The Smartest Dog Breeds Ranked: These Are The Clever Canines That Made The List
Dr. Stanley Coren is a professor of psychology at the University of British Columbia in Canada. An expert on dog behavior and nature, he studied the hundreds of dog breeds across the planet, compiling them into a list of the smartest dog breeds. He rated them based on a variety of criteria.
The dog breeds were studied for their ability to obey commands, to learn and retain new skills, and also to see if they are able to perform tasks independently without human instruction. The result is a cross-section of some of the star pupils that stand out from the rest as man’s best friend.
Thanks to artist William Wegman, you’ve definitely seen these goofballs clowning around in any number of advertisements and television spots, dressed up in suits, engaging in any variety of human activities. Given their penchant for having a sense of humor, it makes sense to have had them in these roles.
Weimaraner puppies are known for being a bit wild and unruly, not to mention creative, finding all sorts of ways to cause mischief and escape wherever you’ve corralled them. But give them time and plenty of love, and in exchange you’ll receive a loyalty that will make you understand why they’re considered one of the smartest dog breeds.
24. Cocker Spaniel
The character of Lady in the classic Disney animated film Lady and the Tramp was a cocker spaniel, and certainly with good reason. Her wit and intelligence are representative of her breed, which though small and plucky, is ranked as one of the smartest dog breeds out there — sweet faced and all.
One of the greatest joys of having a cocker spaniel is their ability to master a wealth of commands, beyond the usual ones. They welcome constant mental stimulation, and have a particularly eager and sunny disposition that makes teaching them tons of fun. It’s easy to get lost in those doey eyes and those velvety, floppy ears.
23. Brittany Spaniel
Despite its spaniel moniker, this pooch is actually more accurately described as a setter or a pointer. It was originally bred in Brittany, a region of northwest France, where it was trained as a hunting dog adept at retrieving waterfowl. They are sweet and kind by nature, something that is important to consider when training them.
As they are one of the smartest dog breeds even among pointers, they also have soul to them, and an emotional intelligence that can actually set them apart from other pointers or setters in that they can be rather sensitive when receiving commands or corrections. Don’t shout to change behavior with these smart and sensitive pooches–they will understand you just fine without it.
22. Standard Schnauzer
With those gigantic droopy Fu Manchu mustaches, the standard schnauzer may look a bit silly appearance-wise, even though one of the first things you’re likely to do when meeting one is to play with those glorious chops. But looks can be deceiving, as behind it all is a dog with a fabulous brain.
The standard schnauzer enjoys learning new tasks and has a great aptitude for retaining knowledge. They can be rather possessive, but it all comes from a place of wanting to protect you. They are great with children, so much so, in fact, that in Germany, where they were bred, they were known as “kid-watchers”.
21. English Cocker Spaniel
Similar to other spaniels that are counted among the smartest dog breeds, English cocker spaniels have a mild, sunny disposition and blend in wonderfully with young families. For example, look no further than British royals Prince William and Kate Middleton, who have an English cocker spaniel called Lupo, bred from her parents’ dog.
There are several slight differences between this breed and other types of cocker spaniels. One of their most obvious assets are their uniquely-shaped heads due to a skull that is higher and more rounded. These dogs were initially bred as small hunting dogs, able to creep into tight spaces and thick underbrush.
20. Flat-Coated Retriever
These clever canines look like the halfway point between Labrador retrievers and golden retrievers, with a Labrador build and a longer, furrier coat with a luscious sheen. It’s that irresistible fur which lends itself to the breed’s name. With a great amount of energy, they love to frolic outside in nature, even when it means getting filthy.
But because they are classified as a ‘thinking’ dog, they can occasionally be quite cheeky. As they are one of the smartest dog breeds, they know the rules that you set for them, but will also consider other possibilities or loopholes. Due to their strong bonds with trainers, flat-coated retrievers may sometimes stay aloof when given commands by other people.
19. German Short-Haired Pointer
The name ‘pointer’ comes from this dog’s innate ability to spot their target from afar, and then lock their body ‘on point’ as they track it, snout jutting forward, tail protruding, the body taut. Because of their hunting talents, they need to be constantly engaged in physical activity in order to expend their natural energy resources.
Despite their self-control when they spot their prey, this breed isn’t always as reserved. The German short-haired pointer is not considered an ideal dog breed for someone with a more static daily lifestyle nor for someone who is just beginning to learn how to train dogs, as this highly bright dog is constantly seeks to face challenges.
Bask in the fluffy glory of the keeshond’s luxurious coat. It’s gorgeous enough that it makes falling in love with it at first sight a distinct possibility. But don’t let its good looks detract from what’s going on in its head: the keeshond also ranks as one of the smartest dog breeds out there.
