10 of the Smartest Dogs in the World

three brown and white standard poodles stand on a tree stump

Kurt Pas / Getty Images

Many dogs can sit and stay. But in terms of smarts, what breeds are top of the pack? Neuropsychologist Stanley Coren, Ph.D., sought to answer that question in his book "The Intelligence of Dogs." In it, Coren theorized different types of dog intelligence, using one type called "working and obedience intelligence" to assess and compare breeds. Coren asked 199 professional dog obedience judges to score 110 breeds based on working and obedience tests. The consensus was clear; according to him, "The degree of agreement among judges was amazingly high."

In order, here are the 10 dog breeds deemed the smartest because of how well they learn.

Millions of pets (including many purebreds) are available to be adopted from shelters. We always recommend adoption as a first choice. If you've decided to buy a pet from a breeder, be sure to choose a responsible breeder, and always avoid puppy mills.

of 10

Border Collie

black and white border collie lying in green grass with purple tennis ball

Robert Pickett / Getty Images

The title for smartest dog was given to the border collie almost unanimously—190 of the 199 judge respondents ranked this breed in the top 10.

Herding dogs by nature, border collies are always looking for a job to do. Their highly active minds are why it's essential to always keep one of these dogs both mentally and physically stimulated. If you let border collies get bored, they are known to find their own hobbies at the expense of your furniture. But when you combine their keen intelligence with peak athleticism and innate trainability, these herders excel at all sorts of competitions, from agility to obedience to flyball.

of 10


white standard poodle relaxing on bed with red blanket and pillows

ivanastar / Getty Images

Known for their elegance, poodles are whip-smart. They come in three sizes—standard, miniature, and toy—and each has the same big brain to go with its famously good looks. Poodles were bred as gun dogs, specifically water retrievers because of their swimming ability. In fact, their name comes from the German pudel, which means “to splash in water.”

When you add their impressive agility to their intelligence, you get a dog breed that loves to play and is quick to learn. Unfortunately, these qualities are also why poodles have historically been chosen and forced to perform in circus shows.

of 10

German Shepherd

profile of german shepherd standing in snowy forest

Savin Madeleine/EyeEm / Getty Images

As a breed, German shepherds stand out because of their personalities—they are fiercely loyal, protective, and, of course, intelligent. These dogs are highly trainable and easily understand instructions. Because of this, German shepherds have become true all-purpose workers. They are desirable as guard dogs, K-9s, and search and rescue dogs.

That's not to say they are not loveable, however. German shepherds form close bonds with their families. They are gentle and loving companions, as well as dedicated guardians.

of 10

Golden Retriever

golden retriever mid-run, playing in grassy field

Mario Forcherio/EyeEm / Getty Images

A trademark American breed, golden retrievers are as playful and fun as they are smart. Known for being friendly and gentle, they are also quick to learn commands.

Because golden retrievers were bred as hunting dogs, they desire a job. They are one of the most popular breeds to serve as guide dogs for the blind and visually impaired. Members of this breed are also highly sensitive to human emotions, which makes them popular emotional support dogs as well.

of 10

Doberman Pinscher

profile of doberman pinscher jumping and reaching to catch res frisbee

JamesBrey / Getty Images

Muscular, athletic, and smart, the doberman pinscher is one of the best protection and guard dogs out there. Known for its unmistakenly noble appearance, this breed is attentive to its surroundings and a fast learner.

Like many of the smartest dogs, dobermans excel in activities like obedience, tracking, and agility. However, their high intelligence can make them pushy or overly suspicious of strangers, so proper socialization and consistent training are essential.

of 10

Shetland Sheepdog

fluffy shetland sheepdog on wooden path surrounded by tall, dry grass

Henri Karppinen / Getty Images

The Shetland sheepdog, or Sheltie, is another herding dog with lots of drive and work ethic. A miniature version of their collie cousin, they are intelligent and eager to please, making them easy to train and successful in obedience competition. Additionally, they can pick up on the emotions of the people around them.

Shelties do tend to bark, especially when they are feeling excited, bored, or scared, or if something seems amiss. The good news is that they are smart enough that with proper training, they can learn to control it.

of 10

Labrador Retriever

yellow labrador retriever dog smiles on bench outdoors

Purple Collar Pet Photography / Getty Images

For decades, the Labrador retriever has been the most popular dog breed in America, and its intelligence may be part of the reason. When you combine its smarts, gentle nature, friendliness, and high activity level, labs are the perfect family pet.

Those qualities—especially the smarts and energy—make the Labrador retriever thrive in both sport and service. These dogs excel in agility and competition, and (with golden retrievers) they are one of the most popular breeds employed as service dogs for the blind and visually impaired.

Like other quick-learning dogs with active brains, labs need to stay stimulated or they can become bored and destructive.

of 10


papillon dog with brown and black ears lying in green grass next to stone

Kisa_Markiza / Getty Images

This tiny dog with the butterfly ears is considered one of the smartest of the toy breeds. Although papillons look dainty, they are actually very athletic. They are a favorite of agility trainers who want all the brains and physical potential in a small package. Outside of sport, papillons excel as therapy dogs because of their ability to bond with humans.

Even in the home, this breed needs to keep both its body and brain active, so playing games is a must. They are quite gutsy as well, so perhaps the only intellectual shortcoming of the papillon is that they tend to think they're bigger and mightier than they are.

of 10


pair of rottweilers in a field sitting with tongues out

Tara Gregg/EyeEm / Getty Images

Affectionately called "rotties," rottweilers are powerful dogs with a history of service. Today, they are often used as guard dogs and employed for police work. This breed might have an intimidating appearance to outsiders, but in reality, they can be playful and loving.

Rottweilers are fast learners and excel in obedience, herding, and tracking. They are easy to train, but they have to be trained correctly—early, firm, and experienced instruction is essential. Their intelligence and innate protectiveness must be honed to ensure that the dog uses those characteristics in the right way.

of 10

Australian Cattle Dog

australian cattle dog standing in field at sunset looking back at camera

Madelein_Wolf / Getty Images

The Australian cattle dog was bred to keep cattle in line, so it thrives when it has tasks to complete. This breed is high-energy, agile, and smart, and they are known to create strong bonds with their owners.

In addition to physical activity, Australian cattle dogs must be challenged mentally. Food puzzles and scent games are good options for intellectual stimulation. Barking can be a sign of boredom for these dogs, so if yours is getting vocal, they may need something to give their attention to.

Why Pets Matter to Treehugger

At Treehugger, we are advocates of animal welfare, including our pets and other domestic animals. The better we understand our dogs, the better we can support and protect their wellbeing. We hope our readers will adopt rescue pets instead of shopping from breeders or pet stores, and will also consider supporting local animal shelters.