Editorial Note: We earn a commission from partner links on Forbes Advisor. Commissions do not affect our editors’ opinions or evaluations.
You might think your dog is one smart cookie—and you’re probably right. Just as humans have different types of intelligence and aptitudes for different skills, dogs have different areas of intelligence and things they’re good at.
“Usually when we talk about intelligence in other species, we’re looking at problem-solving ability. But when we’re talking about dogs, most people also think of trainability and obedience,” says Kayla Fratt, certified dog behavior consultant and founder at K9 Conservationists.
But Fratt adds that excellent obedience isn’t the only sign of dog intelligence. “Dogs that get into trouble are often smart and determined,” she adds.
Neuropsychology and cognition researcher Stanley Coren identifies three types of dog intelligence that refer to a dog’s ability to learn: instinctive, adaptive, and working and obedience intelligence. Based on the latter category, Coren ranked over 100 dog breeds based on how quickly they could learn new commands.
Here are the top 20 most intelligent dogs, as ranked by Coren:
Dogs that aren’t necessarily good at learning words or commands may excel at reading social cues, or might be excellent at tracking scents, according to the American Kennel Club (AKC). So while your dog might not rank high on a list of the most intelligent dogs, it might still be a genius at something.
While it might seem that trainability and obedience are the most useful measure of dog intelligence for humans, that doesn’t mean the most intelligent dogs are always the easiest pets. “Dogs that are excellent at problem-solving and pattern-learning can be very difficult to live with,” Fratt says. “My border collie routinely opens cabinets and other ‘dog-proof’ containers.”
Indeed, many of the smartest dogs as ranked by Coren are high-energy working, herding and hunting breeds that need a lot of socialization, exercise and mental stimulation to stay happy and out of trouble.
“I spend about two hours every single day actively exercising and training my dogs to ensure that they’re happy and satiated at the end of the day,” Fratt says. “Most people are better off with low-energy, even-keeled dogs that can be trained on the basics but don’t need constant engagement, training and enrichment to stay happy.”
Highly active dogs can also be more prone to injury, as well as to joint issues and other health problems as they get older. If you have a smart dog, investing in pet insurance can help cover costs related to accidental injury and illness.
Is Your Dog Covered?
Get Peace of Mind With the Best Pet Insurance of 2023
Top 20 Smartest Dog Breeds
1. Border Collie
The border collie tops the list of smartest dogs, and it’s no wonder. A border collie named Chaser gained fame in the early 2000s for learning the meaning of over 1,000 proper nouns. By contrast, according to Coren, the average dog learns about 160 words throughout their lifetime, and most smart breeds can learn around 250.
The AKC describes the border collie as a “remarkably bright workaholic” that is energetic and happiest when it has a job to do. Border collies need lots of socialization and obedience training throughout their lives, which can help provide mental stimulation in lieu of having sheep to herd. These are athletic dogs that excel in agility sports.
Border collies tend to be vocal and bark a lot, and without constructive outlets for their energy and skills may try to herd other pets or small children. But as long as they’re given plenty of exercise and mental stimulation, at the end of the day they’re ready to settle down and relax with their family.
They may look like accessory dogs, but don’t let the poodle’s elaborate hairstyles fool you. In any size, from tiny toys to small miniatures to large standards, poodles are surprisingly clever.
First bred in Germany as duck-hunting dogs and water retrievers, these are versatile, performance-oriented dogs that crave attention and love to show off. This may explain why they’re as much at ease doing tricks in a circus ring as they are hunting birds in the field.
Poodles are also excellent companion dogs, especially the smaller varieties. But all sizes excel at learning tricks and obedience, as well as a number of dog sports. Poodles are people-oriented and eager to please, but need a good deal of daily exercise and healthy outlets for their energy and cleverness.
3. German Shepherd
The German shepherd is widely regarded as the Swiss army knife of dogs. These are highly intelligent and adaptable dogs that are as courageous as they are skilled at problem solving, which makes them excellent at police and military work.
German shepherd dogs are loyal and loving, form tight and protective bonds with their families, and can be reserved toward strangers. They’re energetic, driven and easily bored. Like the border collie, they’re happiest when they have a job to do.
German shepherds need early socialization, ongoing obedience training and frequent exercise and activity to stay calm. They may bark at strangers or to alert you to possible danger, and they can also be quite vocal, expressing themselves with grunts and whines.
This breed is prone to hip, joint and other health issues that may force them to slow down as they age. This can make it more challenging to provide them with the activity and stimulation they crave.
