresponsible attitude of its owner, not some innate quality of the dog itself.
Raised well, a German Shepherd will be a gentle, affectionate, and loyal family member. These highly intelligent dogs are great at learning complex tasks, so they will love it if you give them a job to do. They are well worth the investment of time and energy.
3 English Springer Spaniel
Because English Springer Spaniels were bred to help hunters by flushing out game, they are extremely energetic, cooperative dogs that excel in obedience and agility trials.
Real people-pleasers, they expect everyone to love them wherever they go, and so make a great family pet provided you can take them for plenty of runs in the park. This is one dog that is always up for an adventure.
4 Bernese Mountain Dog
As with a lot of highly intelligent dogs, Bernese Mountain Dogs don’t respond well to harsh or inconsistent training methods. But in any event, it’s hard to be mean to a dog this cute!
Combined with their gentle nature, these dogs’ strength and size actually make them ideal family pets, since they’re unlikely to be fazed by an over-enthusiastic toddler.
5 Australian Cattle Dog
Australian Cattle Dogs are also known as “Heelers,” given their habit of nipping at the heels of cattle in order to herd them. This means that they need to be well trained and socialized so that nipping does not become an unwanted behaviour around people.
Intelligent and energetic, these loyal dogs thrive on feeling useful, so if you’re planning to keep one as a pet, activities such as obedience trials will bring out the best in their nature. Dog training classes will also help, if you are into that.
6 Border Collie
Border Collies are widely considered to be the most intelligent dogs in the world. They were originally bred in the Scottish Borders to herd sheep, and are still used in this capacity throughout the world today. In a family context, you’ll even find them rounding up children!
They don’t herd by nipping, so that isn’t a concern, but an inadequately trained or under-stimulated Border Collie may be subject to other problematic behaviours such as chewing, digging, or chasing cars. They make great pets, but only for those who can give them the attention, energy and exercise they crave.
Like German Shepherds, Rottweilers have acquired a fearsome reputation that isn’t really justified. The breed was developed long ago in Germany to herd and guard livestock, as well as to pull heavy carts to the market.
As a result, they make excellent home guard dogs, but they are also known for their essentially good-natured disposition, intelligence, and eagerness to work. They need a consistent and firm “pack leader” who is prepared to offer them plenty of opportunities for socialization and mental stimulation.
Papillions are one of the oldest toy breeds, whose name derives from their distinctive ears (Papillion means “butterfly” in French). Happy, outgoing dogs, they are also unusually brave and athletic for their tiny size.
Because of their confirmed intelligence, they need plenty of training and activity to ward off problematic behaviours. They should also be monitored around small children, who may handle them too roughly.
Labradors’ winning combination of intelligence and eagerness to please (and earn treats!) makes them extremely popular as service dogs, such as for the blind or autistic.
They’re also ideal as family pets, being notably gentle around children and smaller animals. They retain their retriever instincts and are great swimmers, so add that to the growing list of things you could do with your dog if you purchase a Labrador!
10 Rough Collie
This distinctive long-haired breed was made famous by the Lassie series of books, films, and television shows.
Like the fictional character, Rough Collies are very smart and can be put to a variety of practical uses, such as herding and water rescue, aside from being excellent family pets. To prevent shyness, they should be socialized from a young age.
Weimaraners’ intelligence and expressiveness have led to them being described as “the dog with the human brain.”
While this intelligence makes them easy to train, it also makes thorough training crucial, as an ill-disciplined Weimerarner can get up to all sorts of mischief like unlocking gates and stealing food from the pantry. Best to put those brains to more helpful use! A good education is the foundation of a prosperous life with this companion.
12 Pembroke Welsh Corgi
Don’t mistake Welsh Corgis’ diminutive size for decorativeness: originally bred as herders, they’re happiest when given something to do.
That said, they make excellent family pets who are eager to please and will always want to be a part of the action.
13 Belgian Malinois
These remarkable dogs are still used in a variety of working capacities, including explosives detection and to guard the White House.
They are very reward-driven, and therefore easy to train, but require an experienced owner who is able to direct their intelligence and energy into productive activities.
14 Golden Retriever
Like Labradors, Golden Retrievers are prized around the world as good-natured and gentle family companions. They are also fiercely intelligent, being capable of learning over 200 different commands.
