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Top 7 Smartest Dog Breeds and Stories Of Amazing Dog Intelligence

Sher Warkentin
Sept. 23, 2015

Find out which dogs are considered the smartest dog breeds.

Is your dog smart? It may seem like a basic question, but figuring out the answer is much more complex than you might think. Determining which are the smartest dog breeds -- and levels of intelligence in individual dogs -- relies on a variety of factors. Dr. Stanley Coren, a professor of psychology at the University of British Columbia and author of "The Intelligence of Dogs," and Ace Collins, the author of "Man's Best Hero," explain what makes a smart dog and why humans are so fascinated by dog achievements.

As Coren explains, a dog's intelligence can be separated into three categories: instinctive, adaptive, and working and obedience. Instinctive intelligence is the knowledge a dog has been bred to have. "Every breed is different when it comes to these traits, so to compare them in order to determine intelligence level is like comparing apples and oranges," Coren says.

Adaptive intelligence is like street smarts and represents what a dog can learn on his own from his environment. This type of intelligence can be measured through specially designed tests. "Working and obedience intelligence is like school learning," says Coren, "It encompasses what a dog can learn under human command and is the best way to rank dog breeds in terms of intelligence."

Coren surveyed over 200 professional dog obedience judges and asked them to rank dogs based on their intelligence. According to his results, the top ten smartest dog breeds are:

  1. Border Collie
    Bred as herding dogs, border collies are considered extremely intelligent because they are obedient, very alert and responsive to human command.
  2. Poodle
    Poodles, though better known for their looks, are incredibly smart and were originally bred as retrievers. Poodles can easily learn all kinds of commands and tricks.
  3. German Shepherd
    German shepherds are known most famously as guard dogs and law enforcement companions. They excel at these jobs because they have steady dispositions and can be easily trained to respond to commands.
  4. Golden Retriever
    Like most retrievers, goldens are incredibly smart because they are bred to place their full attention on their human companions. "Paying attention and responding to commands is the first step to training," explains Coren.
  5. Doberman Pinscher
    Doberman pinschers are known for being highly alert -- an important component of obedience. They can learn and retain a great deal of commands.
  6. Shetland Sheepdog
    Shetland sheepdogs are herding dogs that tend to be naturally obedient and highly responsive.
  7. Labrador Retriever
    Labradors are intelligent, extremely social and easily adaptable, which is why they are often employed as service animals.
  8. Papillon
    The smartest of the toy breeds, papillons excel at agility tests and can easily learn all kinds of tricks.
  9. Rottweiler
    Descended from Roman herding dogs, rottweilers were favored as police dogs because of their high level of intelligence and instinct for guarding.
  10. Australian Cattle Dog
    Bred as herding dogs, Australian cattle dogs are highly alert and excel at agility and obedience trials.

Smart Dogs In Action
As Collins notes "While most people run away from life's toughest emotional situations, dogs rush into them." Given this unique gift, it's natural that dogs attract us and fascinate us, he explains. Here are a few amazing ways that dogs have put their intelligence to good use:

  • A border collie, Chaser, already ranks as the top dog when it comes to intelligence, but this pup is one of the smartest, having learned over 1,200 different words.
  • A black Labrador and guide dog named Orlando tried to save his blind owner who fell onto a subway train track. (And they both lived!)
  • A Doberman pinscher/border collie mix was one of the first documented cases of a dog being able to sniff out undiagnosed cancer.
  • Katrina, a black Labrador, was given the Genesis Award for rescuing a drowning man during Hurricane Katrina.
  • A yellow Labrador and trained guide dog, Roselle, led her owner to safety from the 78th floor of the World Trade Center on 9/11.

No matter what breed you have, all dogs can be trained to some degree, which will help boost their intelligence. To learn more about training your dog, check out 15 Helpful Dog Training Tips.

Shahrzad Warkentin is a dog owner to an energetic and smart rescue dog named Charlie. As a freelance writer she has had several years of experience covering pet care and health.

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