These Are The Most Intelligent Dog Breeds, According To Research

Not all dogs share the same level of intelligence, but before you ridicule a golden retriever for its dopey demeanor (or for licking a piece of its own poop), you should know that it's not as dopey as it may seem. Golden retrievers are among the smartest dog breeds, at least according to the American Kennel Club, which released a list of which dogs have the highest rates of intelligence.

In The Intelligence of Dogs, neuropsychologist Stanley Coren, PhD, measures the trainability of man's best friend as a marker of intelligence. Thought trainability varies from animal to animal; purebred dogs were created to have a few inherent qualities, many of which involve following commands, judgment and eagerness to work. The professor studied over 110 breeds that were judged by over 200 professional dog obedience judges to craft their list of top dogs. The most intelligent dog breeds understood new commands after only five or fewer repeats, and obeyed new commands 95%. 

A lot of these dogs aren't just popular pets, but they're hardworking dogs with specific skillsets.  Others have saved lives in dire situations like during the September 11th terrorist attacks: in some cases, smart dogs with military jobs wind up outranking their human counterparts (they're just that gifted!).

Dogs are some of the most intelligent animal on the planet, and these pups are the best and the brightest of the bunch – the ultimate Good Boys.

Photo: U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Dennis Sloan / Air Mobility Command / Public Domain

  • Border collies clock in at number one on Stanley Coren, PhD's list of brightest breeds in The Intelligence of Dogs. What makes these black and white cuties so darn smart? They've got what the American Kennel Club considers a "herding eye." This intense gaze speaks to the breed's overwhelming level of focus, which is perhaps why they were originally used to herd sheep throughout Scotland and England.

    Border collies are worker dogs through and through. They can be trained to a do a job and use their swift agility to herd sheep to this day. Some people even also train their dogs to compete in canine sports in games like tracking, agility and flying disk competitions. Between their intelligence and work ethic, these dogs are powerhouses, but really need a job and a purpose to feel fulfilled. This can be a downside to families who don't want an active pet.

  • Poodle
    Photo: Unknown / Max Pixel / Public Domain

    Second on Stanley Coren, PhD's list is the poodle. These hyperintelligent dogs are marked by their adorable curly hair. The breed regularly wins best-in-show because of their unique looks but behind every super suave haircut is a wildly intelligent dog. Poodles may look like they enjoy a life of lounging in luxury but these dogs were bred to do a job. They were originally water retrievers (i.e., they'd jump into a lake to snatch ducks and geese for hunters). As a result of their lineage, they're super smart, calmly obedient and very trainable. They're so smart that they get pretty depressed when they're left alone: their minds need constant stimulation.

  • German Shepherd
    Photo: home-ion / flickr / CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0

    German Shepherds are the third most intelligent breed listed in The Intelligence of Dogs. There's a reason these playful pups are used by police officers for the most important of tasks – from finding sniffing out bombs and illegal drugs to finding missing people and aiding the handicapped. They're the noses behind the direst search and rescue efforts, and tirelessly worked to find survivors after the World Trade Center attacks. One German Shepherd named Trakr crawled across hot beams over fires raging hundreds of feet below. He climbed through smoke-filled air and unstable, narrow tunnels just to find anyone he could save – and was later cloned because of his remarkable abilities. These highly trainable dogs have unmatched devotion and courage.

  • Golden retrievers take fourth in the smartest breed contest. Don't be fooled by their dopey, excitable demeanor. These devoted dogs live for their owners and use their incredible intelligence to please them. Their goofball tendencies have led them to become one of America's most beloved family pets, but the breed originated as expert hunters. Today, they're are regularly used as guide dogs and in search and rescue efforts. Goldens were even used during the aftermath 9/11.

    As a result of their lineage, golden retrievers are highly intelligent and trainable. They're even smart enough to forgive mistakes of inexperienced trainers and are marked by their overall friendliness. They've got real empathy, but anyone who's ever looked into the eyes of a golden who's been caught chewing on a pair of shoes or grabbing an unapproved after-dinner snack knows that.

  • Doberman Pinscher
    Photo: Pato Garza / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

    Doberman pinschers are war dogs. Dubbed "devil dogs," the highly intelligent breed was adopted by the US Marine Corps because they could detect the presence of men several hundred miles away. Dobermans trained as scout dogs had the unique ability to alert their troops of the enemy without making a single sound. The strong pups were trained as privates, and after years of hard work, many were promoted to master gunner sergeants, which outranked their handlers.

    The American Kennel Club regards Dobermans as alert, fearless, loyal and highly trainable. These are marks of superior intelligence. Couple that with their speed and athleticism, and you've got a powerhouse for the police and military.

  • Shetland Sheepdog
    Photo: Krysta / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

    Shetland Sheepdog

    These little balls of fluff are smaller than collies but have the same herding, obedience and agility. The breed originated in the Shetland Islands off the coast of Scotland, where they would stand guard to keep birds and sheep away from farmers' crops. Through years of selective breeding to bolster their work abilities, the breed is highly intelligent. They're also affectionate and loyal. They tend to be rather reserved around strangers despite their friendliness which makes them an excellent watchdog.