10 of the Smartest Dogs in the World

Dogs standing on grass
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You think your dog is brilliant. He can sit and maybe even shake and mostly comes when you call him. But in the doggy IQ Olympics, where does your canine companion rank? Some breeds are known for their speed or their looks, while others are lauded for their brilliance.

In his bestselling book, "The Intelligence of Dogs," neuropsychologist Stanley Coren, Ph.D., theorized there were three markers of intelligence: instinctive, adaptive and working and obedience. Instinctive intelligence refers a dog's ability to do what he was bred to do (herd, retrieve, fetch, etc.) Adaptive intelligence measures what a dog can learn to do on its own. Working and obedience intelligence is a dog's ability to learn from people.

Coren focused on the latter or trainability, asking more than 200 professional dog obedience judges to score 110 breeds based on working/obedience tests. "The degree of agreement among the judges was amazingly high," Coren says. Here's what they ranked as the very smartest breeds in terms of what they could learn to do.

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Border collie

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Border collies are smart — sometimes too smart. They are workaholics, always looking for a job to do. Combine their keen intelligence with peak athleticism and trainability, and these herders excel at all sorts of competitions, from agility to obedience to flyball, says the American Kennel Club.

But owners will tell you that bored border collies can find their own hobbies if they don't have enough to do. These are not couch potato dogs. Their minds are constantly working so they need lots of mental (and physical) stimulation. Says the AKC: "They thrive when they have a job to do and space to run."

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Don't judge the poodle by its pretty face. This elegant breed also is whip smart and agile, says the AKC. Poodles come in three sizes: toy, miniature and standard. All have the same good looks and big brains. Poodles were bred as water retrievers. In fact, their trademark poodle clips were originally created to protect the vital areas of their body when they went into cold water.

Poodles love to play and learn, which is why they were also so popular as circus performers. They also excel in obedience and agility and find ways to entertain themselves if not given enough to do.

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German shepherd

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The AKC calls the German shepherd "dogkind's finest all-purpose worker." Known for serious loyalty, typically to just one person, they are often used as police K-9s, guard dogs and military dogs because of their intelligence, obedience, strength and fidelity.

GSDs, as the breed is also known, are also talented herding dogs and can be loving family companions. They have a lot of energy to go with that mental prowess.

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Golden retriever

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These popular, eager-to-please family dogs were bred as Scottish hunting dogs and trained to retrieve waterfowl. Now a trademark American breed, goldens are playful and fun, but are also very smart. They excel as guide and service dogs, quickly learning commands, and are often used for search and rescue.

Patient and loving, golden retrievers, "take a joyous and playful approach to life and maintain this puppyish behavior into adulthood," says the AKC.

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Doberman pinscher

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Muscular, powerful and smart, the Doberman is "one of dogkind's noblemen," says the AKC. "This incomparably fearless and vigilant breed stands proudly among the world's finest protection dogs."

But this sleek protector is also very intelligent. Dobermans learn easily and are eager to please. They excel in obedience, tracking and agility. Because they are strong (physically and mentally) they can be pushy and sometimes destructive if not trained and socialized well.

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Shetland sheepdog

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The Shetland sheepdog, or Sheltie, is another herding dog with lots of drive and loads of smarts. A more diminutive version of their cousin, the collie, Shelties have it all in a small, slick package, says the AKC.

"Bright and eager Shelties are easy trainers and world-class competitors in obedience, agility, and herding trials. They are sensitive and affectionate family dogs, highly in tune with the mood of the household."

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Labrador retriever

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America's most popular dog breed, the Labrador retriever is gentle and intelligent and makes the perfect family pet. Labs are friendly and affectionate with lots of energy. The combination of brains and activity level makes them perfect for sport and service. They excel at agility and competition, and are popular as search and rescue, police dogs and other service dogs.

The breed's favorite activities are swimming and retrieving, which is why they love sports like dock diving. Like all these other quick learners, Labs need to stay stimulated or they can become bored and destructive.

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This tiny dog with the butterfly ears is considered one of the smartest of the toy breeds. Although they look dainty and elegant, the dogs are actually very robust, according to the AKC. They make excellent agility competitors, easily outsmarting so many of their larger opponents.

Although their size makes them perfect for small homes and apartments, papillons still need lots of exercise. They are active and smart and enjoy playing and chasing. They are tough and gutsy, but enjoy the company of others.

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Often used for guard dogs and police work, this powerful working dog makes a great playmate and protector when well trained. Although they might have an intimidating appearance to outsiders, well-socialized Rotties are playful, silly and loving.

They are fast learners and excel in obedience, herding and tracking, but training must start early. Says the AKC, "The breed is intelligent, highly trainable and wants to please, although some may be stubborn...Rottweilers excel in many canine sports, and the breed works with a human partner in many functional roles."

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Australian cattle dog

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This herder from Down Under was bred to keep cattle in line, so he needs to be busy, busy, busy. Also called a blue heeler, a Queensland heeler, or by the acronym ACD the cattle dog is agile, active and terribly bright. But the ACD needs a job.

Says the AKC, "ACDs are true-blue loyal, famously smart, ever alert, and wary of strangers. If an ACD isn’t challenged, he easily becomes bored and gets into mischief."