Dog breed smarts is a controversial topic. People love their dogs and swear by the individual intelligence of their four-legged friend. While most dogs possess amazing brain power, some have surprising intellect. The American Kennel Club—the organization that maintains breed standards—recognizes 190 distinct breeds. Dog breeds range in intelligence and abilities. Most dogs have augmented senses of smell, to the point that a majority of their brain mass is devoted to processing odors. Others have uncanny abilities to learn complex commands and can communicate with their owners and others as well.
We’ve compiled 30 of the smartest breeds according to veterinarians and trainers. They are listed here in increasing order of intelligence.
The first on our list of intelligent pooches is a hard-working, farm-bred animal. This breed is not a household name, but it does rank in the top 27 of breeds according to the American Kennel Club.
1. Bernese Mountain Dog
The Bernese Mountain Dog is a big, imposing canine. At an average adult weight of up to 100 pounds, some might think this dog is lumbering and dim-witted, but that isn’t the case at all. Like other large breeds, the Bernese Mountain Dog needs a lot of exercise. Their intelligence makes them ideal for outdoor training.
“Berners” are good for your whole crew and are especially gentle with children, but don’t be surprised if they become more attached to one particular human over any other.
Another hefty breed also developed its smarts out in the field.
2. Old English Sheepdog
Known for a body and face so full of fur that the dog looks chubby and eyeless, the Old English Sheepdog is more than just a big cuddly pup. Bred to keep flocks of herding animals at bay, the Sheepdog not only follows commands well, it executes them independently as part of its job.
With wide open spaces being their ideal stomping grounds, the Sheepdog is a natural fit in a rural setting, such as working on a farm. However, with proper training, they are perfectly comfortable with the city life.
The next dog looks quite similar to the Sheepdog, but with a less-curly coat.
3. Bearded Collie
The Bearded Collie is intellectually identical to the Sheepdog and other larger herders. This breed is known for being boisterous and charismatic. It was also the dog in the 1960s television show My Three Sons. The Bearded Collie’s intelligence can make it a challenge to train, as it is an independent thinker.
They’re tough, reliable for field work, but affectionate and great with making positive impressions on people. Bearded Collies make excellent pets for those willing to accommodate their high energy level.
While many of the breeds on this list are larger dogs with a working history, some super-smart dogs are little fellas.
4. Jack Russell Terrier
The Jack Russell Terrier has a notorious attitude. Fans of Frasier will recognize Eddie as a Jack Russell. These small and snappy dogs make good actors because they are receptive to repetitive commands. They also are surprisingly agile for their stature.
Because the preservation of this working ability is of highest importance to most registered breeders, Jack Russells tend to be extremely intelligent, athletic, fearless, and vocal dogs.
The next dog is famous for its unique regal beauty and use in contemporary art.
A German dog bred for hunting in the Black Forest, Weimaraners turn heads wherever they go. They are smart, and only sometimes stubborn. Weimaraners are fast learners and excel at retrieving and other hunting tasks. At home, they are big, gangly, lovable pooches.
Try telling one to get off the couch and you will get a blank stare—not of ignorance, but based on intelligent and respectful disagreement with your command. They’re prized for physical endurance and stamina, with a strong, instinctive prey-drive. It may tolerate cats but usually does not, tending to follow the urge to hunt instead.
Known for its loyalty and charm, the next dog is a medium-sized, family-friendly breed.
6. English Springer Spaniel
The English Springer Spaniel was once one of the most popular dogs in America. A traditional family best friend, the breed is known to have two personalities. When needed for hunting, they are spot on, precise assistants. But, when you come home after a sporting outing, they nestle in as loyal and sweet members of the family.
In the right environment, Springers can be an affectionate and easy-going dog. Their sharp mental wit make them a good hunting companions. A typical Springer Spaniel will often choose one person in the family to be most loyal to and stick to them like glue.
Another smaller-sized breed, the next dog is globally known as a loyal, and royal, companion.
7. Pembroke Welsh Corgi
The Pembroke Welsh Corgi (or “Corgi” for short) is a not so much a small dog as it is a low or short-legged breed. The Queen of England is known to have a group of these dogs following her around in her palace, and for a good reason. The Corgi is easy to train because of its innate and responsive intellect.
Besides herding, they also function as watchdogs due to their alertness and tendency to bark only as needed. Most Pembrokes will seek the attention of everyone they meet and behave well around children and other pets.
Where the Corgi lacks in lankiness, the next dog makes up the difference.
8. Irish Setter
This sleek, red-haired dog is another great hunter and hunting companion. A bird dog, it instinctively only grasps a fallen bird with just enough pressure to bring it back to the hunter. Beyond instinct, the dog has a strong mental capacity or complex obedience skills. The Irish Setter is a loyal, intelligent, and great family dog.
Irish Setters are also widely used as therapy dogs in schools and hospitals. Children will spend time reading with the dogs in a comfortable setting (the Setter will just have to use its imagination).
Some working dogs have a tough image, and the next one’s intelligence is often masked by its somewhat fearsome looks.
Rottweilers can be tough guys, but they are amazingly intelligent. Their smarts present an opportunity to tame their strength into positive activities. They are gentle, but can be fiercely protective of their families.
