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Are Border Collies the Smartest Dog Breed? Determining Dog’s Intelligence

Chantelle Fowler

By Chantelle Fowler

border collie with his owner on the grass

Every dog owner likes to think they have the world’s smartest dog. While it might be true that your pup is the smartest dog in your world, it might not be true of the world as a whole. That is unless you have a Border Collie.

That’s right! The Border Collie is often considered the smartest of all dog breeds. A lot of research and science had to happen to make this claim, so if you’re curious about dog intelligence and why the Border Collie is so smart, keep reading to learn more.

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How Do We Know That Border Collies Are the Smartest?

Stanley Coren, a canine psychologist, is highly acclaimed for his research into canine behavior. In 1994, his book The Intelligence of Dogs hit bookshelves and forever changed how people looked at dog intelligence. In this book, he ranked 138 different dog breeds according to their intelligence levels based on several criteria, including:

  • How many repetitions are necessary for a dog breed to learn a new command
  • The success rate that a dog breed can obey a known command

Of all 138 dog breeds evaluated, the Border Collie performed the best. Coren’s research shows that they could learn a new command in fewer than five repetitions, meaning many can pick up a basic command after just a few minutes. In addition, this breed could obey a known command on the first try with a 95% (or better) success rate.

Now, none of that may make sense to you without a scale of reference. Coren’s research suggested that dog breeds with average intelligence can learn new commands within 25 to 40 repetitions. In addition, they may obey a known command on the first try with a 50% or better success rate.

border collie dog getting trained
Image Credit: Dora Zett, Shutterstock

What Is Dog Intelligence?

In the 2006 re-release of his book, Coren explains three kinds of canine intelligence: instinctive, adaptive, and working and obedience. When all three types are evaluated together, they test the dog’s problem-solving skills, obedience, memory, social training, and observation skills.

  • Instinctive intelligence refers to the intuitive ability of dogs to understand things.
  • Adaptive intelligence refers to a dog’s ability to solve a problem at all.
  • Working intelligence & obedience refers to a dog’s obedience level and working abilities. Both instinctive and adaptive intelligence play a part.

What Makes Border Collies So Smart?

Border Collies are gifted with instinctive intelligence. This simply means that the skills the breed was initially bred for—herding—provide them with this special type of IQ, allowing them to perform this job based solely on their instincts. For example, a Border Collie that has never seen a sheep before may nip at its human’s heels, trying to hurry them along.

Another area where Border Collies excel is adaptive intelligence. This refers to the ability of a dog to learn for itself, and it seems that most dogs of this breed are born with high adaptive intelligence. Adaptive intelligence provides dogs with the ability to associate objects with actions. For example, your Border Collie may act excited when you begin lacing your sneakers, as it knows that sneakers mean it is time for a walk.

How a Border Collie uses its instinctive and adaptive intelligence together will describe its working intelligence and obedience. In addition, your dog will gain experience from its surroundings and use its natural talents to develop its intelligence better.

border collie dog holding black toy ball in mouth
Image Credit: Julia Zavalishina, Shutterstock

What Are Other Intelligent Breeds?

According to Coren’s research, the other nine intelligent dog breeds making up the top ten include:

How Can I Test My Dog’s IQ?

Whether you have a Border Collie or not, you might be curious about your dog’s intelligence. You can do several at-home tests with your pet to determine its brilliance.

These include:
  • Puzzle toys—toys that must be handled in a certain way to release a hidden treat. The faster your pup releases the treat, the smarter it is.
  • New tricks—how quickly does your pup take to learn a new cue? The faster it learns, the smarter it is.
  • Name knowledge—call out random words that have no significance to your dog, such as “stove” or “toothbrush,” in the same tone you call its name. If it ignores you when you call out unknown words but will respond quickly to its name, it’s smart.

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Final Thoughts

Border Collies are the most intelligent of all dog breeds. But, of course, each dog is unique, with its own personality traits and characteristics. For example, your Border Collie might be extremely brilliant, but your neighbor’s dog, without any training or socialization, may perform worse on intelligence testing. As a whole, though, this breed has a greater inclination toward high intelligence than any other.

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Featured Image Credit: Melounix, Shutterstock

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