a new photo of a dog standing next to a black and white image of the same breed dog.

The Historic Purpose Behind 10 of the Smartest Dog Breeds

Beyond being great companions, each of the following breeds was originally bred with a specific purpose in mind. The following dogs are very intelligent and have interesting working-dog histories.

From guarding boats to keeping cattle in line, here are the origins of some clever canines.

Canal Boat Watchdog

Schipperke dog standing outside
Image Credit: Deposit Photos.


Originating in Belgium, Schipperkes were historically used as watchdogs on canal boats, alerting their owners to potential dangers. These little dogs are these bold and spirited dogs and known for their confident and fearless nature. They're also called “Little Black Devils.” or “Tasmanian black devils.” 

Beyond their vigilant watchdog capabilities, Schipperkes are intelligent and energetic companions, making them spirited and loyal dogs to have as a family pet.

The Butcher's Dog

a woman walking a dog in a grassy field.
Image Credit: ouraPechkin/Shutterstock.


These 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. Rottweilers are strong, highly intelligent and trainable. Their loyalty and intelligence make them excellent guard dogs. 

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.

Dingo Descendant

a dog standing in a field.
Image Credit: Tanya-Consaul/Shutterstock.

Australian Cattle Dogs

In the 1840's Australian cattlemen began experimenting with crossing Dingos with blue merle Collie dogs. Eventually they added both Dalmatian (for loyalty) as well as Black and Tan Kelpie (for working ability) to the lineage. The puppies that represented the best qualities became the forbearers to today's Australian Cattle Dogs.

Australian Cattle Dogs were first called Australian Heelers and people sometimes refer to them as Blue Heelers or Queensland Heelers still. These dogs are known for their problem-solving abilities. They excel in herding and agility activities due to their intelligence and energy.

First Official German Shepherd

a dog standing on a concrete surface.
Image Credit: Public Domina via Wikimedia Commons.

German Shepherd

Max Emil Friedrich von Stephanitz grew up in a wealthy family in the 1800's and had originally studied veterinary medicine prior to going into the military. He admired the sheepdogs he saw as a cavalry officer in the German countryside. His love of animals made it a natural move to decide to develop a formal German Shepherd breed.

At a dog show in 1899 he purchased the striking dog, “Hektor Linksrhein.” He renamed the dog “Horand von Grafrath” and soon after he founded the founded the world’s first German Shepherd Dog club. He gave his new dog the inaugural registration number SZ1, making this the first official German Shepherd.

Renowned for their unwavering loyalty and protective instincts, German Shepherds are devoted and intelligent. Their versatile nature positions them as outstanding working dogs, particularly excelling in demanding roles such as police and service duties.

A Useful Dog

Border collie dog carrying a big stick.
Image Credit: Alan-Sheers/Shutterstock.

Border Collies

In old Gaelic, “collie” was a term for anything useful; according to Iris Combe, in her book, Border Collies. So, a collie dog was a way of expressing that this was a useful dog. Because this breed originally came from the border region of England and Scotland, it was christened the “Border Collie,” according to the American Kennel Club.

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. 

Primed to Swim in Icy Waters


Man giving high five to dog
Image Credit: Shutterstock.

Labradors have origins in Newfoundland, Canada where they were originally bred to help fishermen retrieve fish and nets from the icy waters of the North Atlantic. They're perfect for jobs like these because their thick coats repel water, and their webbed paws make them excellent swimmers.

Labrador Retrievers are known for friendliness and high intelligence. Renowned for their versatility, these dogs excel in multiple roles, including search and rescue missions.

Splashy Retrievers

White poodle dog sitting on lawn next to a pond.
Image Credit: nieriss/Shutterstock.



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 swimming abilities made them excellent companions for hunters retrieving waterfowl.

Poodles are hypoallergenic and highly intelligent. They excel in obedience training and are known for their problem-solving skills.

Don't Mess With the Tax Collector

a dog lying on the ground.
Image Credit: JELIZAVETA-KARAKAJA/Shutterstock.


Tax collector Louis Dobermann were originally bred these dogs 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. Their sharp minds make them excellent candidates for obedience and agility training.

Working for the Romans

bernese mountain dog walking in foggy field.
Image Credit: Kristesoro/Shutterstock.

Bernese Mountain Dogs

These dogs were brought to Switzerland as working dogs more than 2,000 years ago by invading Romans. The breed was widely used to pull carts, drive cattle, and to protect farms from predators. These large, gentle dogs that are known for their intelligence, loyalty, and affectionate nature. They are very good at following commands and can be trained to perform a variety of tasks.

Smiling Dutchman

Keeshond dog breed outside looking happy.
Image Credit: dancing with wolves, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons.


Originating in the Netherlands, these fluffy and distinctive dogs have a historical role as companions on Dutch canal boats. Keeshonds are beloved for their charming appearance and 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. 


More Fun Animal Facts

Two Goats look at camera.
Image Credit: Linas-T/Shutterstock.