Rottweilers have been used as service dogs. “Stinky” the Rottweiler was one notable example; she once saved a former soldiers life, just by showing unconditional love to the man experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder. Stinky was inducted into the Purina Animal Hall of Fame in 2011 as service dog of the year, a well-deserved honor.
The next breed is known for an uncanny ability to identify hunting targets.
10. German Shorthaired Pointer
Pointers do exactly what their names suggest; they point. Not with their toes, but with an expressive forward stance and the occasionally lifted paw. The German Shorthaired Pointer is an ideal example of this intelligent spotting dog breed.
The German Shorthaired Pointer requires substantially vigorous activity and thrives with lots of exercise and running. This need for exercise, along with their natural instinct to hunt, means that thorough training is strongly urged, lest they get mischievous.
Not all intelligent dogs are hunters, though. Some are sporting animals in a literal sense. The next group of dogs lets their intelligence to pull their weight.
11. Alaskan Husky
Iconic in dogsledding, the Alaskan Husky is a cold-weather breed that knows its way around the snow. For the Alaskan Husky, intelligence means a unique, almost wolf-life pack mentality. Since they often work in groups, they have developed intelligent means of communicating and creating social order.
The North-American-bred flavor of Siberian Husky had maintained its Siberian lineage, contributing significantly to the Alaskan version. This shows evidence of crossing with European breeds to produce the arctic friend we’ve come to know.
The next dog is similar in name, looks, and intelligence, but we swear it’s a different breed entirely.
12. Siberian Husky
The Siberian Husky is much like its relative across the Bering Strait in Alaska. Like other Huskies, the Siberian’s smarts are evident in how it relates to other dogs. They are not great guard dogs because they are less dependent on humans, and therefore less protective. These dogs often prefer being outside in the cold to laying at your feet and can be human-independent.
Several Arctic dog breeds share genetic traits with the now-extinct Taymyr wolf of North Asia because of cross-breeding. These pups are all good with high latitudes – the Siberian Husky and Alaskan alike.
Another cold weather Alaskan dog, the next breed is less-geared towards pulling sleds and more adept at working hard for its family.
13. Alaskan Malamute
The Alaskan Malamute is a big, cuddly snow furball. They love children and fit in well with families. They are pack animals, so they need a leader. Once the family hierarchy is established, they will provide you with years of intelligence and loyalty.
A study using a number of genetic markers indicated that the Malamute, the Siberian Husky, and the Alaskan husky share a close genetic relationship between each other like three peas in a genetic pod of cuteness.
Some dogs are ingrained in our history. This is the case with one dog breed that is synonymous with rescuing little kids from danger on television.
Lassie was a world-famous TV show in the 1950s. Its star was a gorgeous Collie. In the show, Lassie was known to have an extremely high intellect, communicating danger to the residents and helping people out of dire situations. Although fictionalized, the TV show was not far from the truth. Collies are highly intelligent, adept at obedience training and are loyal family pets.
When at peak physical condition, they are able to play all day without tiring, even over rough terrain. Working collies show a sharp sense for the task at hand and are instinctively highly motivated. They are often intensely loyal as well.
Some hunting dogs specialize in certain prey. The net dog’s nickname is the “Duck Dog of the Mid Atlantic.”
15. Chesapeake Bay Retriever
Bred in the Chesapeake Bay region of the United States, this retriever is a waterfowl hunting dog. As a “duck dog,” the Chesapeake Bay Retriever is like your friendly companion in an old Nintendo home shooter game. The retriever uses its keen senses and high intellect to not only run after dead birds but calculate where they land after being shot. Like some other intelligent dogs, however, the Chesapeake can be a bit stubborn and will question authority if given the opportunity.
They can be quite the loud mouth when excited; some will even ‘smile’ by baring their front teeth in a peculiar grin – this is not a threat but rather a sign of joy or obedience.
Continuing our list with another herding dog, the next choice is most at home on a ranch.
16. Australian Shepherd
Although it has an oceanic country in its name, the Australian Shepherd is more closely related to California ranches, where the breed was developed. These dogs live to herd and will try to corral all sorts of smaller things, such as birds, animals, and children. They often express their intelligence stubbornly. Although the Australian Shepherd is a strong and loyal working dog, they will challenge a less-than-firm owner and will take the opportunity to become the alpha in your family relationship.
Learning new tricks and games keeps them focused and happy, which also satisfies their eagerness to learn. This breed also has great stamina and does well over a variety of terrain. It’s no wonder they are popularly used for work on the trail and on long distances.
Next up on our list of smart pups is a recognizable and lovable mountain dog.
17. Saint Bernard
We all know the Saint Bernard as a lumbering beast with a barrel of something restorative around its neck. We also cheerfully recognize the breed from the Beethoven film series, and less nostalgically as “Cujo” in the blood-curdling Stephen King story. Saint Bernards are regal dogs, less like goofy comedy pups and nothing like an aggressive horror villain. Their intelligence comes from generations of breeding as a skilled mountain dog in Switzerland.
