smartest large dog breeds

The 15 Smartest Large Dog Breeds

This post may contain affiliate links. This means we may receive a small commission if you click on a link and make a purchase; however, all opinions are our own. Clicking these links won't cost you anything extra, but it helps keep our site running.

Everyone is impressed by a Border Collie sprinting perfectly through an agility course, or the well-trained Pointer sniffing his way down the security line at the airport. Certain breeds of dogs have demonstrated exceptional intellectual abilities that allows us to train them for a variety of tasks.

Smart dogs can also be a joy to keep in your home, as well, as long as you provide them with ample training and activities.

Below we’ll discuss the smartest large dog breeds and some of the rewards and requirements to owning them.

smartest dog breeds

Why Do You Want a Smart Dog?

Owning a super smart dog can be an absolute blast! If you are an active trainer, you will likely be able to teach your dog your ideal behaviors for a perfect pup, which will make living with your dog a breeze.

A dog that quickly learns tricks can be a fun and even helpful companion around the house. However, it is important to keep in mind that the smartest breeds do not necessarily make easy pets, and are not a good choice for every home or every owner.

Smart dog breeds can easily get bored if they are not challenged enough through training and exercise. Before you bring home one of the dogs listed here, make sure you are willing and able to step up and be a very active and involved dog owner. Many of these breeds will do best if you get involved in training or dog sports.

These activities are a good way of providing your dog with a lifetime of training and mental stimulation; training should not stop once your puppy is housetrained or your dog knows basic obedience commands. Your dog would likely be thrilled by a nosework class or agility training.

Keeping your dog challenged in this way is extremely rewarding, and will keep her happy, entertained, and busy, but it requires significant time and energy on the owner’s part. Make sure that you are willing to put in the energy that your dog needs to live its best life. Many busy homes will be happier if they bring home a lower maintenance companion.

When choosing a dog, there are many other aspects to consider along with intelligence. It is important that your dog will fit into your lifestyle.

  • Exercise Needs. Ensure that you are able to give your dog plenty of exercise; big dog breeds need daily walks, runs, or games of fetch. Also, remember to get a dog that can keep up with your activity: If you are an avid runner, don’t bring home a bulldog! Releasing pent up energy will likely keep your smart dog from developing destructive behaviors, and also means that your smart dog will be more focused and easier to train and manage.
  • Energy Level. While many dogs enjoy high energy play like fetch or tug, it is important to consider how well your dog will calm down when playtime is over. Most owners will get frustrated with a dog who continually brings you items to play fetch, or constantly tries to chase you around the house. A super smart dog that is bored could become destructively energetic.
  • Barking. Most owners (and neighbors) have little tolerance for a dog that barks excessively. This could be another sign of boredom. Smart dogs get bored more easily than their less intelligent counterparts!
  • Gentleness. Certain breeds are well known for being gentle, while others enjoy engaging in rough play. Gentleness is especially important to consider in a house with young children or other pets.
  • Living Situation. Large dogs need plenty of room both inside and outside the house, and a tiny apartment may be better suited for a smaller dog.
  • Shedding. Dog hair has a way of getting on everything in the house, but certain breeds shed more than others, and Poodles are hypoallergenic and hardly shed at all.
  • Grooming Needs. Consider how much care, time, and money you are willing to put into taking care of your dog’s coat. Short-haired dogs need little attention, while other breeds will need frequent brushing to keep their fur from becoming matted; Poodles will need to regularly go to a professional dog groomer.
  • Climate. When searching for the right breed of dog for you consider where you live! A short-haired Greyhound will not do very well in a cold climate, and likewise, a thick-coated black Newfoundland would suffer living in Arizona.

Smartest Large Dog Breeds

1. Border Collie

Border Collie

Description: Although this really is a medium size breed, Border Collies consistently top dog intelligence charts so we are including them here. This is a brilliant, friendly, high energy, highly motivated herding dog that will keep you on your toes!

Score on Stanley Coren’s Test: 1 (Brightest Dogs)

Food Motivation: High

Toy Motivation: High

Sociability: Borders are affectionate and loyal to their owners, but are often wary around strangers. Their strong herding instinct can make it hard for them to live in a home with other animals.

Focus: Borders are intensely focused, sometimes to the point of being annoying.

Energy Level: Very high. Border Collies are an extremely athletic breed, and need to be rigorously exercised daily to keep them happy and easy to live with.

Health Concerns: Border Collies are prone to eye issues and hip dysplasia. Recommended health tests: hip evaluation and ophthalmologist evaluation.

