How Smart Are Dogs? Dog Intelligence Explained
There are three different kinds of dog intelligence, as it’s currently measured. Each of these helps shape a dog’s personality and how “smart” we consider them to be. Dogs have instinctive intelligence, adaptive intelligence, and working/obedience intelligence.
The hardest kind of intelligence to compare across breeds. Retrievers retrieve, guard dogs guard, hounds track, and lapdogs are especially emotionally attuned to their owners. Each dog breed has something they naturally excel at. Instinctive intelligence between breeds is largely subjective, as some people may value certain skills in a dog more than others.
Or much a dog can learn and adapt to situations on its own. It’s not dependent on breed and varies based on the individual dog. One beagle might seem very clever, the next incredibly goofy. In dogs, like in all creatures, it’s difficult to quantify adaptive intelligence or say why certain individuals seem to be “smarter” than others.
Working or Obedience Intelligence
Intelligent dog breeds are usually ranked on how highly they score on the third category: working or obedience intelligence. Working intelligence measures memory, word comprehension, and responsiveness to human training. If adaptive intelligence is what we might call “street smarts,” working intelligence is a dog’s “book smarts.” But where adaptive intelligence is an individual characteristic, certain breeds display more consistent working intelligence across the board.
Top 20 Smartest Dog Breeds
Canine psychologist Stanley Coren compiled a list of the most intelligent dog breeds in his book The Intelligence of Dogs. Based on data from kennel clubs and obedience trainers, he found that there are ten breeds of dogs that can learn a new command after being taught less than 5 times, and who obey at least 95% of the time. Here are the top 10 dog breeds when measured on working intelligence.
The Border Collie might be the smartest dog in the world. Athletic and adaptive, the border collie evolved as a sheep herder’s right-hand helper. If most dogs are about as smart as two-year-old children, then Border Collies lead the pack, with a learning capacity closer to that of a three-year-old.
Poodles may be a surprise to find near the top of the list of smartest dog breeds, but they were originally bred as water retrievers for duck hunting. Loyal and attentive, the poodle is the national dog of France.
Alert and courageous, German Shepherd dogs are a natural fit for police work and search and rescue teams. Bred as herding dogs, German shepherds are naturally good at evaluating situations.
Eager to please and consistent, Golden Retrievers make excellent therapy dogs. They’re known for their gentleness but are also sporty and active pets.
The Doberman Pinscher is the classic faithful companion, reliable and protective. Doberman Pinschers’ accomplishments are so widely recognized that they are even honored with a statue, named “Always Faithful,” at the National War Dog Cemetery in Guam.
A graceful relative of the Collie, the Shetland Sheepdog, is also a highly trainable sheepherder. Playful and affectionate, the Shetland Sheepdog is a great choice for someone who wants a dog with the smarts of a collie in a smaller size.
Anyone who’s owned a Labrador Retriever won’t be surprised by their placement on the list of smart dog breeds. In addition to their emotional intelligence, which makes them reliable service dogs, they’re known to be eager to please the whole pack, making them family-friendly companions.
This adorable small dog’s name is French for “butterfly.” They are named after their large ears. One of the oldest dog breeds, they’ve been around nearly 700 years, meaning they’ve been honed by generations to be adept and versatile pets.
The Rottweiler dates back to the Roman Empire, where it originated as a guard dog for Roman legions’ livestock. The Rottweiler is one of the most intelligent dogs, alert and trainable, and is well-suited to service and police work, where its smarts will constantly see new challenges.
Australian Cattle Dog
Like the Shetland Sheepdog or the Border Collie, the Australian Cattle dog is an experienced herding dog. Australian Cattle dogs have evolved to work diligently under varying conditions.
There are more smart dog breeds than just the top 10. Here are 10 more smart dogs that are near the top of the list!
Corgis are more than just a cute face and fluffy body – they’re originally herding dogs, dating back to the 10th century.
The schnauzer, named after its signature mustache, learns commands after only about 5 to 15 repetitions, and executes them with 85% accuracy.
Playful and affectionate, the Springer Spaniel has long been a trusted hunting partner as well as a beloved family pet.
Originally a herder, the Tervuren is a sleek dog dating back to the 19th century.
Also from Belgium, this sheepdog is legendary for its trustworthiness and trainability.
Jack Russell Terrier
This personality-packed dog was first bred as a fox hunter, and today excels at sports and agility trials.
German Shorthaired Pointer
The German Shorthaired Pointer is known just as much for their beautiful coats as for their endurance on the hunt.
English Cocker Spaniel
The Cocker Spaniel is loving, cheerful, and 70% more obedient than the average dog.
This elegant dog, once a companion of German nobility, is sometimes referred to as “the dog with the human brain.”
Inquisitive and emotionally aware, Pomeranians are known for their long memory.
What is the smartest dog breed? Most owners will say their own dog falls at least in the smartest dog breeds top 100 lists. And they might be right – dog intelligence is measured by many different variables, some of which are hard to compare. A lot comes down to patient training, but whether your dog is one of the least intelligent dog breeds or the smartest, there’s always something that makes a dog special!