The Top 20 Smartest Dog Breeds – Ranked by a Psychologist

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Dogs are known as “Man’s Best Friend,” but finding the perfect dog to fit your lifestyle can be challenging. Depending on their breed and pedigree, pups show a wide array of behaviors, abilities, and smarts, which can make choosing a new companion tricky.

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There are dog breeds who will happily and tirelessly work on your farm, for example, and others who only want to cuddle up on the couch with you. Knowing what you want out of your furry friend is the first and most important step.

Regardless of what you want out of your pet, clearly the ability to learn and be trained is perhaps the most important trait to look for. Intelligence is very important, and the subject of Stanley Coren’s book, The Psychology of Dogs (1994). Some of the breeds may be familiar, others may surprise you!

Border Collie: While there are many smart dog breeds to choose from, not many of them compare to the Border Collie. You are likely to find a Collie trying to figure out a problem even when nobody is around to train or reward the behavior. Traditionally used in livestock herding, this dog is capable of performing complicated tasks and loves to be put to the test!

Poodle: Coming in a close second is the Poodle (fun fact: this is the national dog of France!). Known for their intelligence and trainability, Poodles were often trained to perform circus acts in front of huge audiences, and there are even stories of these pooches wearing human clothes and acting out skits! Poodles are frequently crowned “Best in Show” in prestigious competitions such as the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show.

German Shepherd: This breed is the gold standard when it comes to learning new tricks and tasks. After all, law enforcement and the military has relied on German Shepherds to chase down bad guys, sniff out explosives, and many other important objectives. These dogs are very quick learners and love a good test of their abilities!

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Golden Retriever: These pooches are some of the most popular breeds around, because they are adorable and great for families. This is another dog you may find assisting police forces and other emergency responders. As the name suggests, these dogs were bred to be outstanding at fetching things for their owners – whether that’s a tennis ball or something far more important!

Doberman Pinscher: Smart and loyal, Dobermans were originally bred to be guard dogs deploying an elite sense of smell (along with a threatening appearance!). But these dogs are great at adapting to any activity or lifestyle, especially if they are trained from a young age to be around people and other dogs.

Shetland Sheepdog: These dogs love a good mental challenge and excel with new activities. Bred as a herding dog, Shetlands never get tired of learning and training! This breed is even nicknamed “shadows” as a testament to their loyalty and attachment to their owners.

Labrador Retriever: This is another highly popular breed with families due to their easy-going nature. Labs love to swim and are experts around water – you may find this dog at the side of a hunter or fisherman. These dogs are incredibly sweet, making them popularly used for therapy, emotional support, and in the service of the blind or disabled.

Papillon: Also referred to as a “Toy Spaniel,” and easily recognized by their butterfly-shaped ears and fine hair. The cream of the crop when it comes to obedience, these dogs are popular in contest circles. If you are looking for a dog who easily behaves the way you want, look no further!  

Rottweiler: Interestingly, this breed is believed to be descended from herding dogs used as far back as the Roman Empire! A popular breed with the armed forces, the Rottweiler possesses a level of smarts that make them easy to train and very protective. Don’t let their intimidating look scare you though, these dogs are great with families!

Australian Cattle Dog: Also nicknamed a “Blue Heeler,” this is yet another herding dog which has made the list. While Cattle Dogs are very smart, they are also very high energy! Owners of Australian Cattle Dogs should train them frequently and consistently in order to keep them well behaved.

Pembroke Welsh Corgi: What this dog lacks in size, it makes up for in loyalty! Often used as watchdogs, they will protect their family above all else. Just make sure you give this breed something to do, or else it may become restless!

Miniature Schnauzer: A variation of Schnauzers (which were traditionally utilized by armies in Europe), these dogs excel in sporting contests. They love to run and learn new tricks, making them ideal for active families and obedience training.

English Springer Spaniel: This dog aims to please! Along with being highly intelligent, Spaniels train easily due to their love of being rewarded. You’ll find this breed showing off new tricks in exchange for some pets and belly rubs!

Belgian Tervuren: Here we have another example of an intelligent herding dog, this one named after a village in Belgium. These clever dogs are great with families, but not so much with strangers. They will be fiercely protective of you and your crew but are also known as escape artists, so keep a close watch!

Schipperke: Legend has it that when Nazi Germany occupied Belgium, these dogs were used to run covert messages back and forth without being detected. Often referred to as Belgian Ship Dogs, this breed loves to explore! Schipperkes are very active and are not as well behaved when left alone. Loving to be around people makes these dogs great for families, and their high level of curiosity will keep you on your toes!

Keeshond: This breed is known for being extremely observant. They pay very close attention to their surroundings and will quickly notice anything unusual, making them very useful in a familiar setting. However, this attentiveness can be a double-edged sword, as it can be difficult to get them to focus on what you want at times!

German Short-Haired Pointer: These dogs want to do whatever you want to do! “GSPs” were bred as hunting dogs specializing in waterfowl, similar to Labrador Retrievers. A pointer is the ultimate playful friend and companion. Very smart and affectionate, they only want to be around you!

Brittany Spaniel: Here is another breed which is ideally suited for sportsmen. Named for the province in France from which they originated, Brittanys weren’t officially recognized as a breed until 1907. Loyal and smart, Brittanys also have some of the best noses of any dog breed you can find.

Weimaraner: One of the most unique and recognizable breeds due to their light grayish coat and bright blue eyes, Weims are quick-witted and easy to train. These are one of the largest dogs on the list due to their history of use in large-game hunting.

Belgian Malinois: A very strong and athletic dog, Belgian Malinois are often used in police work and search and rescue missions. While they can be great with families, just make sure your dog has some kind of task to perform, which is when they are at their best!

Were you surprised by any of the breeds that made the list? If you or your family are looking for a new dog, these are some great options to consider!