Grooming Needs: Border Collies need to be brushed weekly in order to keep their fur from matting – more often in the case of rough-coated individuals.

Things to Keep in Mind: As with all the dogs on this list, Borders need to be kept busy, or they will slip into destructive behaviors. Because Border Collies have a tendency towards anxiety, it is extremely important to properly socialize and train your Border Collie so he doesn’t develop behavior problems.

2. Poodle

Standard Poodle

Description: The Standard Poodle is a large retrieving breed that makes a smart, attentive, and affectionate pet. Poodles are hypoallergenic, meaning they hardly shed and are a great choice for someone who is allergic to dogs!

Score on Stanley Coren’s Test: 2 (Brightest Dogs)

Food Motivation: High

Toy Motivation: High

Sociability: Poodles are very affectionate to their family, and usually do well with kids and other pets. They tend to be shy around strangers.

Focus: Poodles are extremely people-oriented and very focused on their owners.

Energy Level: Poodles are a high energy breed and need rigorous daily exercise in order to remain happy.

Health Concerns: Standard Poodles can suffer from hip dysplasia, eye disorders, Addison’s disease, and sebaceous adenitis. Recommended health tests: hip evaluation and ophthalmologist evaluation.

Grooming Needs: Poodles have high maintenance coats and need to regularly go to a professional groomer to keep their hair at a manageable length, and in between these haircuts owners must brush at least once a week (depending on hair length) to keep from matting.

Things to Keep in Mind: Because Poodles have a tendency towards anxiety, it is important to properly socialize and train them in order to maintain good behavior.

3. German Shepherd

german shepherd with kid

Description: The German Shepherd Dog is a loyal, courageous, and confident friend. They are large and powerful, and make excellent working dogs for a variety of jobs.

Score on Stanley Coren’s Test: 3 (Brightest Dogs)

Food Motivation: High

Toy Motivation: High

Sociability: German Shepherds are very loyal and protective of their home and family. They usually get on well with other pets in the house but can be aggressive towards other dogs. They are wary of strangers and can be alert to the point of being reactive or aggressive.

Focus: German Shepherds have a high focus, and are alert and responsive to their owners.

Energy Level: German Shepherds are an athletic breed and need regular exercise in order to be happy and healthy.

Health Concerns: German Shepherds can suffer from hip and elbow dysplasia, and degenerative myelopathy. Recommended health tests: hip evaluation and elbow evaluation.

Grooming Needs: This breed tends to shed quite a bit, and should be brushed weekly to get rid of dead hairs.

Things to Keep in Mind: German Shepherds were bred to guard livestock, and if they are not properly socialized and trained, these instincts could lead to a shy, aggressive dog.

4. Golden Retriever

Golden Retriever Hair

Description: Golden Retrievers are the beloved family pet in many homes in the United States, and for good reason. Their attentiveness to humans which makes them such endearing companions also means that they are focused and ready to learn from their owner.

Score on Stanley Coren’s Test: 4 (Brightest Dogs)

Food Motivation: High

Toy Motivation: High

Sociability: Goldens are very loving and affectionate towards their owners, and tend to get on well with strangers, other animals, and children.

Focus: Goldens are eager to please, and are heavily focused on their owners during training.

Energy Level: Golden Retrievers need daily exercise to remain happy and healthy.

Health Concerns: Golden Retrievers are prone to hip and elbow dysplasia, and eye issues. They can also suffer from certain heart diseases and allergic skin conditions. Recommended health testing: hip evaluation, elbow evaluation, cardiac exam, ophthalmologist evaluation, and EIC DNA test. Cancer is also extremely common in this breed. Be sure to ask the breeder how old their dogs are when they die and what they died from.

Grooming Needs: Goldens require weekly brushing to keep their coat healthy and keep the shedding at bay.

Things to Keep in Mind: Golden Retrievers have a tendency towards resource aggression and hoarding behavior. Look for a breeder that tries to limit this behavior, and train your dog early and well to avoid any behavior problems.

5. Doberman Pinscher

Two Doberman Pinschers

Description: Its strong frame and powerful movements make the Doberman an impressive dog to look at. They were originally bred as guard dogs and were once an aggressive breed, but selective breeding for temperament makes the modern Doberman a fine companion.

Score on Stanley Coren’s Test: 5 (Brightest Dogs)

Food Motivation: High

Toy Motivation: High

Sociability: Dobermans make loyal, alert, and attentive pets. They can be shy around strangers, and aggressive towards unfamiliar dogs.

