The Most Intelligent Dog Breeds

Our dogs aren’t just cute pets, they can also be great company that seem to show real signs of intelligence. Most dog lovers can probably pinpoint a few things their pet does that makes them stand out as very intelligent. Because of this, it is easy to assume that our dogs are definitely some of the most intelligent.

shetland sheepdog - sheltie - dog breed - adult dog and a puppy - the most intelligent dog breeds

Most think that their pet is completely aware of what is happening around them, and tend to humanize their furry friend. However, studies have found that some dog breeds are just more intelligent than others. The most intelligent dog breeds have been found to really excel when they’re tested, with some dogs coming in much higher than the rest.

Intelligence can be measured in many ways, and some dogs have different talents to others. Our methods of testing dog intelligence relate to a specific type of animal intelligence, one that shows some breeds to be quite a bit more intelligent. It’s important to put this intelligence into context though. These dogs aren’t going to be putting on lab coats or solving math problems, but they are capable of responding to human instructions quicker.

Intelligence in dogs varies dog to dog, and breed to breed. Some breeds are just genetically built to have an advantage in the intelligence department. However, this doesn’t mean that every dog of this breed is a genius, just that the breed has the capacity for greater intelligence than others. When discussing which are the most intelligent dog breeds, it can get a little confusing if we’re not clear on what is meant by dog intelligence.

poodle dog breed - the most intelligent dog breeds

What Does It Mean to be the Most Intelligent Dog Breed?

The dog breeds on this list have been found to be the most intelligent dog breeds. However, the definition of this intelligence is a little different from what most assume. We can’t humanize animal intelligence and think that the most intelligent dog breeds are those minds most closely resemble our own, that would be a bit silly given all the differences. Instead, different metrics are used to measure dog intelligence. These are some of the main things that people test for intelligence in dogs:

  • Memory
  • Retrieving Information
  • Comparing Two Things at Once
  • Using Learned Memory in Situations Different to When it was Taught
  • Basic Conceptual Skills

Dogs that are thought of as the most intelligent excel in these departments. This is a good judge of a dog’s memory and ability to store and remember information, but also the capacity to use it. A big difference between an intelligent dog and a not so intelligent dog is possessing the ability to compare two different things or use previous knowledge in a new situation. These are core concepts to human intelligence, but a dog’s one-track mind won’t always be capable of this.

Dogs have different forms of intelligence too. Terriers rarely come out on top of these tests since their temperaments make them worse at following directions. However, they possess a sense of smell and hearing which seems to give them a greater understanding of their surroundings and their world. This isn’t a metric usually used to measure intelligence in dogs. However, it does show that they’re more perceptive than others. Intelligence can be measured in different ways. It’s important to keep this in mind when discussing the most intelligent dog breeds, that each has their own talents and this is just one way of measuring them.

dog labrador retriever dogs playing - the most intelligent dog breeds
Labrador Retriever

Social and Emotionally Intelligent Dog Breeds

The most intelligent dog breeds excel in those categories, but it might be surprising to learn that all dog breeds are capable of some pretty big stuff. Studies have found that dogs are capable of object permanence from around 8 weeks old. This is the idea of you keep track of an object even when you can’t see it. Just because a treat has gone into a container and is no longer visible, your dog still knows that it is there. This is actually a pretty big skill and one of the things that studies have found to make dogs as intelligent as young humans.

Dogs also have social and emotional intelligence. A dog is capable of interacting with other dogs in a learned natural way that is a lot more advanced than other domestic animals. Studies have also found that dogs are capable of recognizing other dogs no matter what size, shape, or color they are. If it is a dog, your dog will recognize it as such. Again this might not sound too impressive but for an animal, this is a pretty good skill.

A dog’s social intelligence even comes down to interacting with humans. Through domestication, dogs have become as attuned to our emotions as they would be to their pack in the wild. Dogs possess the skills to read people and situations in a way that most children struggle with. A dog can read emotions based on facial expressions by understanding and gravitating towards the expressive parts of human faces. Dogs are the only non-primate animals capable of this!

So, even if your dog doesn’t make this list of the most intelligent breeds they’re still pretty clever. All dogs possess intelligence in some departments.

Are Big Dogs More Intelligent?

A general trend can be observed with the lists of the most intelligent dog breeds, they’re mainly larger animals. This isn’t exactly a coincidence. While there isn’t anything about a dog’s size that limits their brainpower, the larger breeds tend to be better genetically developed and capable of testing much higher in intelligence tests.

This doesn’t mean that all small dogs are a bit thick. Most small dogs have different skills, like a better hearing than a large dog. However, if you want a dog breed that can follow instructions and get things done then larger breeds might be a better choice. If you’re persuading someone to get a pet based on intelligence, a bigger dog is an easy option!

The Most Intelligent Dog Breeds

While all dogs are capable of some cool things, only certain breeds of dog can perform the highest in intelligence tests. When studies have been undertaken on dog intelligence, they’re found that these breeds often come out on top.

Border Collie

The Border Collie is well known for its intelligence. This isn’t a myth! Border Collies have been found to be exceptionally intelligent dogs. They can understand more commands from humans, learn more words and associations, and even learn a new command in under five seconds and get it right at least 90% of the time. This is pretty impressive.

The Most Intelligent Dog Breeds - Border collie
Border collie


Poodles are a popular dog breed that are commonly bred with others to make mixed-breed pets. However, they’re also very intelligent dogs. They’re capable of following and remembering instructions much quicker and more successfully than most dogs.

German Shepherd

The German Shepard is usually the dog of choice for police or military dogs, and there’s a good reason for this. They’re bred and built to be intelligent animals that are capable of learning quickly, following instructions, and assessing situations before they act. If they’re smart enough to work serious jobs, they have to be quite intelligent dog breeds.

german shepherd dog - the most intelligent dog breeds
German Shepherd

Shetland Sheepdog

This is another larger fluffy dog that comes out on top of intelligence tests. Shelties can follow instructions and rules, which has made them great shepherds over the years. These dogs are often working, which is typically a sign of intelligence.

Golden Retriever

Golden Retrievers are loved for their easy-going, affectionate nature. However, they’re also an intelligent breed that tries to do its best in every situation to please people. They’re capable of learning new words pretty quickly, and performing tasks with strict discipline if they need to.

golden retriever - the most intelligent dog breeds
Golden Retriever

Labrador Retriever

Labradors are a very popular family dog because of their good nature. These dogs focus on what people want them to do. Being eager to please means they learn quickly. This makes them one of the most intelligent dog breeds around.


Bigger dog breeds tend to dominate the intelligence tests, but this is a small dog that can actually compete! Papillons, also known as Toy Spaniels, are pretty small and they still manage to rank pretty highly in intelligence tests and are a common sight at agility tests. These small dogs really shine compared with their bigger counterparts.

papillon - dwarf spaniel - dog breed

Australian Cattle Dog

This dog is one of the more intelligent, and it sits pretty comfortably as one of the healthiest breeds as well. These pets are long-living and really quite smart, definitely a good combination. They are obedient and capable of learning and following human instructions at a speed that most dogs just can’t achieve.

Does it Matter How Intelligent a Dog Is?

Those are the most intelligent dog breeds as has been found by studies. These dogs have shown themselves capable of exceeding others when it comes to the normal tests of intelligence, and you can usually expect them to perform better at learning words and tricks. However, most dogs are capable of learning the majority of things needed of them in their lives. Even more than this though, all dogs show a level of emotional intelligence that makes them fantastic pets.

While your breed of dog might not be able to recall as many human words as a border collie, it can still read the emotions and feelings of your facial expression in a way that no animal not directly related to humans can. Irrelevant of how they perform in an intelligence test, that’s pretty impressive for a pet.

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