A Dog’s Intelligence is Complex
Most people run away from life’s toughest emotional situations, but dogs rush into them. It’s a unique gift and it’s why humans are so attracted and fascinated by them. Dogs put their instinctive intelligence to good use for the benefit of humans.
A dog’s intelligence is determined by a variety of complex factors. There are three categories of intelligence that a dog has been bred to possess. Instinctive, adaptive and working/obedience. Since different breeds have been bred for a couple of thousand years or more with different instinctive intelligence traits like hunting, herding, retrieving, etc. you can’t compare them to one another. There are also different levels of intelligence in individual dogs.
Besides long-standing instinctive intelligence, a dog can use his adaptive intelligence by learning from his environment. This kind of intelligence can be tested more easily through special tests. That is where working/obedience intelligence comes in. This will be the equivalent of a dog going to school and measures what a dog can learn from human commands. In other words, trainability is the marker for intelligence.
A recent survey of over 200 professional dog obedience judges assessed 110 dog breeds and scored them based on working/obedience tests. The smartest dogs followed commands in less than five repetitions and obeyed them 95% of the time or better.
But keep in mind that the smartest dogs often don’t make the best pets. Your job is to find a breed that suits your lifestyle and to focus on bringing out the best in your dog.
Top 10 Smartest Dogs
#1 Border Collie
- Height: 19-22 inches (male), 18-21 inches (female)
- Weight: 30-55 pounds
- Life Expectancy: 12-15 years
Bred as herding dogs, border collies are considered extremely intelligent because they are obedient, very alert and responsive to human commands.
A workaholic, this breed is the world’s premier sheep herder, prized for its intelligence, extraordinary instinct, and working ability.
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.
- Height: 10 inches & under (toy), 10-15 inches (miniature), over 15 inches (standard)
- Weight: 4-6 pounds (toy), 10-15 pounds (miniature), 60-70 pounds (male standard), 40-50 pounds (female standard)
- Life Expectancy: 10-18 years
Poodles, though better known for their looks, are incredibly smart and were originally bred as retrievers.
Poodles are exceptionally smart and active, and can easily learn all kinds of commands and tricks. Bred to retrieve things from the water. The miniature variety may have been used for truffle hunting.
#3 German Shepherd
- Height: 24-26 inches (male), 22-24 inches (female)
- Weight: 65-90 pounds (male), 50-70 pounds (female)
- Life Expectancy: 7-10 years
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. The world’s leading police, guard, and military dog and a loving family companion and herder.
#4 Golden Retriever
- Height: 23-24 inches (male), 21.5-22.5 inches (female)
- Weight: 65-75 pounds (male), 55-65 pounds (female)
- Life Expectancy: 10-12 years
Like most retrievers, goldens are incredibly smart because they are bred to place their full attention on their human companions. Intelligent and eager to please.
Bred as a hunting companion; ideal as a guide and as assistance with search-and-rescue operations.
#5 Doberman Pinscher
- Height: 26-28 inches (male), 24-26 inches (female)
- Weight: 75-100 pounds (male), 60-90 pounds (female)
- Life Expectancy: 10-12 years
Doberman pinschers are known for being highly alert, an important component of obedience. They can learn and retain a great deal of commands.
Known for its stamina and speed. Bred to be a guardian and in demand as a police and war dog. A Doberman pinscher/border collie mix was one of the first documented cases of a dog being able to sniff out undiagnosed cancer.
#6 Shetland Sheepdog
- Height: 13-16 inches
- Weight: 15-25 pounds
- Life Expectancy: 12-14 years
Shetland sheepdogs (known as “Shelties”) excel at herding and tend to be naturally obedient and highly responsive.
The Sheltie is essentially a miniature working Collie. A rough-coated, long haired working breed that is keenly intelligent.
#7 Labrador Retriever
- Height: 22.5-24.5 inches (male), 21.5-23.5 inches (female)
- Weight: 65-80 pounds (male), 55-70 pounds (female)
- Life Expectancy: 10-12 years
Labradors are intelligent, extremely social and easily adaptable, which is why they are often employed as service animals. An ideal sporting and family dog.
Gentle and intelligent. Orlando, a black Labrador and guide dog, tried to save his blind owner who fell onto a subway train track. (And they both lived!) Katrina, a black Labrador, was given the Genesis Award for rescuing a drowning man during Hurricane Katrina. Roselle, a yellow Labrador and trained guide dog, led her owner to safety from the 78th floor of the World Trade Center on 9/11.
- Height: 8-11 inches
- Weight: 5-10 pounds
- Life Expectancy: 14-16 years
The smartest of the toy breeds, papillons excel at agility tests and can easily learn all kinds of tricks.
A happy, alert breed that isn’t shy or aggressive. Known as Dwarf Spaniels in the 16th and 17th centuries, they reach 8-11 inches high.
- Height: 24-27 inches (male), 22-25 inches (female)
- Weight: 95-135 pounds (male), 80-100 pounds (female)
- Life Expectancy: 9-10 years
Descended from Roman herding dogs, rottweilers were favored as police dogs because of their high level of intelligence and instinct for guarding.
Robust and powerful, the breed is happiest with a job. Suitable as a police dog, herder, service dog, therapy dog, obedience competitor, and devoted companion.
#10 Australian Cattle Dog
- Height: 18-20 inches (male), 17-19 inches (female)
- Weight: 35-50 pounds
- Life Expectancy: 12-16 years
Bred as herding dogs, Australian cattle dogs are highly alert and excel at agility and obedience trials.
Happiest doing a job like herding, obedience, or agility. Energetic and intelligent.
Are Smart Breeds Good Pets?
If you think a smart dog means he will do what you want him to, not necessarily. Smart does not mean easy. If he is bred to hunt, herd, or retrieve, the dog is more likely to be quick on his feet, eager to work, to move, and to please you. He will learn faster. If he’s bred to be a livestock guard dog or a scent hound, he may seem distracted and a bit dense.
Highly intelligent dogs like Dobermans will get bored and destroy your house if you’re gone for eight or ten hours at work, while an English bulldog may take up to eight hours to realize you’re gone. Smart dogs are bred to work all day and need lots of opportunities for work or exercise, otherwise, they become destructive. It’s like having a super smart child who gets into trouble when he’s bored.
Therefor, you need to seriously evaluate the amount of energy you have compared to the breed you want to get. Are you the type of person who can exercise a dog a few hours a day? How much time are you willing to invest in training the dog, because the more energetic the dog is, the more training he might need. When people think they want a smart dog, it’s a huge misconception. They don’t need smart; they need attentive.
Teaching Your Dog
If your canine seems clueless, it may be that he has been bred to be more independent or not so eager to please his owner. Training will require more patience and the right kind of motivation, whether it’s praise, petting, or treats. For breeds, instincts make a difference, but for the basics – ‘sit,’ ‘come,’ ‘down’ – they’ll all learn at the same rate. With good technique, the difference might be a month. The key is knowing what your pooch is built for and how to motivate him. 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.
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