Focus: Dobermans are intensely focused and eager to learn from their owner.

Energy Level: The Doberman Pinscher is an athletic breed, and needs rigorous daily exercise. They enjoy being able to run around and play off leash.

Health Concerns: Dobermans are prone to heart conditions, eye issues, and hip dysplasia. Recommended health tests: hip evaluation, cardiac exam, thyroid evaluation, Von Willebrand’s disease DNA test, and ophthalmologist evaluation.

Grooming Needs: The short coat of the Doberman needs little attention.

Things to Keep in Mind: Before bringing your Doberman home, ensure that your breeder has tested for any of the mentioned health conditions, and ensure that your breeder selects for temperament. An aggressive dog the size of a Doberman will be nearly impossible to manage, so ensure good breeding and good training on your part.

6. Labrador Retriever

labrador retriever

Description: Labrador Retrievers are the most popular dog in America, and with their friendly, energetic nature, it is easy to see why. Labs enjoy games of fetch and swimming, as well as attentively learning from their owners.

Score on Stanley Coren’s Test: 7 (Brightest Dogs)

Food Motivation: High

Toy Motivation: High

Sociability: Labs have the endearing quality of being overjoyed to meet pretty much anybody. They generally do well with kids, other animals, and strangers.

Focus: Labs are attentive and responsive to their owners, and have an incredibly high food motivation, which makes them a joy to train.

Energy Level: Labs are energetic and need daily exercise. They love going for a swim!

Health Concerns: Labs have a genetic propensity towards hip and elbow dysplasia, patellar luxation, and eye issues. They can also tend towards obesity, but this is easily prevented with proper diet and plenty of exercise. Recommended health testing: hip evaluation, elbow evaluation, ophthalmologist evaluation, and EIC DNA test.

Grooming Needs: Their short, water repellent double coat sheds and requires occasional brushing.

Things to Keep in Mind: Just because the Labrador Retriever is the nation’s most popular breed, does not mean that it is right for every family. Owners must remember to give their Labs plenty of exercise and mental stimulation to keep them happy and healthy.

7. Rottweiler

smartest dog breeds

Description: Rottweilers make loving and affectionate family members, but remain aloof with the rest of the world. They are powerful guard dogs, and enjoy learning from their owners.

Score on Stanley Coren’s Test: 9 (Brightest Dogs)

Food Motivation: High

Toy Motivation: Medium

Sociability: Rottweilers are can become very protective if they perceive their owners are threatened, and do not always do well with other dogs or strangers. However, they make extremely affectionate, goofy companions to those in their family.

Focus: Rottweilers have a high focus and are eager to work for their owners.

Energy Level: Rottweilers are an active breed and require daily exercise.

Health Concerns: Rottweilers are prone to joint issues, eye diseases, and heart conditions. Recommended health tests: hip evaluation, elbow evaluation, cardiac exam, and ophthalmologist evaluation.

Grooming Needs: The short coat of the Rottweiler needs little attention.

Things to Keep in Mind: Because they were bred for guarding, Rottweilers can become aggressive towards strangers. It is very important to properly socialize and train your Rottweiler to ensure good behavior.

8. Belgian Tervuren

Belgian Tervuren

Description: The Belgian Tervuren is an athletic, intensely focused shepherd dog who makes an elegant and attentive companion, but remains aloof towards strangers.

Score on Stanley Coren’s Test: 14 (Excellent Working Dogs)

Food Motivation: High

Toy Motivation: High

Sociability: The Belgian Tervuren is an attentive and protective dog, that will want to keep its distance from strangers.

Focus: This breed is intensely focused and often excels in obedience and agility trials.

Energy Level: The Tervuren makes an excellent endurance athlete and needs rigorous daily exercise.

Health Concerns: Tervurens are prone to joint issues and eye diseases, and could suffer from seizures. Recommended health tests: hip evaluation, elbow evaluation, thyroid evaluation, and ophthalmologist evaluation.

Grooming Needs: The long, gorgeous coat of the Tervuren needs to be brushed a few times a week to keep it from matting and to pull out dead hairs.

Things to Keep in Mind: This breed is confident and can be stubborn. A firm control in training is necessary to reinforce desired behaviors before your Tervuren sets her own patterns of behavior.

9. Belgian Sheepdog

Smart Belgian Sheepdog

Description: The Belgian Sheepdog, also called the Groenendael, is a proud, alert dog who enjoys human companionship. They are closely related to the Tervuren, and have a similar strong athleticism and work ethic.