4. Golden Retriever
Golden retrievers may not be the most intelligent dog on the list, but they top the list of smart dogs who make great family pets, according to Fratt.
“They are generally excellent family dogs that are even-keeled and go-with-the-flow,” Fratt says. This versatile breed is great at hunting and retrieving, search and rescue, and makes excellent service dogs for the blind and disabled.
Goldens are intelligent and easy to train, but they’re also sensible in a way that makes them more stable and reliable than more high-strung smart breeds. But for all their seriousness while at work, they’re also fun-loving dogs who enjoy their playtime. They have energy and stamina that make them ideal for keeping you company on long walks or runs, although low-impact activities will go easier on their joints.
Joint issues aren’t the only health problems that plague golden retrievers. “It’s very important to find goldens with low levels of cancer in the family tree,” says Fratt, who also points out that some golden retriever lines can be prone to reactivity or resource guarding. But plenty of puppy socialization and obedience training will help these eager-to-please dogs grow into well-adjusted and loyal companions.
5. Doberman Pinscher
Doberman pinschers may look intimidating, but only because that’s often their job. Underneath that fierce demeanor is a sweet, fun-loving soul that’s eager to please. Dobermans are quick on the uptake, learning quickly to respond to commands.
Bred to be personal protection dogs, Doberman pinschers don’t like to get too far from their people. They’re a versatile breed which does well at police and military work and search and rescue, as well as being good service and therapy dogs.
As natural guardians, they bark to alert as well as to warn off strangers and perceived threats. They’re another high-energy breed that needs lots of exercise and engagement, as well as socialization and obedience training in order to be happy and well-adjusted. Lacking these things, they may become bossy, destructive and difficult to manage.
6. Shetland Sheepdog
The collie’s miniaturized cousin, the Shetland sheepdog, also referred to as the Sheltie, is described by the AKC as “bright and eager” and “easy trainers.” In addition to their quick learning, Shelties are sensitive and empathetic dogs that know how to read the room. They’re world-class herders, but also make loving family companions, and they’re calm enough to serve as therapy dogs.
Shelties can be a little excitable and tend to express themselves by barking, but these smart dogs can be trained to stop barking on command. Their wariness of strangers and tendency to “yell” at them makes them excellent little watch dogs.
Like most herding breeds, Shelties are athletic and energetic, but not as highly strung as border collies or German shepherds. They need a moderate amount of exercise and mental stimulation that can be satisfied with daily walks, although they also do great at dog sports.
7. Labrador Retriever
Labrador retrievers are consistently one of the most popular breeds in the U.S., according to AKC. Labs are friendly to a fault, which makes them not ideal for guarding and protection. But they love their people with a passion and devotion that’s unmatched, and they will truly be your best friend.
While Labs are highly intelligent and easy to train, what sets them apart is their ability to self-train through observation and imitation, according to Reader’s Digest. And Coren puts them at number seven on his list thanks to their ability to make good judgements based on their sense of smell. This makes them excellent at search and rescue, as well as drug and bomb detection. Labs also make great service dogs.
Described as “exuberant,” Labs have a great deal of energy and need frequent exercise, which they love to get from adventures with their humans, especially hunting. These active water dogs also love swimming and dock diving.
As physically strong adults who are prone to spurts of rambunctiousness, Labrador retrievers need socialization and obedience training from an early age to help them calm down and be well-adjusted.
The papillon is a centuries-old breed with spaniel heritage. This might explain why these tiny dogs with big, butterfly-shaped ears possess so much intelligence and athleticism.
Papillons are bright, curious and eager to please. They tend to take to house training more readily than many other small breeds. Despite their sporting dog energy, papillons were bred primarily for companionship and don’t do well being left on their own for long periods. But they can form tight bonds with other pets as well as people.
Like most smart, energetic dogs, papillons need early socialization and lots of exercise and engagement to stay happy and calm. Thanks to their size, the latter can be achieved with indoor play, or by teaching them tricks, which they love to learn. They’re also champions at agility sports.
Rottweilers look like bruisers, but they’re sweet and gentle with their families. They’re a highly adaptable working breed that has been employed as police dogs, protection dogs, search-and-rescue dogs and even as seeing-eye dogs.
A well-socialized Rottie will be confident but aloof with strangers. At home, however, they’re not only cuddly and affectionate, but silly and playful. With proper training, Rotties are protective of their loved ones without being inappropriately aggressive, although lots of socialization is needed when they’re puppies.
Rotties learn quickly and are generally eager to please, but possess a stubborn streak. They need firm but fair leadership and consistent training to get them past their willfulness. Rotties also need daily exercise and love having a job to keep them occupied so they don’t get bored.
