In 1994, University of British Columbia professor Stanley Coren published a book called The Intelligence of Dogs. In it, he included a list of what he determined to be the smartest dog breeds. According to Coren, there are many different kinds of dog intelligence, including working intelligence (the ability to follow orders), instinctive intelligence (the ability to do what a dog was bred to do, such as retrieve and hunt), and others.1
Here’s a look at how Coren developed his list and the breeds that — according to his methodology — make the top 6 smartest dog breeds.
Coren solicited the help of many experts in order to compile his list. He sent surveys to judges of dog obedience competitions across the country, and he received nearly 200 responses. Coren asked the judges to rank dog breeds by their performance.2
So what actually makes a dog “smart?”
Coren determined that intelligence is measured by the average number of repetitions it takes for dogs of a certain breed to understand a new command.
The faster a dog can learn, the smarter they are. Coren also determined that the percentage of times a dog responds to a known command is another sign of intelligence. For example, if the dog obeys a command 95 percent of the time (19 times out of 20, for example), then they are considered to be extremely smart.3
The Sensational Six
Here are the six smartest dog breeds, according to Stanley Coren.
1. Border Collie
The Border Collie is incredibly smart. Dogs from this breed have served many different types of roles, including guard dogs and sheepdogs. One Border Collie, known as Chaser, is able to identify more than 1,000 different toys.4 Another, Betsy, reportedly could understand over 300 words.5 Border Collies are extremely active and need a lot of exercise just about every day.
The Poodle is another one of the smartest dog breeds. Originally bred for retrieving as well as bird hunting, poodles are loving and highly trainable. But while Poodles are affectionate, it’s important that they go through obedience training. The reason is that dogs of this breed can easily become bored. If this happens, they can sometimes exhibit destructive behavior. In addition, the coat of a Poodle needs to be groomed about every 3-6 weeks to keep it as healthy as possible. A Poodle’s eyes also leak quite often, leading to stains. To avoid this, use a washcloth soaked in warm water, or an alcohol-free wipe, to clean the area each day.6
3. German Shepherd
This breed is not only one of the smartest dog breeds, it’s also one of the 10 most popular dog breeds in the U.S. In fact, one of the best-known animals in show business was a German Shepherd known as Rin Tin Tin. German shepherds help humans in many ways. They serve as police dogs, sniffing out illegal substances and helping to catch criminals. They also have a long history of serving in the military.7
If you work from home, this breed will be great for you. But if you’re away from the house for several hours a day, that could be a problem. German Shepherds can easily become bored and may act out by chewing up household items or digging in your yard. That’s why this breed should get obedience training, and must also be exercised daily and exposed to other people and dogs as a puppy, if possible. After all, German Shepherds are known to be suspicious of strangers. The breed also sheds a great deal, requiring brushing on a regular basis.8
4. Golden Retriever
Another incredibly popular breed, the Golden Retriever, is known for its gentle and affectionate demeanor. Not only is this breed extremely friendly, it’s also very smart and hard working. Golden Retrievers serve in search-and-rescue operations and as guide dogs. They’re also devoted to their owners. Golden Retrievers usually don’t bark that often, and their long, thick coats require regular grooming. They’re also great with children as well as other dogs. The average male weighs between 65-75 pounds, while the average female weighs in between 55-65 pounds.9
5. Doberman Pinscher
The Doberman elicits different responses from different people. Many view this breed as aggressive and potentially dangerous, while others say Dobermans are some of the most loyal, loving dogs around. Typically, a Doberman will love anyone they encounter – unless the dog views that person as a threat in any way. As long as you provide a loving environment, and give a Doberman plenty of exercise, they should make an excellent pet. But if you don’t keep a Doberman occupied, a member of this breed might respond by barking a lot and chewing up your shoes or furniture.10
6. Shetland Sheepdog
Also commonly referred to as the “Sheltie,” the Shetland Sheepdog is often mistaken for a miniature Collie. Shelties and miniature collies do share some genetic characteristics, but they are considered different dog breeds. Shelties are quite smart and can learn commands quickly. Obedience training would be great for this breed. Shetland Sheepdogs are also affectionate and alert when it comes to guarding their family members.11
Final Words on the Smartest Dog Breeds
If your dog isn’t on a list of smartest dog breeds, that doesn’t mean you should love them any less. Intelligence is great, but as long as your beloved pet is an affectionate, happy, and well-behaved companion, that will always be more important.