As a quintessential example of a Gentle Giant, the Saint Bernard is chill, patient, and sweet with humans, especially children. However St. Bernards, like all very large dogs, can serve to benefit from ample training with people and fellow animals so as to prevent any possible fear or aggression.
Some confuse the next breed with Huskies, but this cold-weather dog has a much different demeanor.
18. Akita Inu
The super smart Akita is a good family dog, although they can be suspicious of others. Their distrust of strangers is a hallmark of how their minds work. Less likely to be tricked into something they do not want to do, Akitas often do their own thing. They can be trained, but generally prefer to not respond to commands that they see as unnecessary.
Helen Keller is often given credit for bringing the Akita to America after receiving two of them from the Japanese government in 1938 as gifts. By 1939 they became a breed standard, as dog shows were just starting to gain traction in the States before WWII began.
Like the Irish Setter, the next dog exhibits a regal outdoorsy mentality.
19. English Setter
The English Setter is another field dog whose intellect comes from hundreds of years of hunting and human companionship. The English setter is skilled at fox hunting and tracking, with an ability to combine superior nose skills with intelligence to work out where a fox or rabbit has run.
This breed’s temperament has been described as a “Gentleman by Nature”. But it can also be strong-willed and mischievous, especially if coming from a working lineage. English Setters are energetic, people-friendly dogs, that are best for families who can give them attention and playfulness, or to working in the filed where they have a mission to accomplish.
Most people know the next breed for two reasons. First, it is the largest of all dog breeds and can look ridiculous in person. Second, the breed is the model for Scooby Doo.
20. Great Dane
The Great Dane is more than a gigantic canine. Its brain matter is in proportion to its size, so it essentially is a dog with a human-sized noggin. They are gentle giants and can be very protective of owners. Like other super-sized dogs, they seem less inferior to human companions, often settling right in as a member of the family pack.
Despite its imposing size, the Dane is comfortable and adaptable to life in a small apartment, although a larger home is great for the freedom to roam around. The Great Dane is a very accommodating breed, known for being couch potatoes.
Great Danes are a breed for families, heralded by animal enthusiasts due to their preference for sitting and leaning on their owners, earning them the nickname of “the world’s biggest lapdog”.
The next dog is not a breed that is familiar to many people, but its intelligence is off the chart.
Like other hunting dogs, the Brittany’s intelligence and energy is often channeled into obedience competitions and field sports. They like to run around and complete tasks, much like the members of the top five smartest dog field.
Like many on this list, the Brittany was originally bred as a hunting dog and renowned for being easy to train and sweet-natured. They tend to be more sensitive to correction than other hunters, and harsh commands are usually not needed. Brittanys can get very shy if not thoroughly socialized at a young age, so there’s a lot of variation in disposition among them.
Next up is a dog that has strikingly unique features.
22. Australian Cattle Dog
Almost identical to the Australian Shepherd, the Australian Cattle Dog is related through breeding. This dog is loyal and sharp, excelling at obedience competitions all over the world. They have developed a high degree of skill in ranching, with unparalleled abilities to direct cattle back to pens after grazing. As a home pet, they like to perform jobs, so training is key. Otherwise, they can become bored and engage in destructive behavior.
Cattle dogs will appreciate a walk around the block, but they need structured activities that engage and challenge it, and consistent interaction with its owner. While individual dogs have their own quirks and personalities, as a breed the Australian Cattle Dog is well-equipped for any activity that requires athleticism, quick-thinking, or endurance.
The next little guy is one of the smartest of the toy dog breeds.
You may notice the list is light on the teacup and toy breeds. This is likely because the working and hunting dog breeds have functions and purposes that have required intelligence to develop over time. Still, the Papillon is one smart and determined little dog. They are adept at obedience training and are extremely loyal.
Because of their high energy level, they require a more extensive exercise routine, compared to their like-sized companion breeds. Papillons are known as excellent watchdogs, as they will alert their owner to suspicious activity with a symphony of calm, composed barking. And by calm and composed, we mean shrill yipping. It’s okay—we love you, Papillon.
Sometimes you want a really smart dog that’ll always get your back.
24. Doberman Pinscher
The Doberman is one of the police breeds on our list. They can be aggressive, but like all dogs, they are naturally good with people. The key is to train them for a specific purpose. If it is protection, they will do the job.
The Doberman Pinscher’s personality is known to be quite unique. There is growing body of scientific evidence that Dobermans have numerous stable mental features, such as certain personality factors used for measuring intelligence. As far back as the 1960’s, studies have shown that there are several broad behavioral traits that accurately predict behavior and are determined by the dog’s genetics.
The next dog is similar in looks to a Collie, but brings a higher level of intellect and agility.
25. Shetland Sheepdog
Often mistakenly called miniature Collies, Shetland Sheepdogs are compact, strong, and sharp canine companions. They are highly trainable and excel at obedience. Shetlands are herding dogs as the name implies, so they possess many of the traits of the Collie and other Shepherds.
The Shetland Sheepdog is a hardy but dainty breed, developed to thrive in the harsh climate conditions of its native islands. While the Sheltie is still exceptional at field work, today it’s also raised as a farm dog and family pet.
The next choice kicks off our top-five most-intelligent breeds.