All that fur may require a hefty deal of maintenance, so potential owner should make sure they’re up to the task. Although they have a playful streak, the intelligence of this breed is particularly noted because of their exceptional obedience. Originating in the Netherlands, the keeshond is often used as a guide dog for the blind.
Collies are one of the most famous and instantly recognizable dog breeds out there, thanks no doubt to the enduring legacy of the beloved classic film Lassie and the ensuing television series that a whole generation grew up on. While not every collie is necessarily capable of rescuing wayward children from wells, there is basis for believing they can.
First made popular by Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom, the collie’s intelligence is a force to be reckoned with. They are not only one of the smartest dog breeds, but also multi-talented, experts in several fields. They truly can detect when somebody is in distress, and are great at protecting, rescuing from water, and work well as guide dogs.
16. Belgian Sheepdog
He’s more than just a good boy–he’s an excellent boy. The Belgian sheepdog’s herding instincts make them exceptionally loyal companions. One of their unique characteristics has actually been employed by police in North Wales, where they encourage the dogs to use their headbutting skills inherited through their herding genes in order to tackle criminals.
Belgium has given rise to several of the smartest dog breeds, many of which derived from this fine specimen. The Belgian sheepdog responds well to training, and as such is not just employed by police forces, but also as narcotics-sniffers, search and rescue dogs, and guide dogs for the impaired.
Did you fall in love with the Belgian sheepdog but were intimidated the requirements needed to suit its size? Say no more, because it comes in a much more compact form – well kind of. The Schipperke’s small stature means they don’t need to exercise as much as their forebears, and their coat does not require the same amount of maintenance.
This brainy Belgian is naturally curious, and despite its size, packs a great sense of confidence. Its name comes from the Flemish word for ‘boat,’ as these scrappy little guys were often used to guard boats, and also to sniff out and catch any rats that might be on board.
14. Belgian Tervuren
Yet another proud descendant of the Belgian sheepdog, the tervuren also shares some of its key characteristics–not to mention inheriting its great brain, making it one of the smartest dog breeds from among the sheepdogs. Although we typically think of huskies as the main breed of sled-pulling dog, the tervuren is also well-equipped to the task.
The tervuren is also often employed as a police dog, and with good reason. Not only does the dog excel at problem solving and exhibiting a strong sense of loyalty, but it also can track targets, and has a superb work ethic. On the one hand, this makes tervurens hard to tucker out, but on the other hand, it’s bound to be a good ‘ol boy (or gal) for you over the long haul.
13. English Springer Spaniel
Surely, the English springer spaniel is objectively a gorgeous breed, but it also packs quite a brain to boot. One of its best assets is actually its nose, as it is the result of a long history of breeding to sniff out prey and flush it from its hiding place for its hunting companions.
These abilities have a practical application in the modern world as well. As the sport of hunting fowl is rarely engaged in anymore, today’s prized target is weapons or explosives. As such, military and police forces the world over employee the English springer spaniel. They can even find bumblebee nests.
12. Miniature Schnauzer
These adorable little munchkins are unlike some of the other breeds in the terrier category, largely due to their personality. They are less aloof than some of their other close relatives, with a strong desire to please their human owners, and an ability to quickly learn what will earn them praise.
Agile, bright, and huge fans of playing games, they are outstandingly obedient, winning awards for their ability to follow instructions. Not only are they one of the smartest dog breeds in the world, but they are also among the top five best watch dogs, keenly aware of intruders and barking to alert the family.
11. Pembroke Welsh Corgi
They’re fit for the queen, must we say more? Okay, we will! Sure, they’re one of the smallest dogs out there considered to be a herding breed, but these lovable, enchanted throw-pillows-of-a-pooch fill every inch of their furry little bodies with their remarkable brain capacity. Their cute looks aren’t the only attribute that has likely attracted Queen Elizabeth to adopt them as her dog of choice.
There’s something terrifically charming about the corgi, as their herding instincts don’t just come into use while playing, but even inside the household, where they like to herd their humans, especially little kids. Brimming with a desire to please, they have a tendency to follow their loved ones wherever they go.
10. Australian Cattle Dog
Rounding out the top 10 of the smartest dog breeds is this wonder from Down Under. The term ‘dogged determination’ would aptly describe their incredible herding abilities. This typically multi-toned dog was bred in the Australian Outback to… you guesses it–herd cattle and mind them across vast distances. They’re adept at performing their duties not only independently, but in relative silence.
Because this is their pedigree, and because their ancestors were bred with dingoes, they have a wild spirit that drives their sense of independence and their instincts toward caution. As they learned long ago to protect their rancher companions, they are exceedingly protective, and sensitive to shifts in emotion.
They’re big, they’re beefy, and they sometimes get a bad rap. But dumb lumbering beasts they are not. The iconic black-and-tan Rottweiler is actually good-natured, its size having been taken advantage of by those who would have them be used for harm. They are, in fact, champion snugglers and guard dogs.