Score on Stanley Coren’s Test: 16 (Excellent Working Dogs)

Food Motivation: High

Toy Motivation: High

Sociability: The Belgian Sheepdog has an intense personality, and can be protective of its family. They are wary of strangers and other dogs, but are affectionate, obedient companions.

Focus: Belgian Sheepdogs tend to be intensely focused, like many dogs in the herding group.

Energy Level: Belgian Sheepdogs are energetic and athletic and require rigorous daily exercise.

Health Concerns: Belgians can suffer from joint issues and eye diseases. Recommended health tests: hip evaluation, elbow evaluation, and ophthalmologist evaluation.

Grooming Needs: The long, gorgeous coat of the Belgian Sheepdog needs to be brushed a few times a week to keep it from matting and to pull out dead hairs.

Things to Keep in Mind: This breed seeks out human companionship, and often does not do well with separation. Proper training is essential to keep this anxiety in check from a young age.

10. Collie

Rough Collie

Description: Collies make expressive and affectionate family pets. They are bright, fast learners who excel at obedience and agility sports.

Score on Stanley Coren’s Test: 17 (Excellent Working Dogs)

Food Motivation: High

Toy Motivation: High

Sociability: Collies are an excellent choice for an affectionate family pet. They get on well with children, people, and other dogs.

Focus: Like most herding breeds, Collies have a very high focus, making them eager learners.

Energy Level: Collies needs daily exercise, and love the chance to run and play off leash.

Health Concerns: Collies have a propensity toward eye issues and sensitivities to certain drugs. Recommended health testing: PRA Optigen DNA test and MDR1 DNA test.

Grooming Needs: The long, dense coat of the Collie requires brushing every few days to keep it from matting and to remove dead hair. Smooth coated Collies will need less grooming attention.

Things to Keep in Mind: Collies have a strong herding instinct which is more prevalent in some genetic lines than in others, so if you want a calm pet, it is important to find a breeder that breeds dogs who are good family pets, rather than competitive herders. Proper socialization is necessary to prevent shyness.

11. German Shorthaired Pointer

german shorthaired pointer size

Description: This proud looking gundog makes an excellent hunting companion, and is also a good pet for the active family.

Score on Stanley Coren’s Test: 19 (Excellent Working Dogs)

Food Motivation: High

Toy Motivation: High

Sociability: German Shorthaired Pointers generally do well with children and other people and dogs. They would likely not make a good addition to a house with smaller pets.

Focus: GSPs are intensely focused, with the characteristic pointer stance.

Energy Level: GSPs are a very energetic breed, and would love to go for long hikes and runs; a daily walk will not be enough. Many pointers enjoy playing fetch.

Health Concerns: German Shorthaired Pointers are prone to joint issues, eye conditions, heart diseases, and lymphedema. Recommended health tests: hip evaluation, elbow evaluation, cardiac exam, ophthalmologist evaluation, and cone degeneration DNA test.

Grooming Needs: The short coat of the GSP needs little attention.

Things to Keep in Mind: Pointers that do not get enough exercise can become destructive and develop unwanted behaviors. They also have a propensity for barking.

12. Flat-Coated Retriever

flat coated retriever

Description: The Flat-Coated Retriever is a happy, energetic, hardworking retrieving breed that makes an affectionate family companion.

Score on Stanley Coren’s Test: 20 (Excellent Working Dogs)

Food Motivation: High

Toy Motivation: High

Sociability: Flat-Coated Retrievers are smart and cooperative, and generally do well with children, strangers, and other dogs.

Focus: Flat-Coated Retrievers are very attentive to their owners and eager to please.

Energy Level: This breed requires rigorous daily exercise in order to keep them happy and healthy and to prevent boredom and unwanted behaviors.

Health Concerns: Flat-Coated Retrievers are prone to joint and eye issues. Recommended health tests: hip evaluation, patella evaluation, and ophthalmologist evaluation.

Grooming Needs: The medium length coat needs weekly brushing to detangle and get rid of dead hairs.

Things to Keep in Mind: This breed is prone to separation anxiety and if left alone for long periods of time, unwanted behaviors could develop. Proper socialization and training is the best way to mitigate this issue.

13. Weimaraner

smartest large dogs

Description: The distinctive, silver coat of the Weimaraner is striking. This athletic dog makes an excellent companion or the active family, but its drive and obedience mean that it is also a great hunter and working dog.

