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20 Most Intelligent Dog Breeds Backed by Science

Stanley Coren, a professor of canine psychology at the University of British Columbia, employs various methods to help define which dog breeds are the most intelligent.

In his book, “The Intelligence of Dogs,” he introduces a unique rating system for “obedience and working intelligence,” paving the way for a deeper understanding of canine cognitive abilities.

So, if you're seeking a four-legged companion whose intelligence shines as brightly as their charm, join us as we present a guide to the top 20 most intelligent dog breeds.

Border Collie

Border Collie looking up at the cameras standing in a pumpkin patch.
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Border Collies are often regarded as the smartest dogs in the world. Their keen instincts, problem-solving abilities, and agility make them exceptional working and agility dogs.

In fact, a recent study published in Scientific Reports put over a thousand dogs of various breeds to multiple cognitive tests. In analyzing the data to determine which breed was the smartest, the Border Collie was declared to be at the top of the list. 

Poodle

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Poodles are not just hypoallergenic; they're also highly intelligent. They excel in obedience training and are known for their problem-solving skills.

Despite their elegant appearance and reputation as show dogs, Poodles have a practical and adventurous history. Their name “Poodle” is derived from the German word “Pudel,” which means “to splash in water.” Originally bred for water retrieval, their curly coats and remarkable swimming ability made them excellent companions for hunters retrieving waterfowl. 

German Shepherd

German Shepherd training (Sit command)
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Renowned for their unwavering loyalty and protective instincts, German Shepherds stand out for their devotion and exceptional intelligence. Their versatile nature makes them outstanding working dogs, particularly excelling in demanding roles such as police and service duties.

Golden Retriever

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Golden Retrievers are known for their friendly nature and intelligence. They are quick learners and are often used as therapy and assistance dogs.

Their affable temperament and natural empathy contribute to their effectiveness in providing comfort and companionship in various therapeutic settings. Many Golden Retrievers happily engage in activities like visiting hospitals and nursing homes, spreading joy and warmth to those in need.

Doberman Pinscher

Three Doberman Pincher relaxing in the autumn park
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Dobermans are not just powerful; they're also highly intelligent. Their sharp minds make them excellent candidates for obedience and agility training.

Dobermans were originally bred by a tax collector named Louis Dobermann in Germany during the late 19th century. He aimed to create a breed that would accompany him during his rounds, offering protection and assistance. To achieve this, he selectively bred dogs with qualities like strength, loyalty, and intelligence. The result was the development of the Doberman Pinscher, a versatile and loyal breed that excels not only in protection but also in various roles such as police work, search and rescue, and as loving family companions.

Shetland Sheepdog

Shetland sheepdogs in the meadow.
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Shetland Sheepdogs are known for their agility and intelligence. They excel in herding and obedience activities.

Shetland Sheepdogs, affectionately known as “Shelties,” have a herding instinct which goes beyond just rounding up livestock. Shelties have an inherent tendency to herd their family members, especially children and other pets. This endearing behavior reflects their strong sense of loyalty and protective nature. In households with Shetland Sheepdogs, it's not uncommon to witness these intelligent and agile dogs gently guiding their human or furry companions.

Labrador Retriever

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Labrador Retrievers aren't just known for their friendliness; they also boast high intelligence. Renowned for their versatility, these dogs excel in multiple roles, including search and rescue missions.

Surprisingly, the study mentioned earlier, which resonated with Stanley Coren's recognition of Border Collies as the smartest breed, doesn't hold the same view for Labrador Retrievers. In fact, it places them at the bottom of the intelligence list.

Papillon

Portrait of a Papillon Purebreed Dog in a Grass Meadow with Trees Behind
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Papillons are small but incredibly smart dogs. They are quick learners and excel in obedience and agility training.

“Papillon” is the French word for butterfly, and these charming little dogs are known for their ears that are fringed and resemble the delicate wings of a butterfly. 

Rottweiler

Breed dog - Rottweiler in coniferous forest close-up on a sunny day
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Rottweilers are strong, highly intelligent, and trainable. Their loyalty and intelligence make them excellent guard dogs.

These robust and powerful dogs have a rich heritage as Roman cattle drovers in the town of Rottweil, Germany. The name “Rottweiler” itself is derived from the town's name combined with the term “metzgerhund,” meaning butcher's dog. In ancient times, Rottweilers were employed to herd cattle and guard valuable livestock on the long journey to market. Today, their strong work ethic and protective instincts make them loyal family guardians and versatile working dogs. They excel in roles such as police work, search and rescue, and more.

Australian Cattle Dog

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Australian Cattle Dogs are known for their problem-solving abilities. They excel in herding and agility activities due to their intelligence and energy.

An interesting fact about Australian Cattle Dogs, also known as “Blue Heelers” or “Queensland Heelers,” is their ingenious method of herding cattle. Instead of nipping at the heels like some herding breeds, Australian Cattle Dogs have a distinctive approach. They nip and bite at the heels, but if a stubborn cow doesn't respond, these clever dogs might deliver a swift, well-placed nip on the nose, encouraging the cattle to move. Australian Cattle Dogs are efficient herders and well-loved companions known for their loyalty and agility.

