32 of the smartest dog breeds

One of the smartest dog breeds, the boarder collie
(Image credit: Getty Images)

You may find yourself looking at your canine companion and wondering just how much they understand. Well, it turns out some breeds are smarter than others. How we measure the intelligence of a dog varies and a highly intelligent dog from one breed may be a rare exception to the rule, or you may find yourself with a rather daft example of a traditionally intelligent breed.

With this in mind, we've put together a list of the 32 smartest dog breeds. While none of these dogs will be bringing home a degree any time soon, they are generally whip-sharp working breeds who have generations of selective breeding for a particular purpose to thank for their smarts. Terriers and herding breeds in particular feature a lot on this list, but you might find one or two surprises in the mix too.

Read on to see if Fido really is the bright spark you think him to be:

32 smartest dog breeds

1. Border Collie 

A border collie in a river

A border collie in a river (Image credit: Getty Images)

Border Collies are working dogs with lots of brain power at their disposal. They are excellent sheep dogs and make fantastic companions for those with special needs who may need a dog to complete complex tasks. They require a lot of mental stimulation, so bear this in mind before you bring a Collie pup home with you.

2. Belgian Shepherd Malinois

Belgian Malinois with Frisbee

Belgian Malinois with Frisbee  (Image credit: Getty Images)

Frequently used by police and military in K9 units, these dogs are highly trainable, smart and great problem solvers. They are traditionally a herding breed, but can turn their paw to most doggy jobs successfully.  

3. Poodle 

Poodle plays with ball

Poodle plays with ball (Image credit: Getty Images)

Poodles may look fancy, but there's a lot of brain behind those stylish mops. Traditionally bred to retrieve game from lakes and rivers, their curly coats help them to swim efficiently. They're one of the most popular dog breeds due to their loyalty, cleverness and beautiful coats.

4. German Shepherd

Running German Shepherd

Running German Shepherd  (Image credit: Getty Images)

The German Shepherd is a breed you probably expected to find on this list. Similar to the Belgian Malinois, these fiercely intelligent dogs are used by police and military due to their trainability and adaptability. 

5. Labrador retriever

Labrador looks over gate

Labrador looks over gate (Image credit: Getty Images)

Labrador retrievers are darling dogs, with lovely temperaments to go with their quick-thinking brains. There's a reason these dogs are often used as assistance dogs for the blind, as they are keen to please and quick to learn new things. They are very food motivated, making them east to train: give a lab a treat and he'll be your best friend for life.

6. Bloodhound

Bloodhound

Bloodhound (Image credit: Getty Images)

One of the best hunting dog breeds, the bloodhound is excellent at tracking a scent to its source. They are gentle giants, with big floppy jowls that make them look somewhat comical. They aren't the easiest dogs to train, but are used often by the police and military due to their fantastic tracking abilities.

7. Belgian Tervuren

Belgian Tervuren

Belgian Tervuren (Image credit: Getty Images)

Another herding breed that wants nothing more than a job to do, these dogs excel far beyond their purpose as herding dogs. They can be found competing in agility contests, tracking and even sledding.  

8. Shetland Sheepdog

A pair of Shetland sheepdogs

A pair of Shetland sheepdogs (Image credit: Getty Images)

The Shetland Sheepdog, or Sheltie, comes from the Shetland Isles of Scotland. They are one of the smartest dog breeds and love a challenge, excelling at agility and herding. They are smaller than most herding breeds, with a long, silky coat.

9. Siberian Husky

Siberian huskies pulling a sled

Siberian huskies pulling a sled (Image credit: Getty Images)

Huskies are undeniably comical dogs, but are fully capable of learning complex tricks, particularly when they can solve a problem. They require lots of physical and mental stimulation to keep them happy.

10. Miniature Schnauzer

Miniature Schnauzer sits by a lake

Miniature Schnauzer sits by a lake (Image credit: Getty Images)

The Miniature Schnauzer may look intelligent, with a fantastic beard that makes one think of a wise old man, but are they actually that smart? Thankfully, their brains do match their appearance. Often described as "bright" dogs, they are intelligent and trainable.

