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Chaser, the smartest dog in the world, who sadly passed away in 2019, knew the names of more than 1,000 toys. She also understood categories of toys and even adjectives, like bigger and smaller. Not surprisingly, Chaser was a Border Collie, widely considered to be the smartest dog breed in the world.
And they’re not the only working dog breed on the list of the 10 smartest dog breeds. Other working dogs on the list of smartest dog breeds include German Shepherds, Dobermans, and Shetland Sheepdogs among others.
The smartest dog breeds list was compiled by canine researcher Dr. Stanley Coren in his book “The Intelligence of Dogs.” (It also lists some of the, em, not so smart dog breeds.) To create the list, Dr. Coren spoke with hundreds of obedience judges from the American Kennel Club and Canadian Kennel Club.
According to his research, the smartest breeds can learn new commands in less than five exposures. Plus, they obey the first command they’re given 95% of the time (or better).
Border Collies lead the list of smartest dog breeds in the world. Like Chaser, mentioned above, Border Collies can learn a lot. And, they learn fast. They’re also incredibly obedient. Their intelligence, obedience, and hard-working nature are what make them prized as herding dogs. Throw in their good nature and fierce loyalty and they also make for great family dogs.
The Poodle is another fiercely intelligent dog breed. There’s a reason Poodles have won Best in Show at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show 10 times, most recently in 2020. Add it’s not just their elaborate coats. Poodles are whip-smart, easy to train and well-behaved. Despite being more well-known as show dogs, Poodles were bred as working dogs and still make excellent retrievers.
No list of the smartest dog breeds is complete without the German Shepherd. One of the most popular dog breeds for families, German Shepherds are also favored as police and military dogs thanks to their intelligence, obedience, and protective nature. These dogs can be trained to detect drugs, disease, and explosives. Or they can be trained to run an agility course or serve as a service dog. They’re just that versatile.
"GSD are one of the most intelligent dogs due to their ability to adapt, adjust, and perform in any environment and conditions," says Libor Zavalsky, owner of K-9 Specialists in Ocala, Florida. "It can be extreme cold, hot, jungle, desert, city, many different people, different transportations, etc. and nothing will disturb them from performing their tasks."
You might be surprised to find these sometimes goofy, always loveable family dogs on the list of top 10 smartest dog breeds. But there’s a reason these dogs are highly sought after as service dogs. In fact, the first adjective used by the American Kennel Club to describe Goldens is “intelligent.” (Friendly and devoted come next.) Golden Retrievers have been known to learn more than 200 commands and they’re highly obedient and eager to please, which makes them great working or family dogs.
Doberman Pinscher’s get a bit of a bad rap as scary and mean, but these intelligence pooches are easy to train, learn fast, and are highly obedient. They were bred to be guard dogs so are also fearless and loyal, which is why they’re regularly used for personal protection and as watchdogs. They’ve even been used by the military. In fact, Kurt the Doberman famously saved 250 U.S. Marine soldiers in Guam in 1944 by alerting them to the presence of approaching Japanese soldiers.
The second herder on the list, the Shetland Sheepdog is a natural entry on the list of smartest dog breeds. Much like Border Collies, Shelties (as they’re called) are easy to train. They excel in obedience and agility trials and love to learn new tricks. Shelties are excellent family dogs thanks to their happy-go-lucky, affectionate, and loyal nature.
Labrador Retrievers aren’t just one of the smartest dog breeds in the world, they’re also the most popular dog breed in the U.S. Like Golden Retrievers, the Lab’s intelligence, friendliness, and eagerness to please make them excellent service dogs. They learn new commands easy, which also makes teaching them tricks a fun activity, as well.
The smallest dog on the list of the smartest dog breeds list, the Papillon loves to learn and does it quickly. They excel in agility trials and, according to Dr. Coren’s research, are beloved by obedience judges. They’re eager to please and because of their high intelligence needs lots of stimulation to keep them from becoming bored. Smart, extroverted, loyal, and fearless, these little five- to 10-pound pups pack a lot into a little package.
Another working dog breed known more for its fierce, protective nature rather than its intelligence, the Rottweiler is, nevertheless, one smart dog. Like Dobermans, Rotties are confident guard dogs, making them popular as police and military dogs. But their intelligence and loyalty also make them excellent service and therapy dogs, as well as successful obedience trial competitors.
Yet another herding dog, the Australian Cattle Dog finishes off the list of the top 10 smartest dog breeds. Fit and ready for anything, these dogs are also curious and have boundless energy. With their high intelligence and need to be active, Australian Cattle Dogs bore easily. In fact, they’re infamous for outsmarting their humans when left to their own devices. The American Kennel Club recommends Australian Cattle Dog owners keep them busy with work, sport, or regular exercise.