Bernese Mountain Dog

Bernese Mountain Dog
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Bernese Mountain Dogs are large, gentle dogs that are known for their intelligence, loyalty, and affectionate nature. They are also very good at following commands and can be trained to perform a variety of tasks.

These lovable companions thrive on human interaction and are known to form strong bonds with their families. Whether they're showcasing their loyalty, participating in outdoor activities, or simply sharing a quiet moment, Bernese Mountain Dogs bring both warmth and joy to the hearts of those lucky enough to have them as furry friends.

Pembroke Welsh Corgi

Pembroke Corgi running through field.
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These small yet mighty dogs have been favored by British royalty for decades, with Queen Elizabeth II being particularly fond of them. Their distinctive appearance, characterized by short legs and long bodies, makes them delightful in stature and endearing in their loyal and playful nature.

Miniature Schnauzers

miniature schnauzer laying on the grass
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Coren's extensive studies showed that the Schnauzer has exceptional intelligence among the 138 dog breeds under scrutiny. The Miniature Schnauzer was the standout performer in intelligence tests, with an extraordinary proficiency in learning new commands. They can master a new directive in just 30 minutes with a mere 5 to 15 repetitions. 

English Springer Spaniel

English Springer Spaniel jumping into running motion.
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The English Springer Spaniel is boundless with energy and zest for life. These spirited dogs are known for their joyful and playful nature, making them exceptional companions for families and outdoor enthusiasts alike. English Springer Spaniels thrive on activity and are always ready for an adventure, whether it's a game of fetch or exploring the great outdoors. Their enthusiasm and friendly demeanor, coupled with their intelligence and versatility, have made them not only beloved family pets but also skilled working dogs in roles such as search and rescue.

Belgian Shepherd Dog

Belgian Shepherd dog, this one being the Malinois breed, waiting for instruction.
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Known for their intelligence and eagerness to learn, Belgian Shepherds excel in various roles, from police work to search and rescue missions. The breed has four distinct varieties: the Malinois, Tervuren, Groenendael, and Laekenois. Each variety boasts its own unique coat color and characteristics, but they all share the breed's signature intelligence, agility, and unwavering loyalty.

Schipperke

Schipperke dog standing outside
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Schipperkes have a nickname of “Little Black Devils.” Despite their small size, these bold and spirited dogs are known for their confident and fearless nature. Originating in Belgium, Schipperkes were historically used as watchdogs on canal boats, alerting their owners to potential dangers. Their distinct appearance, characterized by a fox-like face and a thick, black coat, adds to their charm.

Beyond their vigilant watchdog capabilities, Schipperkes are intelligent and energetic companions, making them not only delightful pets and loyal members of the family.

Belgian Sheepdog

Belgian Sheepdog laying on grass outside
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The Belgian Sheepdog is a skilled herding and guarding breed from Belgium with a striking black coat and majestic presence. This intelligent and versatile dog is renowned for its work ethic and keen instincts, making it a well loved and respected working companion. Whether herding livestock or guarding, the Belgian Sheepdog's intelligence and agility shine through.

Collie

Collie laying in shade outside on sunny day
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Immortalized by the famous literary and cinematic character “Lassie,” Collies have become synonymous with devotion and intelligence.

Beyond their iconic appearance, Collies are celebrated for their gentle nature and natural instinct to protect their human family members. Collies have excelled in roles ranging from herding livestock to therapy work.

Keeshond

Keeshond dog breed outside looking happy.
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Keeshonds have a historical role as companions on Dutch canal boats. Originating in the Netherlands, these fluffy and distinctive dogs are beloved for their charming appearance, marked by a fox-like expression and a luxuriously plumed tail. They're also loved for their cheerful and affectionate disposition.

Keeshonds, often referred to as the “Smiling Dutchman,” have a reputation for being excellent watchdogs and loyal family pets. 

German Shorthaired Pointer

German Shorthaired Pointer.
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Originating in Germany, these athletic and keen-sensed dogs were developed for hunting a variety of game. With their distinctive brown or brown and white coat, floppy ears, and expressive eyes, German Shorthaired Pointers make striking companions and excel in a range of activities.

German Shorthaired Pointers are known for their agility, intelligence, and strong pointing instincts. They are adept hunters, skilled in locating and retrieving game. Beyond the field, their friendly and sociable nature makes them dogs with a perfect blend of athleticism and affection.

Why Looking at Cute Dog Pictures Is Good for Mental Health

Adorable dog smiling up at the camera.
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For dog lovers, a little bit of peace may be as close as a glance at a cute pup. Really!

Author: Corey Turner

Title: Journalist

Expertise: Pets, Nature, Project Management

Corey Turner is a journalist, conservationist, outdoor enthusiast, and passionate pet owner. Corey founded FurBallFun in 2022. He's known for his honest pet product reviews and guidance for navigating pet behavior, health, and nutrition.