The Rottweiler is aware of its size, and packs a strong sense of confidence to boot. Because of that, they need you to demonstrate that you are the alpha. While this proud dog breed will not immediately become friends with all who approach, the loyalty it demonstrates to its family is worth the hard work it takes to give them tasks and keep them occupied.
The French word ‘papillon’ means butterfly, which was inspired by the wing-like fabulous ears that grace this fur friend’s joyful face. They have been bred for many centuries, honing down their intelligent attributes. Papillons can even be found in the works of the Italian Renaissance painter Titian from 500 years ago.
If you’re looking for positivity, look no further: papillons are naturally outgoing, happy, gentle, and friendly. It’s this peppy disposition that allows them to be champions at learning tricks. In fact, because they are one of the smartest dog breeds with unusual intelligence, breeders often recommend required obedience school or agility training for them.
7. Labrador Retriever
The ever-faithful lab is not only one of the most popular dogs on the planet (if not the most). In addition, it’s also one of the absolute smartest dog breeds as well. The obsession is not without reason: Labrador retrievers have proven time and time again just how loyal and gentle they are, and how much they love company.
The breed’s keen sensitivity makes them the perfect companion for people with disabilities, both mental and physical. It is their friendly nature that actually makes them bad guard dogs, but their capacity for learning is astounding; the late President George H.W. Bush’s Labrador, Sully, was said to know over two pages of commands.
6. Shetland Sheepdog
You can easily mistake them for collies, but Shetland sheepdogs are smaller in size, and actually rank even higher than their collie cousins as one of the smartest dog breeds in the world. The research conducted by Dr. Stanley Coren for his study on dog psychology revealed something astounding about this breed.
According to his study, Shelties were not only able to cement their learning of a new command in roughly five tries, but retained that knowledge and continued to obey the command about 95% of the time, or more. You would think a being so smart would be aloof, and while they are able to solve problems independently, the Shetland sheepdog love cuddling with their human loved ones.
5. Doberman Pinscher
Many people recognize the doberman as one of the most commonly-used police dogs, which may taint their reputation. While in the past they were indeed bred to be aggressive in order to help as guard dogs, modern breeders have edged out these traits. And the great news is: they are excellent listeners.
Possessing the trifecta of strength, stamina, and brains, dobermans rank exceptionally high because of their great obedience skills and their ability to excel through rigorous training. It is because of their great brains that they need plenty of games, tricks, and interactions in order to prevent them from getting bored.
4. Golden Retriever
Beautifully friendly, sensitive, gentle, and easy-going, golden retrievers are one of the most beloved dog breeds simply for their predisposed tendancy to get along with you. Like the student who’s always trying to make the school honor roll, whatever job you give them, goldens will seek to master it.
Golden retrievers love games, and adore pleasing their owners, making them unusually reliable and trustworthy. Because of their sweet nature, training them is known to be relatively easy, and does not require harsh tones, as they go wild with joy just hearing a kindly voice. It’s their likability that makes them perfect service and therapy dogs, not to mention adept at search and rescue.
3. German Shepherd
Ask anyone to name several dog breeds, and chances are extremely likely that the German Shepherd will be among the first words out of their mouth. They are known worldwide for their extraordinary powers of intelligence, and their unshakable loyalty to their human. Despite their size, they also interact wonderfully with children, making them a package deal.
As one of the top three smartest dog breeds, German shepherds are able to apply their intelligence to a variety of tasks, some of them dangerous. They are well-known as the preferred breed in police and military K-9 units, but also are great seeing-eye dogs. In search and rescue operations, they are able to examine the situation and figure out the best way to help.
Ignore for a second those ridiculous haircuts we humans so like to give them. These dogs, the national dog of France, are not just walking topiaries. They happen to be one of the smartest dog breeds, rocketing to the top of various lists for their amazing attributes — the least of which that they happen to be hypoallergenic.
People are often floored with how human-like this breed’s behavior and emotions can be. Like us, they are not always instantly trusting of strangers, and have to be taught to accept new people into their lives and appreciate them. Children especially love the poodle because of the thrill both parties derive from games and outside activities.
1. Border Collie
At the top of Dr. Stanley Coren’s list, the smartest dog breed in the world is the border collie. This breed is truly a mix of every positive quality a dog owner could have. Want a dog that has the energy and stamina to follow wherever you may go, and do whatever activities you want? You’ve got it — and along with that, they possess agility, herding abilities, and an amazing work ethic.
With such brains and abilities, the border collie still manages to be intrinsically tied to its human, exceptionally loving and always in need of a good snuggle. They are inherently sensitive, thoughtful, and despite their physical prowess are remarkably gentle. Just make sure you can keep up with their need for speed.
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