11. Australian Cattle Dog

Australian Cattle Dog portrait

Australian Cattle Dog portrait  (Image credit: Getty Images)

Another fantastic herding breed, the Australian Cattle Dog, or "heeler" is a squat, fast dog known for its tenacity and ability to herd animals much larger than itself. Some say they have the blood of the Australian wild dog, the dingo, contributing to their heavy dose of smarts and fierceness.

12. Golden Retriever 

Golden Retriever portrait

Golden Retriever portrait  (Image credit: Getty Images)

The golden retriever is an athletic breed with lots of intelligence and trainability. They are friendly dogs, sometimes to a fault, and while they don't make great guard dogs they are lovely, loyal family pets.

13. Australian Shepherd

Australian Shepherd portrait

Australian Shepherd portrait  (Image credit: Getty Images)

The Australian Shepherd is surprisingly, not all that Australian. Developed in California, these are the ultimate ranch dogs, great for working with large livestock such as cattle and horses, although they were originally bred to work with sheep. 

14. Flat-coated Retriever

Flat-coated Retriever

Flat-coated Retriever (Image credit: Getty Images)

The flat-coated retriever is a tenacious, trainable breed from England. They were bred to retrieve game on land and in the water and their long black or brown coats are reminiscent of their Setter ancestors. 

15.  Rottweiler

Rottweiler runs towards camera

Rottweiler runs towards camera (Image credit: Getty Images)

The Rottweiler is a dependable dog, traditionally a herding breed, they also make great guardians as they are loyal and protective. They were used in Germany as butcher's dogs, sometimes pulling carts full of meat to market as well as herding animals to be slaughtered. 

16. German Shorthaired Pointer

German Shorthaired Pointer stands by a lake

German Shorthaired Pointer stands by a lake (Image credit: Getty Images)

Another fantastic hunting breed, the German shorthaired pointer is a versatile gun dog. Not only are they talented at finding game (and pointing at it), they are good at retrieval and have a high prey drive, making them a great companion for hunting or shooting.

17. Papillion 

Papillion plays with ball

Papillion plays with ball (Image credit: Getty Images)

Though small, the Papillion is a clever pup and you shouldn't be surprised if you see them cleaning up at an agility event. They are trainable and eager to please, with beautiful butterfly-like ears atop their heads.

18. Welsh Corgi

Welsh Corgi runs towards camera

Welsh Corgi runs towards camera (Image credit: Getty Images)

The Welsh Corgi is another herding dog with oodles of intelligence. They are a feisty, stubborn breed known for being beloved by the late Queen Elizabeth II of England. Despite their stubbornness, they are very food motivated and therefore quite easy to train.

19. Jack Russell Terrier

Jack Russell Terrier sits in autumn leaves

Jack Russell Terrier sits in autumn leaves (Image credit: Getty Images)

The Jack Russell Terrier is a fantastic breed that’s suited to country living, traditionally used to hunt foxes, they were also used as ratters due to their persistent natures. They love to chase and run, making them a bit of a handful to train, but can be great pets with the right tools. Remember that although they are small, terriers are working dogs and need a job to do (even if that job is bring you a ball). 

20. Dobermann

Dobermann Pinscher

Dobermann Pinscher (Image credit: Getty Images)

Dobermanns are a guardian and companion breed that will want to be involved with whatever you're doing. They are rewarding dogs to train, as they are eager to please and love a new challenge. 

21. English Springer Spaniel   

English Springer Spaniel runs towards camera

English Springer Spaniel runs towards camera (Image credit: Getty Images)

The English Springer Spaniel is a gundog breed with seemingly endless energy. This breed is a great multitasker that tends to thrive with a job, making them great candidates for agility competitions and working homes.

22. Yorkshire terrier

Yorkshire terrier

Yorkshire terrier (Image credit: Getty Images)

A small package full of brains, the Yorkshire Terrier is a toy breed and popular lap dog. They are descended from rat catchers and you may find yours barking at sounds and intruders like a guard dog, despite their tiny size.

