Anyone who has a dog at home will tell you that theirs is extremely smart — the absolute smartest. They’ll gush about how quickly their dog picked up complicated tricks and behaviors and how easy their dog was to train. But this begs the question: Are some dogs really smarter than others?
More specifically, are some breeds more intelligent than others, and are larger dogs more intelligent than small dogs?
When you think of dog intelligence, you may imagine highly-trained guide dogs working their way through complex obstacle courses, drug-sniffing police dogs, rescue dogs, and other working dogs. Obviously, these amazing mutts are much more skilled than the average household pooch, but does that mean they’re smarter or just better trained?
Unfortunately, the answer isn’t very straightforward. Although some studies have suggested that medium-sized dogs may be more intelligent than both smaller and larger breeds, other experts have said that there isn’t much a of a correlation between size and intelligence when different-sized dogs are rigorously tested. There are also other factors to consider, like the influence of human behavior on dogs.
For example, humans tend to treat small, toy dogs much differently than medium-sized dogs and giant-sized dogs. Small dogs tend to live their lives as companions and aren’t used as “working” breeds as often. That means they may not receive the same amount of training as larger breeds, which could influence our perception of their intelligence.
Types of Dog Intelligence
Generally speaking, there are three types of dog intelligence: instinctive intelligence, adaptive intelligence, and working intelligence.
- Instinctive intelligence relates to the dog’s innate abilities, especially those that they’re predisposed to because of genetics. In other words, instinctive intelligence has to do with what a dog was bred to do.
- Adaptive intelligence is a measure of what a dog can learn and do for themselves. If a dog is good at pathfinding or solving other environmental challenges on their own, you might say they have a high adaptive intelligence.
- The last form of intelligence is working or obedience intelligence, which is the canine equivalent of booksmarts. A dog that has a high working intelligence can learn easily from humans and is relatively easy to train.
Different types of dogs may be intelligent in some areas more than others. What this means is that all dogs are smart, they’re just smart in different ways. Depending on what you intend to teach your dog, breed does make a difference. Often, the most teachable breeds are considered the smartest dogs, and many dogs are bred specifically for their instinctive and working intelligence.
Smartest Dog Breeds
According to the American Kennel Club, when training large dogs, you have to understand your dog's breed and put in the necessary time to unlock their abilities. Although some dogs may take longer than others to learn, this doesn’t necessarily mean they are less intelligent.
Nonetheless, some dogs are beloved the world over for their intelligence and trainability. Some of the smartest dog breeds include:
- Border Collies
- Doberman Pinschers
- German Shepherds
- Golden Retrievers
- Labrador Retrievers
- Shetland Sheepdogs
Indeed, many of the smartest dog breeds are medium-sized dogs. But Toy Poodles are also some of the most intelligent dogs on the planet. If you’re searching for a smart dog to do fun activities with (or herd your sheep), you may want to pick a medium-sized breed or perhaps one of the breeds on the list above. But even if you want a smaller or larger dog, you can still train your dog to be on good behavior, obey commands, and even do some fun tricks.