Score on Stanley Coren’s Test: 25 (Excellent Working Dogs)

Food Motivation: High

Toy Motivation: High

Sociability: Weimaraners generally do well with children, other dogs, and adults. They will not do well in a home with smaller pets unless the Weimaraner was raised in such a home.

Focus: Weimaraners are alert and eager to please, making them fast, focused learners.

Energy Level: Like the pointers, Weimaraners need lots of vigorous activity every day in order to remain happy and healthy.

Health Concerns: Weimaraners are susceptible to gastric torsion, and joint, eye, and thyroid issues. Recommended health tests: hip evaluation, thyroid evaluation, and ophthalmologist evaluation.

Grooming Needs: The short coat of the Weimaraner needs little attention.

Things to Keep in Mind: When outdoors, keep your Weimaraner on a leash or in an enclosed area, as they are prone to wandering off. A Weimaraner that is not exercised enough will likely become frustrated and destructive.

14. Belgian Malinois

Belgian Malinois

Description: The Belgian Malinois is a hardworking breed that thrives on human companionship and mental and physical challenges.

Score on Stanley Coren’s Test: 26 (Excellent Working Dogs)

Food Motivation: High

Toy Motivation: High

Sociability: The Malinois is instinctively protective and is very close to its family. It prefers to stay away from strangers and can be aggressive towards other dogs and animals.

Focus: The Malinois has a high level of focus and is attentive to their owners.

Energy Level: The Malinois is an energetic breed that thrives with rigorous daily activity.

Health Concerns: Belgian Malinois are prone to joint and eye issues. Recommended health tests: hip evaluation, elbow evaluation, ophthalmologist evaluation.

Grooming Needs: Weekly brushing will keep the Malinois’ coat healthy.

Things to Keep in Mind: Proper training is necessary to keep the Malinois’ protective instincts in check and prevent them from becoming problematic. This breed was selected to bite, and are very prone to using their mouths to play, tug, and gnaw. If you’re not well versed in curbing puppy nipping, you’re probably not ready for this breed. Also, like many herding breeds, the Malinois has a high chase instinct, so it is important to keep him on a leash to keep him from getting into trouble chasing squirrels or other animals.

15. Bernese Mountain Dog

Bernese Mountain Dog Smartest Breed

Description: Bernese Mountain Dogs are strong, sturdy, working dogs that originate from the mountains of Switzerland. They are also very calm and affectionate companions.

Score on Stanley Coren’s Test: 27 (Excellent Working Dogs)

Food Motivation: High

Toy Motivation: Medium

Sociability: Bernese Mountain Dogs are friendly with adults, children, and other dogs. They enjoy activities with their family and do not do well when left alone for long periods of time.

Focus: One of the smartest large dog breeds, this breed is intelligent and eager to please, making them highly focused on their owners.

Energy Level: The Bernese Mountain Dog is a large, energetic breed that needs plenty of exercise and play daily.

Health Concerns: Bernese Mountain Dogs are prone to hip and elbow dysplasia, cardiac issues, blood issues, and eye problems. Recommended health testing: hip evaluation, elbow evaluation, cardiac exam, ophthalmologist evaluation, and Von Willebrand’s Disease DNA test.

Grooming Needs: Bernese Mountain Dogs have a long double coat that sheds quite a bit. Brushing a few times a week keeps shedding under control and keeps the coat from matting.

Things to Keep in Mind: Bernese Mountain Dogs can be prone to separation anxiety if left alone for long periods of time, so proper training and socialization are very important from a young age.

In Conclusion

Before bringing home any of the above 15 smartest large dog breeds, it is important to remember that you must be a match for them. An intense, energetic, smart dog, like those listed here, will likely develop destructive behaviors if they are not physically and mentally challenged daily. These dogs are not always easy to live with, and large breeds with behavior problems pose serious issues.

That being said, for the involved dog owner, having one of these smart breeds in your home can be incredibly rewarding. You will be surprised by all the tricks and behaviors your dog an pick up under your instruction, and their desire to please you means the world. Having a brilliant dog is worth the great amount of effort you are required to put in.

What is your favorite thing about owning a smart dog? What is your favorite trick you’ve taught him? Let us know in the comments!

You May Also Enjoy…

Dog IQ: How to Test Your Dog’s Intelligence

Are Big Dogs Smarter Than Small Dogs?

10 Best Interactive Dog Toys for Large Dogs

28 Dog Training Commands and Advanced Training Tips

Leave a Comment: