What are the smartest dog breeds in the world?

What makes a dog so smart, and why are some more intelligent than others? We take a look at the smartest dog breeds in the world, revealing all you need to know about perceptive pooches.

What is the smartest dog breed? Well, it certainly ain't the pug!
What is the smartest dog breed? Well, it certainly ain't the pug!  © Unsplash / Charles

The debate over a dog's smarts has come a long way over the past few decades.

Indeed, with modern science, researchers have been able to take a deeper look at pooch brains and determine which doggos are the sharpest tools in the shed.

So, is your dog a smarty or a dummy?

Missing dog found in mindblowing way after seven long years!
Dogs Missing dog found in mindblowing way after seven long years!

In this dog guide, TAG24 takes a look at the smartest dog breed in the world and what makes them tick.

Get ready to meet the 10 most clever dogs in the world!

What is the smartest dog breed?

To determine which dog breeds are the smartest, it's important to focus on "working intelligence" rather than knowledge. In a book by Dutch primatologist Frans de Waal – creatively titled Are we smart enough to know how smart animals are? – there's a powerful argument that people misunderstand what it truly means for an animal to be smart.

Judge intelligence from the context of a human's brain and experiences is not an accurate representation. De Waal writes: "It seems highly unfair to ask if a squirrel can count to ten" – which of course makes sense, as squirrels don't generally need to count, and have therefore never come up with such a concept.

Instead, things like "working intelligence" are far more important than the ability to comprehend complicated concepts like computer science and language. In The Intelligence of Dogs, psychologist Stanley Coren breaks down the results of a lengthy dog-obedience survey. From this, he's able to use measures of "working intelligence" to give us a pretty definitive answer on which pooch is the smartest.

He found that the Border Collie is the smartest dog breed in the world, as they can learn new commands extremely fast (less than five seconds in some cases) and will obey almost all the time.

Why are Border Collies so smart?

Border Collies display a remarkable level of "working intelligence", making them capable of completing very complicated tasks, learning extremely quickly, and demonstrating a large level of obedience. The metric used to determine Border Collies as the smartest dogs in the world does not, however, take emotional intelligence into account.

As obedient, lively, and quick learning doggos, Border Collies also display a large amount of playfulness and love a good cuddle, but they're also a lot of work. While they can be great family dogs, these beautiful pooches will need a lot of exercise (agility training would be a great idea), fellowship with other dogs, and tons of attention.

Border Collies are extremely attentive, curious, and intelligent dog breeds. They're also cute.
Border Collies are extremely attentive, curious, and intelligent dog breeds. They're also cute.  © Unsplash / Chung Nguyen

Why are some dog breeds smarter than others?

Judging the level of a dog's intelligence is very complicated, and there's no one perfect way of defining what "smart" truly means. According to the studies we have already discussed, intelligence can be understood in dogs as the ability to understand and translate instructions, and perform complex tasks.

The idea of "working intelligence" is purely based on a dog's ability to work in a specific context, such as a farm, in therapy or health care, or doing things like solving puzzles. There's a problem with this definition, though: it completely ignores the emotional side of intelligence.

As a result, the real question here is about those perfect pooches who are fantastic at looking after and caring for their owners, and have a knack for recognizing and responding to human emotion, but are perhaps unable to perform complex tasks or be trained. Are they not smart? That's not a question we can really answer, sadly.

Top 10 smartest dog breeds

Many bigger dogs, like Golden Retrievers and Poodles, happen to also be smarter.
Many bigger dogs, like Golden Retrievers and Poodles, happen to also be smarter.  © Hans Ole Benonisen / Unsplash (Left) & Mitchell Luo / Unsplash (Right)

Having studied the survey results of 199 dog-obedience judges, Stanley Coren came up with a pretty definitive list of the smartest doggos. This list has been confirmed by subsequent studies, with minor differences in order but not the overall choice of breeds. As a result, we consider this pretty definitive.

Here are the top 10 smartest dogs breeds in the world:

1. Border Collie
2. Poodle
3. German Shepherd
4. Golden Retriever
5. Doberman Pinscher
6. Shetland Sheepdog
7. Labrador Retriever
8. Papillon
9. Rottweiler
10. Australian Cattle Dog

Dog's dramatic display of jealousy has TikTok cracking up!
Dogs Dog's dramatic display of jealousy has TikTok cracking up!

While definitive according to the theories of Coren and de Waal, this list might not actually represent what intelligence means to you. In the end, these kinds of discussions come down to values. What do you value in a dog? Do you want it to be loving, or capable of more complex problem-solving?

Of course, that doesn't mean that you can't have both. Many of these dogs display both impressive "working intelligence" and emotional intelligence, making them both the ultimate work dogs and ultimate family dogs.

The smartest dog breed is hard to look after

Border Collies are rather difficult to look after, having developed behaviors and characteristics from their time spent working on farms and as guard dogs. There's a reason why this particular breed has been so over-worked – these dogs are extremely smart and they have an insane work ethic. The problem is that, in a domestic context, that doesn't make them easy to deal with.

That doesn't mean, though, that they won't make a good pet. With the right training and a lot of love, even the smartest dogs will be happy to live with you and the whole family.

Cover photo: Unsplash / Charles

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