The Smartest Dog Breeds

If you want to know which dog breeds are the smartest, you'll find a list of Top 12 here... but that's not all! Find out why these dogs are on the list and how experts rank canine intelligence.

Of course we all think our pup is the smartest, most adorable and sweetest pup in the world... and to us they are!

But is your dog's breed among the ones experts claim are the smartest... and how on earth do they figure out how clever a dog breed is anyway?

Not surprisingly there's been a fair amount of research done in this area, and also not surprisingly, there's no one-size-fits-all answer to that question. It turns out that there's more than one type of intelligence in dogs.

According to leading canine researcher Stanley Coren, PhD there are three types of canine intelligence:

  • Instinctive - this includes basic instincts common to all canines, and breed-specific traits/behaviors that a particular breed has been selected for.

  • Adaptive - how quickly and effectively a dog learns to adapt his behavior to his environment and learn from experiences.

  • Working & Obedience - how well a dog learns to understand and obey human commands and how quickly he can carry them out.

Before we take a closer look at dog intelligence in general, which breeds excel in each of these areas, and why a super-smart dog doesn't necessarily make the best family pet, here are the Top 12 smartest dogs according to Dr Coren's book The Intelligence of Dogs

Top 12 Smartest Dogs

Given that there are several different components that can be used to determine how intelligent a dog is, it isn't possible to have just one definitive list of 'smartest dogs'.

But we have to start somewhere, so below I've featured a list of the dozen breeds which are considered to be at the top of the heap, according to dog obedience experts and judges....

You'll notice that these are all working dogs (yes, even the Papillon who was bred from similar ancestors as Spaniels, and the Schnauzer who started off as a farm dog and hunter of vermin).

This can explain their 'smarts' when obedience is involved. They were all bred to work for humans in some capacity and good representatives of the breed need to obey quickly and consistently.

What Makes For An Intelligent Dog?

The Top 12 above all excel in the 'Working & Obedience' element of canine intelligence, but in order to perform at a consistently high level they also need to be at the top of their game in both the 'Instinctive' and 'Adaptive' areas.

For example, in order for a Border Collie to do his job properly he needs to have the right genes, ones from dogs who carry a strong desire to follow the right breed-specific instincts needed to herd livestock.

He also needs to be clever enough to adapt his instinctive behavior to fit his owner's specific needs and training style.

So, that Border Collie is using all 3 areas of intelligence and truly is demonstrating how smart he is.

But some jobs that dogs do require less obedience work and more independent-thinking..... eg. dogs who guard livestock in remote areas and who are expected to work alone for long periods (this includes breeds such as the Great Pyrenees for example).

The need to be self-reliant becomes an instinctive behavior over generations, and that ability to think for themselves can be at war with an owner's desire for the dog to obey him instantly and without question.

If we were to judge the intelligence of a Great Pyrenees of Anatolian Shepherd based on their speedy reaction to a command, then it might be tempting to think that the fact that they're slower to respond than a Border Collie or German Shepherd means they're not as smart.

But that isn't true. They are simply obeying their instinctive need to use their own judgement.

How Smart Are Dogs In General?

Anyone who's ever owned a dog knows that they're a quick study.

Especially as puppies, they'll pick up on habits, emotions and 'cues' with almost no help.... often absorbing knowledge you wish they didn't!

But how does the dog compare to other animals, or even humans, in terms of intelligence?

According to several behavior studies and measurements, Dr Coren believes that a dog has approximately the same level of intelligence as a 2 1/2 year old child.

Dogs have highly developed problem-solving skills, can understand between 165 and 250 words plus a whole range of symbolic actions/behaviors including tone of voice, human body language, whistles, visual commands/cues and more.

They can even count, sometimes as high as 4 or 5. If you don't believe this, try giving your dog two or three treats every time you reward him for something for about a week, or two. Then try going back to just one treat (if you were giving him two), or two (if you were giving him three).

I can pretty much guarantee you that he'll sit there and stare you down until you come up with the missing goodie :)

Dogs are also intuitive and creative and capable of being manipulative (another observation that won't surprise an experienced dog owner!).

In fact current scientific research and studies have shown that dogs are much closer to primates such as apes and chimpanzees in intelligence than was once thought.

Understanding the way your dog sees the world can strengthen the bond between you and make training, games and everyday life much easier... and more fun.

The science behind dog intelligence, memory, learning ability and understanding is fascinating... but you don't have to be a scientist to find out what makes Fido 'tick'.

Check out Dognition - How It Works and discover how smart (and amazing) your best friend really is!

Does A Super-Smart Breed Make A Good Pet?

There's no one-size-fits-all answer to this either because there are just so many variables!

When you're trying to choose the right dog breed for your family there are a lot of things to 'match up'. Activity level, age of children, living space, outdoor space, past-times/hobbies, health concerns, time availability, finances..... they all play a role in determining which dog is the best fit for you.

So, is the highly intelligent Border Collie the #1 family dog? No, that position belongs to the firm favorite - the Labrador Retriever. In fact the Border Collie doesn't even feature in the Top 10 Most Popular Dog Breeds. Why is that?

From decades of personal experience raising and training dogs I'd say it's because the level of intelligence, 'drive' (read: desire to work) and activity level of this breed is much too high for the average family home.

A dog like this NEEDS lots of exercise and stimulation, both mental and physical. He NEEDS a job to do (preferably one he's hard-wired to perform, or failing that competitive obedience, dog agility, or some other challenging dog-oriented sport). He's not your average one-walk-a-day-and-sleep-on-the-sofa type family pet!

If you try to fit a high-drive, working dog into a laid-back family environment no one is going to be happy - human or canine.

A frustrated, unfulfilled dog is going to have behavior problems, which could include excessive nipping, biting and 'herding' (whether it's the kids or the cat), destructive behavior as a result of his trying to get rid of the pent-up energy and frustration, even obsessive-compulsive behavior such as spinning, tail-chasing, barking and so on.

Now, I'm not saying ALL Border Collies (or the representatives of any other working breed) are not suited to being family pets, just that they need to be with the right type of family - one who understands their instincts, needs and behavior and is able to meet the dog's requirements. This is absolutely true for every single dog breed.

Other representatives of the smartest dog breeds also appear on the list of most popular dogs, these include the Labrador mentioned above, and also the Golden Retriever, German Shepherd, Rottweiler and the Poodle.

The instinctive, adaptive and working/obedience components of canine intelligence vary from breed to breed. They're all different, to some degree, but the same in that the best fit for each one is a family who is familiar with their needs and able to meet them.

Related Pages............

› Smartest Dog Breeds

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