10. Australian Cattle Dog
The Australian cattle dog, also known as the blue or red heeler, is a highly driven breed that’s best suited for herding cattle. A close relative of the wild dingo, they’re smart enough to “routinely outsmart their owners,” according to the AKC.
Although they’re highly skilled and learn quickly, ACDs have bottomless wells of energy and a strong work drive, which make them challenging to handle. They can be loyal and loving dogs for the right owners, but without healthy outlets for their intelligence and drive, they may take matters into their own hands and become destructive as a result.
ACDs need early socialization and life-long training. They’re a good fit for an active family that has enough time and energy to keep up with them and provide daily training, exercise and activity.
11. Pembroke Welsh Corgi
They may be short, but corgis have a lot of power in those little legs. This lets them keep up admirably with the big job of herding cattle. This is another high-drive herder that’s happiest when given something constructive to do with its time and copious energy.
Pembroke Welsh corgis are described as bright, playful and sensitive. They enjoy human engagement and respond well to positive reinforcement training. More subdued than other cattle dogs, they do well with moderate amounts of exercise. They’re well suited to long walks or jogs, but are prone to hip dysplasia and other health issues, so low-impact activities are best for this breed.
Pembroke Welsh corgis are well suited for active families. They love togetherness and are affectionate without being clingy. They also have a courageous protective streak that, combined with their big bark, make for an excellent watchdog.
12. Miniature Schnauzer
Miniature schnauzers are the result of breeding the standard schnauzer with the affenpinscher and poodle, resulting in a sturdy and intelligent rodent hunter without the hyperactivity you often find in other small terriers bred for the same purpose.
Bright, alert and easy to train, these pups are also outgoing and companionable. Although not as high-strung as most terriers, they’re energetic and do well with a fenced yard where they can run and play fetch with no worries about them chasing squirrels into traffic.
Miniature schnauzers are fast learners, eager to please their owners and picking up quickly on new commands. But they can grow quickly bored with rote learning, so training needs to be fun with variety and plenty of rewards to keep their attention. These are adaptable dogs that can do equally well having a farm to patrol or living in an apartment, as long as they get plenty of play and exercise each day.
13. English Springer Spaniel
This breed is a bird dog that was bred specifically to find game birds, flush them from their hiding places and then either retrieve them or point to their location until their owner could claim their prize. This takes a lot of dog smarts, which the English springer spaniel has in spades.
As hunting dogs, springers love spending time outdoors and going on rugged adventures with their people. But at the end of the day they’re happy to curl up indoors next to their loved ones. Proper socialization and plenty of exercise can help these outdoorsy dogs adapt well to apartment living, although a home with a fenced yard where they can run and play is ideal.
Springers are natural explorers and need continual training and strong leadership to keep their curiosity and prey drive from getting them into trouble. They also love to be with their people and don’t do well being left alone for long hours. This breed gets along well with children and other pets, and their easy trainability helps them be excellent family dogs.
14. Belgian Tervuren
Closely related to the Belgian Malinois, the Tervuren is another workaholic herding breed. Tervs are characterized by the AKC as overachievers that “take real delight in their ability to master any task.”
Tervs aren’t all work and no play, however. Always in motion, they love it when their work can be turned into a game. It’s important to be gentle with these sensitive pups and keep training sessions positive and rewarding. But this is a very clever breed that can learn to do just about any task or trick you want it to do.
Belgian Tervurens work hard and play hard, and they need a lot of exercise and activity every single day. A Belgian Tervuren will do best with an energetic owner who can devote lots of time each day to fulfilling this dog’s insatiable need for action and engagement.
Schipperke means “little captain” in Flemish. These small but mighty dogs got their name serving as watchdogs and rat catchers aboard barges in northwestern Europe’s Low Countries.
Schipperkes are intelligent enough to quickly learn how to do just about any task, but have an independent and mischievous streak that can make them a bit of a challenge to train. Patience, persistence and consistency, along with plenty of socialization from a young age, can help them learn and grow into well-behaved adults.
Schipperkes like to stay busy, but thanks to their small size, they can burn off energy zooming around a fenced yard or even a large living room. These are naturally curious explorers that need to be kept on a leash or behind a fence to keep them from running off to find their own adventures. They have a tendency to bark, which makes them excellent watchdogs, but can be taught to tone it down when the barking becomes too much.