23. Welsh Terrier

Welsh terrier greets foal

Welsh terrier greets foal (Image credit: Getty Images)

The Welsh Terrier looks like an Airedale that has been shrunk in the wash. They are, however, their own distinct breed, traditionally used as hunting dogs to go after foxes, badgers and rodents. They are typical terriers, stubborn but trainable if you have the right incentive. 

24. Old English Sheepdog 

Old English sheepdog

Old English Sheepdog (Image credit: Getty Images)

While the Old English Sheepdog may look like a fluffy house dog, more suited to life by the fire than out on the hills, under all that hair you will find a smart herding breed. They are active dogs who need lots of exercise and mental stimulation. 

25. Airedale 

Airedale portrait

Airedale portrait  (Image credit: Getty Images)

The Airedale is the largest Terrier from the British Isles. It is an excellent hunting dog and can also be used for herding, if properly trained.  

26. Skye Terrier

Skye Terrier portrait

Skye Terrier portrait (Image credit: Getty Images)

The Skye Terrier is an endangered, small Scottish dog breed from the Isle of Skye. They were originally bred to go down animal holes, hunting creatures such as badgers, otters and foxes. While they are small and slightly comical in appearance with their long sweeping bangs, they are true terriers who haven't forgotten their roots as a hunter of hunters. They can be quite shy, but will open up with love, time and play. 

27. Boston Terrier

Boston Terrier receives pets

Boston Terrier receives pets (Image credit: Getty Images)

The Boston Terrier is a clever little chap who made it onto our list of the best behaved dog breeds. They are lovely, empathetic dogs who make great companions, although like any terrier, they can be stubborn.

28. Norwich Terrier

Norwich Terrier

Norwich Terrier  (Image credit: Getty Images)

The Norwich Terrier is a curious dog with a history of hunting small rodents. They are short in stature, making them good family pets, although their terrier temperament can be a little bossy. Not to be confused with the floppy-eared Norfolk Terrier, the Norwich Terrier has pointy, erect ears. 

29. Staffordshire Bull Terrier

Staffordshire Bull Terrier sits in field

Staffordshire Bull Terrier sits in field (Image credit: Getty Images)

Staffies have an undeniably bad reputation, and we'd argue it is undeserved. These loyal dogs learn quickly and are eager to please, although they often have the stubborn streak of a proper terrier.

30. Weimaraner 

Weimaraner sits in field

Weimaraner sits in field (Image credit: Getty Images)

Weimaraners are incredibly obedient dogs and fast learners, possibly owing to their history as hunting dogs. They are some of the best dogs for runners due to their boundless energy, but are happy to curl up at home with their person too.

31. Pomeranian

Pomeranian standing outside on the grass

Pomeranian standing outside on the grass (Image credit: Getty Images)

The Pomeranian is often described as "inquisitive" due to their curious and intelligent nature. They can be a bit too smart for their own good, as they are stubborn and difficult to train, but persistence pays off with these fluffballs and once a command is learned, it won't be forgotten.

32.  English Cocker Spaniel

Cocker Spaniel sitting in dug out hole

Cocker Spaniel sitting in dug out hole (Image credit: Getty Images)

Finally, we have the English Cocker Spaniel, one of the most affectionate dog breeds. They have a similar history to the English Springer Spaniel, used historically as gun dogs, but are split into two lines: the show cocker and the working cocker. Both are intelligent, but the working cocker is the more athletic of the two.

Lou Mudge
Writer

Lou is an experienced writer and keen dog lover who works at PetRadar's sister sites, LiveScience, Fit And Well and Coach. When Lou isn't covering health and fitness, she's busy spending time with her family dogs, horse riding or growing all kinds of veggies and flowers on her allotment. Lou’s journey has had a big focus on improvement of overall quality of life, and she brings that to PetsRadar to help improve the lives of pets and their owners.