Growing up, everybody dreams of owning a dog to whom they can teach tricks. If that’s still your target, or if you’re looking for a dog who can participate in races, or if you just want a family pet who knows not to tear up the furniture and leap on strangers, how intelligent your dog is will decide how easily she will learn.
“Intelligence will vary from dog to dog, depending on family tree and other variables, as with any other trait,” says Dennis Riordan, DVM, of the Riordan Pet Hospital in Des Moines, Iowa. But generally speaking,’ intelligence’ in dogs is calculated based on how many repetitions of a command it takes for them to find out what you want them to do, and how often the first or second time you say it, they obey learned commands. So whether you teach them a trick, or kennel training, or something that requires their memory and recall, certain breeds have been shown to do such things more easily and reliably than others reasonably consistently.
Regardless of size or origin, the most intelligent dog breeds all have one thing in common: how easily they can grasp commands and how quickly they obey them. Hand signals and verbal commands can be trained concurrently in the very smartest of dog breeds and used interchangeably, usually with no difference in response time. So if you’re looking for dogs who can specifically obey your instructions, or just an affable family member that can roll over for a treat, here’s a rundown of the breeds that are likely to be the easiest to train.
You’re asking for a border collie if you’re looking for a dog that can do just about anything. For generations, these brilliant herding dogs have kept flocks of sheep healthy across Scotland and Wales, and shepherds frequently refer to them as “the perfect shepherding dog.” In addition to easily learning commands, these dogs are smart enough to learn and understand routines, and can be taught without much guidance to perform everyday tasks. In agility events, nimble, athletic, and observant, border collies have continuously done well, dominating competitions in their native UK like the prestigious Crufts International.
Don’t be fooled by the fluffy hairdo: Poodles are expert hunters, efficient water dogs, and some of the brightest dogs you’ll come across. Poodles of all sizes hold a high degree of knowledge, but, due to its greater size and power, the regular is the one better prepared to use those smarts. The regular poodle sports a solid, slender body under all those curls, which makes him a great swimmer and excellent at recovering.
For some reason, they’re the second most common dog breed in the United States. The German shepherd is prized for everything from show competitions to home security to military and police work, with possibly the greatest combination of height, agility, and intellect in the entire dog kingdom. Deeply obedient and willing to please, well-trained German shepherds even make outstanding family pets. Rin Tin Tin, the first true canine film star, was a German shepherd, and that’s not a coincidence. With alarming speed and consistency, they acquire and maintain new talents, and they have the physical gifts to perform truly astonishing feats.
“German Shepherds tend to have pretty serious problems with hip dysplasia as they age, particularly American-born purebreds,” Riordan says. “So, a lot of people who buy them as pups, around the age of 8, will see them slow down dramatically.”
Golden retrievers are loved for their affable, people-pleasing, cheerful disposition, coming in just behind the German shepherd in popularity in the United States. Yet they’re still among the brightest, in addition to being some of the friendliest dogs alive. As well as serving as search and rescue dogs, hunting dogs, and champion field and obedience competition animals, this has helped them make outstanding decisions for service and therapy dogs.
The Doberman pinscher, long one of the world’s leading security dogs, is an almost unprecedented physical example. Though they are fast, agile, and strong, the greatest attribute of these dogs is their intelligence, which allows them to quickly learn a variety of commands and tasks, and allows owners to trust that they will unerringly obey commands.
The Sheltie has been a consistent champion in obedience contests almost since the moment of their recognition by the AKC in 1911, bearing a similar resemblance to their larger relative, the collie. The Shetland sheepdog, much like its collie ancestors, is a surprisingly intelligent breed as a matter of necessity. As herders, for long periods of time, and without oversight, they were expected to keep track of a large number of wandering animals. This has created a small, agile dog that is keenly observant and thrives on getting a job to do.
These gregarious, hard-working hunting dogs, the most common breed in the United States every year since 1991, are no slouches when it comes to brains, either. Not actually from Labrador, these dogs were initially used to leap into the water and recover harpooned fish on fishing vessels. Famously friendly, the docile character of Labs has become as much a trademark of the breed as any of its physical features. In particular, this desire to get along with others and to please their human companions makes them exceptional hunters and helps them excel in obedience, endurance, and competition recovery. This is your boy if you have an active lifestyle and want a caring, intelligent dog that can keep up with you.
Brains and looks! Thanks to their regal look and charming personality, these adorable little dogs have long been a favourite among royalty and aristocracy. But a first-rate mind is inside those small, feathered heads! Papillons delight in learning tricks for individuals and executing. Being the object of publicity and making people happy is basically the raison d’être of the papillon.
The Rottweiler was perhaps one of the most unexpected entries on this list, a common security and guard dog for decades, but perhaps without the same academic prestige as the German shepherd. But make no mistake, these guys are on the pick-up as soon as anyone else. Don’t underestimate the opportunity to learn a few tricks from your Rottie!