If you’ve ever watched Lassie, you might think this dog’s cleverness and penchant for rescuing children who’ve fallen into wells were the stuff of Hollywood exaggeration. But collies really are that smart. They also love children and have been employed outside of Hollywood as rescue dogs.
These sweet and loyal dogs love nothing more than to be with their people. They’re quick learners, happy to train with you if it means they get to be with you, and they excel with positive reinforcement.
As high-drive herders, they need a good deal of exercise, but this can be achieved with daily walks, backyard romps and games of fetch. If left on their own for too long, they’re likely to entertain themselves by barking. But unlike other high-drive dogs who can’t sit still until they’re worn out, according to the AKC, “a collie will be ready to go when it’s time to go, and able to chill when it’s time to chill.”
17. German Shorthaired Pointer
The German shorthaired pointer (GSP) was bred to be a jack-of-all-trades when it comes to hunting. That makes this a versatile, quick-learning breed that can be trained for a wide variety of tasks. They excel at flushing, pointing, tracking and retrieving in equal measures. If you don’t hunt, your GSP will love engaging in games and sports that let them show off these skills—especially if swimming is involved.
They are affectionate dogs that form tight bonds with their people and love to tag along with them on adventures. Bred for long days in the field, they have a lot of energy and stamina and need an owner who can keep up with them and provide plenty of exercise and fun activities. Giving GSPs a purpose will help keep them focused and prevent them from becoming destructive.
GSP puppies should start socialization and obedience training early. They become especially challenging from the ages of 6 months to 3 years, but consistent training in obedience and other tasks and skills, along with plenty of constructive outlets for their energy and smarts, can help them become calm and well-adjusted adults.
18. Standard Schnauzer
The standard schnauzer is the original breed from which the miniature and giant schnauzers are bred, and their look and temperament set the standard for the other two breeds. Described as “high-spirited” and “crafty,” schnauzers are extremely bright but willful dogs that make loving and loyal companions, protective watchdogs and excellent family pets.
Bred to be all-purpose farm dogs, schnauzers are energetic and able to perform many tasks well. They’re playful dogs that love a good game of chase and also enjoy long walks and hikes, as long as they have their humans along for company.
According to the AKC, schnauzers pick up on new tasks or commands quickly and then grow bored with continued repetition. They’re capable of learning on their own, but they need guidance to ensure they learn the right things. Keeping training sessions short, positive and fun will help keep them on track and teach them what you want them to do.
The Brittany is an extremely versatile bird-hunting dog that can go after a wide variety of fowl. Brittanys are in their element when they’re doing outdoorsy activities with their human partner.
Their endless energy and stamina need to be channeled into constructive pursuits. For owners who aren’t into hunting, their Brittanys can be satisfied with long hikes or long-distance runs, and they do great at pretty much every dog sport.
The AKC describes Brittanys as having an “upbeat, willing disposition.” They’re naturals at sporting activities and thrive on positive, gentle training. Early socialization and plenty of athletic activity will help Brittanys grow up into loyal, loving and adventurous companions.
20. Cocker Spaniel
Thanks to Lady and the Tramp, the sweet and pretty cocker spaniel enjoyed a heyday in the 1950s as America’s most popular dog breed. The smallest of the sporting spaniels, they get their name from their specialized use in hunting woodcocks.
Today’s cockers specialize in companionship. Playful and energetic, they love children and make excellent family pets. Even so, as a sporting breed they still have a lot of energy and athleticism, and need regular exercise to keep them fit and healthy. They get along well with other dogs and can get a lot of their energy out engaging in play with a canine best friend.
That said, cockers mostly prefer time with their people, and love going on walks and engaging in backyard games. They have a strong desire to be “good” for their people, which motivates them to learn obedience and respond quickly to correction and positive reinforcement. Cockers like to perform and enjoy a challenge, which makes them easy to train, as well as a great fit for dog sports.
Featured Partner Offers
Maximum annual coverage
$5,000, $10,000, Unlimited
70%, 80%, 90%
$100, $250, $500
Maximum annual coverage
$5,000, $10,000, Unlimited
70%, 80%, 90%
$100, $250, $500
Maximum annual coverage
$2,500, $3,000, $4,000, $5,000, $7,000, $10,000, $15,000, $20,000, Unlimited
70%, 80%, 90%
$100, $250, $500, $750, $1,000
With a few exceptions, the smartest dog breeds can be challenging for the average dog owner to handle. Most were bred to be workaholics, and they require copious amounts of training, exercise and mental engagement to be happy and well-adjusted. But as intelligent dogs, they learn quickly and they can make loving, loyal and highly rewarding companions for the right owner.