Humans aren’t perfect when it comes to determining other creatures’ intelligence, but we can try. In dogs, we usually measure intelligence based on how quickly they learn new commands and how often they obey. That may not be a perfect way to define it. After all, some canine geniuses might just be too independent to follow orders. Still, here are the top dogs when it comes to aspects of intelligence we can measure.
You’ll notice that the top-rated dogs tend to be working dogs. Even if many of them now laze about in luxury, most of these breeds result from centuries of humans breeding the perfect pups for specific jobs.
Border collies, originally from the British Isles, are experts at herding sheep. Many researchers and dog trainers believe that border collies are the top dog in the arena of intelligence. Though a lot of people keep them purely as pets, you’ll still find many of them with busy work schedules. If your border collie doesn’t have a day job, make sure to take them on lots of walks and provide consistent intellectual stimulation.
Though poodles have elegant, curly fur, they’re actually superb water dogs. Water dogs assist hunters by fetching game that has fallen into the water. In addition to poodles’ athleticism and showmanship, they’re also highly reliable. They’re one of the best assistance dogs someone could hope for. Assistance dogs need to be alert to the environment and follow instructions at all times to keep their owners safe.
German shepherds worked as sheepdogs in the past. Now, they’re more likely to assist law enforcement or provide a sense of security to their owners. Like poodles, they’re also excellent assistance dogs. They’re a highly protective breed. When a German shepherd is in the military, it will always outrank the handler who works with it. Their high rank is a way to make sure their handlers treat them with the utmost respect — though anyone who works with this loyal breed would want to treat them like family anyway.
Like poodles, humans originally bred golden retrievers to fetch downed game for hunters. Nowadays, they’re a family favorite because of their fast trainability and easygoing nature. These dogs are typically friendly, cuddly, and good with children or other dogs. Unlike other clever breeds, golden retrievers are not ideal guard dogs. They’re more likely to happily lick an intruder than to bite one.
Doberman pinschers are stubborn and independent, but they’re highly trainable by competent handlers. These dogs are loyal and alert, which makes them excellent guard dogs. They’re also fast, so they’re especially good at guarding large properties. They can sprint to the opposite side of a property in seconds to deter an intruder. Dobermans are famous for their fearless nature, so you won’t find these dogs cowering under the bed during a thunderstorm.
The Shetland sheepdog’s name comes from the Shetland Islands, a Scottish archipelago. As you might guess from their title, this breed is masterful at herding sheep. Shetland sheepdogs love to please their owners, so they work even harder than usual if their beloved human praises them for a job well done. They are often helpful as emotional support dogs because of their loving, gentle nature.
Yet another hunting dog! Labrador retrievers are a family favorite because of their loyalty and playful nature. They are highly reliable as seeing-eye dogs. To successfully help a blind person navigate the world, a guide dog must learn something called “intelligent disobedience.” When being intelligently disobedient, a dog must have enough smarts to judge when its owner has given an unsafe command.
If you’ve only encountered papillons in passing, their excitable nature and adorable looks might have fooled you into thinking that cuteness is their primary trait. They’re even featured in several famous paintings from centuries past. However, they’re also whip-smart and learn new tricks in the flash of an eye. Despite their small size, they’re useful as watchdogs because they’re so alert to their environment. Like many intelligent breeds, papillons need a lot of stimulation to avoid boredom.
Rottweilers started their journey as herding dogs, though they were sometimes also used to pull heavy loads. When people no longer needed them for those purposes, they nearly went extinct! In the modern world, they’re helpful as guard dogs. Police departments love them for their ability to help with search and rescue operations. These dogs tend to be calm, which is a great feature when combined with their loyal nature. It’s rare for a rottweiler to find contentment just lounging in the sun, so they need a lot of exercise if they don’t have a job to do.
Australian Cattle Dogs
This herding dog typically worked with cattle, not sheep. Unlike sheep-herding dogs, Australian cattle dogs needed to herd their charges over tricky terrain. Their impressive ability to navigate harsh environments probably stems from the fact that they descend partly from Australian dingoes. To train these dogs, you need to keep their attention. Boring lessons won’t sway them, but they love learning in the context of games.
Though the dogs we’ve described above test well in the equivalent of doggie IQ tests, that doesn’t mean they’re the only smart ones. Any breed of dog has the potential to be clever. It’s also important to keep this in mind: Just because a dog is smart, that doesn’t mean it’s the right dog for you. Many of the most intelligent breeds become destructive if you let them get bored. When considering which breed is right for you, pay attention to things like care requirements, temperament, and your lifestyle needs.