Special Report

The Smartest Dog Breeds in America

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Dogs are America’s most popular pets, and almost 50 million households have one or more. They are great companions and can be playmates, hard workers, herders, and guardians. But some kinds of dogs, frankly, are smarter than others — and, to put it bluntly, who wants a dumb dog? 

Smart dogs definitely have practical advantages: They’re typically easier to train and often more engaging and entertaining. The only downside, if you can call it that, is they may also need more mental stimulation.

To discover which dog breeds are considered the smartest, 24/7 Tempo consulted a list of the most intelligent canines published by the American Kennel Club (AKC). It’s a remarkably diverse assortment by any measure. There are breeds from Africa and Australia, from Alaska and the Alps. There are breeds that can hunt bears and breeds that can just about fit in your pocket. (If that idea appeals to you, see our list of smallest dog breeds in the U.S.)

Click here to see the smartest dog breeds

The dogs also span the centuries, from the Rottweiler, with a history that dates back to the Roman Empire, and the Chinook, which was bred in the early 20th century. There’s also the Russian Tsvetnaya Bolonka, which you may never have heard of, and which almost went extinct. And of course there’s the Labrador retriever, which serves not just as a house pet but as a guide dog and in search and rescue. It’s America’s most popular breed — suggesting that maybe we’re pretty smart, too.

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Alaskan Klee Kai

The Alaskan Klee Kai was bred in the 1970s from hard-working and intelligent husky dogs. It comes in three sizes and is alert, energetic, and curious.

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American Leopard Hound

The American Leopard Hound is a hunting breed characterized by intelligence and toughness. It is one of the oldest tree dog breeds (which force prey into trees) and has extremely strong tracking abilities, hunting game such as raccoon, bear, bobcat, and cougar. It’s also protective of children.

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American Staffordshire Terrier

The American Staffordshire terrier, also known as the AmStaff, is considered a bull type and is bigger than its British cousin, the Staffordshire bull terrier. It is intelligent and naturally playful.

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Australian Kelpie

The Australian Kelpie originated from collie type dogs imported from Scotland, and was developed to withstand the harsh heat and dry conditions of Australia. It’s an extremely intelligent and eager herding dog.

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Australian Shepherd

The Australian Shepherd is descended from the Pyrenean Shepherd, a dog favored by the Basques who live between France and Spain. Basque emigrants to Australia crossed that breed with collies to create the intelligent herding dog we know today.

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Azawakh

The Azawakh is a tall, lean sighthound (meaning it hunts primarily by sight rather than smell), originating in West Africa. Its intelligence makes it a good companion and guardian as well as a able hunting dog.

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Barbado da Terceira

The Barbado da Terceira, originally from the Portuguese island of Terceira in the Azores, is an intelligent, easy-to-train, and sensitive hunting dog. It needs human contact and does not like kennels or being left alone.

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Barbet

The Barbet is a French water dog that has been used for centuries to locate, flush, and retrieve birds. It has a cheerful disposition and is intelligent, social, and loyal.

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Belgian Malinois

The Belgian Malinois originated around the city of Malines and is one of four closely related breeds of Belgian herding dogs. It’s hard working, proud, alert, and intelligent, and needs a lot of exercise.

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Belgian Sheepdog

The Belgian sheepdog is one of the four breeds of herding dogs from Belgium. They’re anatomically similar but vary in coat texture, color, and length. The sheepdog is known for intelligence, versatility, and hard work.

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Belgian Tervuren

This breed gets its name from the Belgian village of Tervuren, which was the home of master breeder M.F. Corbeel. Tervs are known for their intelligence, strength, and stamina, and are used as military and police K-9s, search-and-rescue dogs, and service animals for the disabled.

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Berger Picard

The intelligent Berger Picard originated in the French region of Picardy. Their population was decimated by two world wars but has made a strong recovery and the breed was admitted to the American Kennel Club in 2015. A Berger Picard played the title role in the 2005 movie “Because of Winn Dixie.”

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Bloodhound

The bloodhound is famous for its sense of smell and tracking ability. The breed is used by police forces around the world to find missing people and escaped prisoners. It is instantly recognizable because of its wrinkled face and large drooping ears. Sadly, the bloodhound is one of the shortest-lived dog breeds.

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Border Collie

The border collie is widely considered to be the most intelligent dog breed. In fact, it was bred for its intelligence and obedience and has tremendous herding abilities and protective instincts. The border collie makes a great pet but needs more physical exercise and mental stimulation than many other breeds.

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Briard

The Briard is named after the French dairy region of Brie, where farmers needed capable herding dogs and guardians. Thomas Jefferson had Briards at Monticello. He wrote, “Their extraordinary sagacity renders them extremely valuable, capable of being taught almost any duty that may be required of them.”

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Chinook

The Chinook was first bred by adventurer and polar explorer Arthur Treadwell Walden in New Hampshire. He wanted to breed his own line of sled dogs and used a mastiff/St. Bernard mix and a Greenland husky as parents. The Chinook is known for intelligence, patience, and eagerness to please.

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Doberman Pinscher

This dog was first bred by Karl Friedrich Louis Dobermann, a German tax collector who wanted a dog to protect him in his sometimes dangerous job. As well as being one of the smartest breeds, the Doberman often ranks highly in obedience and trainability. That makes it popular with police and military forces around the world.

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German Shepherd

The German shepherd is the second most registered breed by the AKC. Originally bred for herding sheep, it has become the first choice for many roles because of its intelligence, trainability, and obedience. German shepherd roles include disability assistance, search and rescue, and police and military work.

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Golden Retriever

Golden retrievers aren’t just smart but have a great work ethic too. They are often used as guide dogs, in search and rescue, and – as their name suggests – for hunting. Their many other endearing characteristics, including patience and playfulness, make them great pets.

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Labrador Retriever

The Labrador retriever is the most popular breed in the United States, according to the American Kennel Club. It is also one of the most sought-after breeds for challenging work, whether as guide dogs for the blind or search and rescue. When lives are in danger, you want a dog that is smart and dependable – just like the Labrador retriever.

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Papillon

This breed gets its name from the shape of its ears – “papillon” is French for butterfly – but it’s also known as the Continental Toy Spaniel. Smart, alert, and playful, the papillon makes a great pet. As a bonus, it has a relatively long life expectancy.

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Poodle (Miniature)

Poodles come in different size varieties and all are intelligent. Miniature Poodles are 15 inches or under and excel in advanced obedience competition, where retrieving and jumping skills are required.

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Poodle (Standard)

Because of its size, the standard is the best all-round athlete of the Poodle family. They are more than 15 inches tall at the shoulder and are remarkably versatile.

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Poodle (Toy)

The toy Poodle is less than 10 inches tall. It has the same build and proportions as the miniature and standard and is equally intelligent.

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Rottweiler

The Rottweiler is one of the oldest herding breeds and may have been working with humans since the days of the Roman Empire. The breed combines intelligence, strength, and endurance. Unfortunately, the Rottweiler has sometimes been portrayed in the media as aggressive, but as the AKC says, it is “a calm, confident, and courageous dog.”

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This breed’s name translates as “Colored Lapdog.” It’s a member of the Bichon family and was almost extinct until after the Cold War. The American Kennel Club describes it as “clever beyond words and intensely loyal to its family.”

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Shetland Sheepdog

This breed was originally bred to tend the small sheep of the Shetland Islands. Because of its intelligence, Shetland sheepdogs are quick to understand and obey commands. While it’s loyal and affectionate, which makes it a great pet, it also tends to be reserved towards strangers, which makes it a great watchdog.

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