Given their history as gun dogs, they need plenty of exercise to spend their energy, but if you can provide this, then you will have a lovely pet. The only trouble is, they’re so naturally trusting that they don’t make good guard dogs!
15 Miniature Schnauzer
Miniature Schnauzer owners will all attest to the breed’s larger-than-life personality. Since they learn quickly and are always up for a challenge, they’re great for agility and obedience trialing. Indeed, it’s important to keep them occupied, lest they invent their own ways of having fun such as chewing the sofa!
They’re safe and effective guard dogs, too, being more inclined to defend their territory by barking than biting. Compared with other dogs bred for ratting, Miniature Schnauzers are notably friendly and obedient.
16 Belgian Tervuren
Belgian Tervurens, or “Tervs,” are highly intelligent and energetic dogs that were originally bred for herding. Today, they are commonly used as search and rescue dogs for avalanche victims.
A Terv is not the best choice for a first-time dog owner, since without sufficient training and activity they can become destructive and/or hyperactive.
Distant relatives of the Belgian Shepherd, Schipperkes are known for their curiosity and intelligence, as well as a brave spirit that belies their small size. In the Flemish language, schip means “small boat,” and indeed these fox-like dogs were historically used as ratters and guard dogs on canal barges.
They retain this guarding instinct, and their surprisingly throaty bark will suggest a much larger dog to any potential intruders!
Keeshonds were long known as Dutch Barge Dogs too, given their long history travelling the canals of Europe, protecting barges with their distinctive bark. Their intelligence makes them exceptional learners, but their independent spirit means that they will learn much more than what you want to teach them, so they require firm and consistent training.
These fluffy, medium-sized dogs are renowned for their playfulness and sociability around people, so much so that they are sometimes referred to as “Velcro dogs.” What an interesting claim!
19 Dobermann Pinscher
Often breeds that are perceived as “aggressive,” aside from being strong and powerful, are simply intelligent and fiercely loyal—qualities that make the Doberman Pinscher popular to this day among police and armed forces worldwide.
Doberman Pinschers can be affectionate and gentle family members too, but they do have to be consistently trained and socialized from a young age so that their guarding instinct remains manageable. Given their smarts, these dogs thrive on obedience training and love to perform difficult tasks. Once again, dog training classes are a must!
20 German Shorthaired Pointer
German Shorthaired Pointers were bred to hunt birds, hence their characteristic “pointing” stance indicating the location of prey.
These intelligent, enthusiastic, loyal dogs suit active families—indeed, they were developed to be affectionate home companions as much as hunters.
21 Flat-Coated Retriever
Flat-Coated Retrievers hail from the same family as the Labrador, and are likewise confident, intelligent dogs that are equally happy at home as on the hunt. They are also frequently used as therapy and guide dogs. Zootherapy with a Flat-Coated Retriever sounds as good as a treatment could get, doesn’t it?
Given how quickly they learn, Flat-Coated Retrievers are ideally trained in short bursts, so that they don’t grow bored, and require at least two hours of exercise daily.
22 Shetland Sheepdog
Originating from the distant Scottish Shetland Islands, these sheepdogs look like a small version of the Rough Collie, although they are only distantly related. Long used to herd sheep and as general farm dogs, today they are popular as gentle and loyal family pets.
They are also very smart: one study showed that the average Shetland Sheepdog needed only five repetitions to learn a new command. As such, this breed often competes successfully in show events.
Bloodhounds aren’t just intelligent. They also have an incredibly developed sense of smell, at least 1000 times better than a human’s, that can still detect a trail as much as 300 hours after it was made.
Indeed, Bloodhounds have even secured criminal convictions based on their tracking ability! They are extremely gentle family pets, but can be difficult to handle on a lead, given their keenness to chase a scent. If you purchase one, make sure you can afford veterinary visits to take care of them properly. You might even want to consider pet insurance to save money.
24 Alaskan Husky
Alaskan Huskies have been used for millennia as pack dogs, pulling sleds in harsh Arctic conditions. As a result, although they’re friendly with people and used to getting along with other dogs, they very much need an owner who can function as a “pack leader,” otherwise they’ll quickly lose respect for your authority.
Gentle yet firm training is the key to building a good relationship with this beautiful dog.