Top 10 Smartest Dog Breeds (2023 Guide)
Bringing home a new pet is exciting, but it’s essential to research breeds before committing. If you want to adopt an intelligent dog breed, there’s data available to help guide your decision. Luckily for potential dog owners, smart dogs can also be affectionate, devoted, and trainable, making them a vital family member.
The This Old House Reviews Team researched multiple dog breeds based on their ability to learn, think, and problem-solve. We’ll explore what makes breeds intelligent and extra unique, and what factors to consider before adopting.
Most Intelligent Dog Breeds
Research completed by the American Kennel Club (AKC) and “The Intelligence of Dogs” author, Stanley Coren, showed the following factors measure a dog’s intelligence:
- Adaptive intelligence: dogs’ problem-solving skills
- Instinctive intelligence: dogs’ natural abilities
- Obedience intelligence: dogs’ ability to obey commands and follow instructions
- Work intelligence: dogs’ ability to learn new tasks quickly and accurately
The smartest dog breeds typically have a combination of all four intelligence types. They have a natural ability to learn, remember things quickly, obey commands, and accurately problem-solve.
Dogs can also have high emotional intelligence, which allows them to discern between humans’ positive and negative emotions.
Here is our rank for the 10 smartest dog breeds:
- Border collie
- German shepherd
- Golden retriever
- Doberman pinscher
- Shetland sheepdog
- Labrador retriever
- Australian cattle dog
Here’s a closer look at each breed and the characteristics that make them so bright.
Sitting in the top spot for intelligence is the border collie, which rivals other breeds in brains and energy.
- Size: Medium
- Life expectancy: 12–15 years
Border collies are a Scottish breed of herding dog. They have a strong work ethic and often work as sheepdogs or livestock herders. A border collie is good for a family that regularly keeps it active and mentally stimulated. They’re excellent communicators, obedient, loyal, and forge strong, devoted bonds with their owners. Because of their high intelligence and energy levels, they can get into trouble if not kept active.
With strong working and obedience intelligence, the poodle is easily trainable and excels at following directions.
- Size: Toy, small or medium
- Life expectancy: 10–18 years
The poodle is known to be an obedient, dependable, and intelligent animal that thrives in the presence of humans. It has a playful sense of humor and excels at learning new commands and tricks. It was originally bred in the Middle Ages in Germany for hunting and retrieving prey from the water. Later, poodles were war dogs, used to bring supplies to soldiers on the battlefield. Army notes spoke of the poodles’ sharp senses and their unique ability to learn and retain commands.
The German shepherd’s intelligence and consistent obedience have made it a dependable police dog, seeing eye dog, medical assistance dog, and therapy dog.
- Size: Large
- Life expectancy: 7–10 years
Bred to be highly intelligent, German shepherds are brave, protective, and reliable. Shepherds learn new skills quickly and typically respond to the first command given. It enjoys the structure and focus of learning new activities. Additionally, the German shepherd is utilized as a guard dog, search-and-rescue dog, and some have even been trained for military service. Despite its hard-working nature, the shepherd is quite affectionate with others, including children, and will lay down its life to protect you from harm.
The golden’s Golden Rule is to please its humans. In doing so, this breed touches on every level of intelligence, including emotional.
- Size: Large
- Life expectancy: 10–12 years
The golden retriever is one of America’s most beloved pets, ranking in the AKC’s top five for popularity, intelligence, sensitivity, and trainability. It’s a breed known for its loveable nature, cleverness, and a strong desire to please, exhibited by its ability to learn over 200 different commands. Golden retrievers are ideal family dogs, as they love to cuddle, are impressively tolerant, and fully devoted to their humans.
Doberman pinschers have a strong work ethic and are known for their confidence and strength.
- Size: Medium–large
- Life expectancy: 10–12 years
Due in part to its fearlessness, strength, and intelligence, the Doberman is a breed commonly utilized by both police and military. Because of this, it’s sometimes viewed as an aggressive breed. In reality, Dobermans are gentle, loyal, and devoted companions, making them a great family addition.
The Sheltie is a beautiful herding dog that loves to learn new tricks and ensure the safety of its human herd.
- Size: Small
- Life expectancy: 12–14 years
The Shetland sheepdog is a herding breed that serves various purposes, including guard dogs, working dogs, and therapy dogs. Shelties look similar to their Collie relatives, and tend to be friendly and social pooches happiest when in the company of their owners, who they consider their herd. These dogs are loving and protective, ensuring safety and security for their owners and families.
One of the most beloved dogs in the United States for over 31 years, Labs are known for being quick learners and self-trainers.
- Size: Medium-Large
- Life expectancy: 11–13 years
It’s no surprise that Labrador retrievers are the most popular breed, especially for families with children. Gentle and affectionate, Labs are obedient and able to self-train, meaning they can observe human behaviors and imitate them—a helpful trait in emergency situations. With exceptional emotional intelligence, Labs make great therapy, emotional support, and service dogs.
Despite its small size, papillons are fierce protectors over their property, thus making excellent watchdogs.
- Size: Toy, small
- Life expectancy: 14–16 years
The papillon is a small dog, typically referred to as a “toy” breed. Its name is French for butterfly, given its uniquely shaped ears resembling butterfly wings. Despite its small size, papillons are energetic, alert, friendly, and cheerful. Those with active lifestyles can enlist this agile dog in sports or teach them various new tricks. It has the strength and stamina of a much larger breed, and is loyal and protective over its owners and belongings.
