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13 smartest dog breeds that love a challenge

smartest dog breeds
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While most dogs are intelligent, certain breeds stand out from the pack - those are the smartest dog breeds, who master and carry out new commands, routines, and tasks.

Just like humans, our canine companions are all different, so although some breeds have an edge over others when it comes to smarts, each dog will differ in their intelligence. It’s also worth pointing out that there are different kinds of intelligence, with some breeds excelling in social situations and others better able to problem-solve or learn new words.

We’ve listed 13 dog breeds that regularly rank as being the smartest, but all dogs can have their cognitive abilities nurtured through early socialization and regular training. 

PetsRadar's pick of the smartest dog breeds

1. Border Collie

Border Collie outside holding a stick in its mouth with blue sky behind

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Highly intelligent and highly trainable, the affectionate and energetic Border Collie almost always comes out on top when it comes to doggy smarts. 

Quick to learn cues and easily able to understand daily routines and tasks, when it comes to canines, Border Collies are as bright as they come. Superstars at herding, agility, and obedience, this breed is capable of doing just about anything they put their mind to.

2. German Shepherd

german shepherd dog

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Known for being confident, courageous, and smart, the German Shepherd is the second most popular dog in the United States, and for good reason. Loyal and steady, this breed will think nothing of putting their life on the line for those they love. Gentle family companions and hard-working police and military dogs, the German Shepherd is eager-to-please and razor-sharp, learning commands quickly. 

3. Papillion

Papillion sitting in a field of purple flowers

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Alongside the Chorkie, Papillons are one of the smallest breeds in the world, weighing in at a dainty 5-10lbs. Their petite size says nothing about their mental capacity though, with the Papillion well regarded as one of the most clever canines around.

Friendly and alert with a naturally happy disposition, the Pap is a quick study, picking up new commands and routines with ease. Excellent agility dogs, they frequently take out the winner’s trophy at all levels of the sport and love performing tricks for their owners.

4. Labrador Retriever

A yellow Labrador Retriever dog smiles as it lays on a wooden bench outdoors on a sunny day.

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Sweet, affectionate, and almost always in high spirits, Labrador Retrievers work well in family situations where there are plenty of people for them to lavish with their love. Friendly and sociable with loads of energy to burn, these exuberant athletes excel at water-based sports and games of fetch. 

Their enthusiastic natures make them keen students and their desire to be around people 24/7 sees them regularly being used as pet therapy dogs and in water rescue roles. 

5. Australian Shepherd

Close up of Australian Shepherd dog with blurred grass in behind

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The Australian Shepherd is work-orientated with an exuberant personality and bucket-loads of smarts that make them the cowboy’s herding dog of choice. Whether it’s cattle, birds, or small children, Aussies are keen to round up any animal or human that will let them, and their high energy levels mean they don’t tire easily.

Quick to train, they make the ideal work or exercise partner, and their strong desire to be with people makes them great family dogs.

6. Poodle

poodle dog

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While they may appear to be all style and no substance with their curly and elegant coats, don’t let a Poodle’s exterior fool you. One of the smartest dog breeds around, Poodles were originally bred in Germany for bird hunting and water retrieving. Loving and with a great sense of humor, the Poodle delights in pleasing its owner and is quick to master agility and obedience training. 

7. Rottweiler

Portrait of two Rottweiler dogs with their tongues out sitting in a field with yellow flowers

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They have a reputation for being aggressive, but nothing could be further from the truth for a well-bred and trained Rottweiler. The Rottie may have a thick and muscular exterior but inside these guardians and protectors have loving and playful hearts.

Calm-natured and affectionate, Rotties were one of the first breeds to be used as guide dogs and remain highly trainable, intelligent, and eager to learn. They excel in many sports, particularly those that entail working with a human partner.

8. Doberman Pinscher

Doberman sitting down

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The alert and fearless Doberman has a sleek and powerful body and an equally keen intellect. Used as guard dogs during WWII, Dobermans helped lead soldiers through unknown territory, barking to alert them of enemies. 

The modern Doberman is far more docile than his historic counterpart and while still a vigilant protector, their obedient and quiet nature make them one of the best dog breeds for remote workers and those looking for a loyal family dog. 

9. Shetland Sheepdog

Shetland Sheepdog

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The playful and bright Sheltie hails from Scotland and has both speed and obedience in spades. A natural-born herder, Shetland Sheepdogs have an eager nature that makes them a breeze to train and make world-class competitors in anything obedience or agility related.

Sensitive and affectionate, Sheltie’s have a keen sense of the moods of those around them and express their happiness through plenty of joyful barking.

10. Golden Retriever

golden retriever esa dog

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One of the most affectionate dog breeds, the friendly and devoted Golden Retriever is a popular family favorite thanks to its joyous and playful approach to life. Energetic, outgoing, and people-orientated, this breed loves obedience and other competitive events. 

Its ability to quickly learn new things makes it a standout choice as a guide dog for the blind and a search-and-rescue dog, and their love of life makes them wonderful companion animals. 

11. Corgi

Corgi in the bath

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Corgis, like most herding dog breeds, are smart and relatively easy to train. Psychology professor Stanley Coren's book The Intelligence of Dogs ranks Corgis the 11th smartest breed. They are great at agility training and obedience training and take great instructions from humans. They are also smart enough to make decisions on their own, especially when it comes to herding.

12. Miniature Schnauzer

Miniature Schnauzer

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The Miniature Schnauzer is one smart cookie. These highly energetic dogs often excel in obedience training classes and are great working breeds. They are frequently ranked in the top tier of intelligence when it comes to dog breeds. Miniature Schnauzers are alert and playful, and tend to learn new commands rather quickly. Plus, with those little beards, they look extra smart. 

13. English Springer Spaniel

English Springer Spaniel portrait

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One of the best tracking dogs, English Springer Spaniels are also incredibly intelligent. Their intelligence is why they're often spotted competing in agility, obedience, and hunting tests, and tagging alongside their owners for outdoor activities. 

They are also great watchdogs, and do well with kids if raised alongside them. English Springer Spaniels rank 13th for smartest dog breeds according to psychology professor Stanley Coren's book The Intelligence of Dogs, displaying high obedience and working intelligence. 

Kathryn is a freelance writer who has spent the past two years dividing her writing time between her two great loves - pets and health and wellness. When she’s not busy crafting the perfect sentence for her features, buying guides and news pieces, she can be found hanging out with one very mischievous Cocker Spaniel, drinking copious amounts of Jasmine tea and attempting to set numerous world records for the longest ever FaceTime calls with her family back home in NZ.