The rottweiler is a solid yet agile dog breed that can serve as a gentle companion and protector.
- Size: Large
- Life expectancy: 9–10 years
Rotties are proud working dogs, often serving as guard and police dogs. However, they can also be an affectionate playmate with family members. While this breed is highly intelligent, it would greatly benefit from early training and socialization to curb any territorial or aggressive tendencies. They also require frequent mental and physical activity to support their power and agility. If you’re able to give your rottweiler the care it needs, it will make a loyal and devoted family member.
Australian Cattle Dog
Typically used for herding, the Australian cattle dog is highly alert and curious in nature.
- Size: Medium
- Life expectancy: 12–16 years
The Australian Cattle Dog (ACD) is well-known for its great intelligence, alertness, and resourcefulness. They also have impressive loyalty in protecting their people and belongings. The ACD is very organized and may even put its toys away after playing. They are physically and mentally strong and enjoy new experiences. However, they can become easily bored, which may lead to trouble if they aren’t actively occupied.
Though the following dog breeds aren’t in the top 10, they’re still highly intelligent and deserve a mention:
- Belgian sheepdog
- Belgian Tervuren
- English springer spaniel
- German shorthaired pointer
- Miniature schnauzer
- Pembroke Welsh corgi
What To Know Before Getting a Dog
There are crucial factors to consider before getting a dog, particularly that dogs are a 10–15 year commitment. Do not adopt a dog if you don’t have the time, space, or financial ability to care for it, or any other circumstance that could result in returning it to the shelter.
Other aspects of pet ownership include the overall costs of owning a dog, training, health issues, and pet insurance.
Costs of Owning a Dog
Dog adoption costs vary by breed and the organization or rescue from which you’re adopting. Adoption fees usually cover any preliminary care the dog received while waiting to be adopted, such as a physical exam, spay/neuter surgery, or vaccinations.
You should also be mindful of regular vet check-up costs, training/obedience classes, doggy daycare (if your schedule dictates), and essential supplies such as food, bowls, a crate, a dog bed, and toys.
Training Your Dog
It is essential to train your newly adopted pup, usually as soon as possible. The type of training your pooch requires will depend on its breed and temperament. Research to find an instructor that matches your puppy’s needs. Dog training requires patience and persistence, but will be worth the hard work in the end.
Common Health Issues
Before adoption, be mindful of any medical conditions the breed is prone to. For example, rottweilers and poodles are predisposed to hip dysplasia, an arthritic condition in a dog’s hip joint. While medications can ease the pain and further degeneration, severe cases will ultimately require surgery.
Most rescues and shelters will provide information on the animal’s medical background, which you should review thoroughly. Be sure to take your new dog to the vet soon after adoption and stay up-to-date with their routine care. This will ensure that any health concerns are detected and managed early on.
Purchasing a Pet Insurance Policy
When weighing the costs of pet ownership, another consideration is pet insurance. Pet insurance is helpful in emergency situations, as it covers the expenses of unexpected injuries or illnesses. In exchange for a monthly premium, your pet insurance company will reimburse your costs from vet bills related to covered medical conditions. Pet insurance does not commonly cover routine wellness care, though some providers will offer it as a base-policy add-on.
We’ve spent countless hours analyzing pet insurance providers to put together a list of the best pet insurance companies. For comprehensive, cost-effective coverage we recommend a policy with Lemonade. If you anticipate needing a significant amount of coverage, Spot offers an unlimited coverage option, meaning there are no caps on how much you can be paid back.
We recommend researching and getting quotes from multiple providers to ensure you choose the best coverage for your furry friend.
When looking for a dog, consider your home, lifestyle, finances, and level of activity. While each breed has its own unique characteristics of intelligence, they all have some combination of instinctive, adaptive, obedience, and working intelligence.
The border collie is an active breed that requires plenty of exercises and mental stimulation, while the golden retriever is an affectionate breed with a gentle temperament. Ultimately, no matter which breed you choose, rest assured that you’ll be getting a loyal and intelligent companion.
FAQ About the Smartest Dog Breeds
Which dog breed has the highest IQ?
The dog breed with the highest IQ is the border collie. This information is based on how well the breed ranks in four designated categories of canine intelligence. Due to its obedience, loyalty, and communication skills, the highly trainable border collie makes a great working dog or family pet.
What makes a dog breed smart?
What makes a dog breed smart is its ability to solve problems, learn new tasks, and follow instructions and commands. These qualities make up four intelligence factors: adaptive, instinctive, obedience, and work. This is based on research from the American Kennel Club, and the findings of Stanley Coren, author of “The Intelligence of Dogs.”
What is the safest dog breed?
The golden retriever is one of the safest dog breeds. This is due to its high emotional intelligence and sensitivity. Goldens are also highly trainable, which makes them ideal for emotional support or therapy work. Labrador retrievers are also a safe breed with exceptional training capabilities. They are commonly used as medical alert dogs.
What is the easiest dog breed to train?
According to the American Kennel Club, the border collie is the easiest dog breed to train. Their natural herding abilities, combined with their adaptive intelligence, make them quick learners. Though sometimes stubborn, the poodle is also a highly trainable dog breed with natural working intelligence.
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