Quarantine has been rough for everyone. Many households have decided to get a family pet or begin their fostering journey to cope with the loneliness. And we are here for it.
No one likes to use the "E word", but it's an unfortunate reality in many animal shelters that have been overrun by surrendered and stray animals.
And while shelter staff do more than their part to give animals a place to rest and recover (or live), there is a never-ending need for families to open up their doors to these scruffy little pooches.
Whether you are looking to adopt a rescue pup or foster a friend during these unusual months, you should know what you are getting yourself into and be realistic about your new pal's temperament and needs.
As the American Kennel Club notes, all dogs are smart — just in different ways. While there is something to be said about the breeds of dopey but adorable dogs (looking at you pitties), this article is dedicated to the smartest canines on the AKC list.
Many families are tempted to look for the most popular dog breeds when they scan through the shelters, and that can be a sure-fire way to end up with a dog that doesn't match your lifestyle.
Here are some things to consider before bringing a new dog into your home and the seven smartest dog breeds.
Things to Keep in Mind To Find the Best Dog for your Family
Listen, size matters — especially for dog owners. While I've never met a small dog who didn't enjoy big fields to roam in, I've met plenty of large dogs who can't handle apartment life. So before you fall in love with a Bull Mastiff or a St. Bernard, you'll want to make sure you have enough room for the dog to live comfortably.
In addition to being easier to accommodate, small dogs have the advantage of being easier to transport. Pop them in a crate, carry them in a bag or hold them as you explore the world together.
Now, don't get me wrong. I'm not saying that toy breeds are best. Each family has a sweet spot when it comes to dog sizes. I personally prefer my pals to be small enough for me to pick up if needed, but big enough that I'm not worried about their safety when other dogs or kids come around.
Do yourself a favor and take an inventory of your space and size preferences before starting your dog search.
Your new dog's energy level should also be considered before committing. And while it may seem logical to say that small dogs are low-maintenance and big dogs are high-energy, that is not the case. Instead, each breed has its own quirks. For example, beagles and Pembroke Welsh corgis are small but generally require an active lifestyle with lots of mental stimulation.
Are there exceptions? Sure.
I'm sure there is a couch-ridden corgi somewhere out there who is content to venture outside just for the bathroom. And while we hate breed stereotyping, there is something to be said about the inner workings of your dog. There is nothing worse than keeping a bored dog from causing mischief, and that is just what will happen if you pair a high-energy dog with a low-energy family.
But remember, not every dog wants to hike the mountains or play in the snow all the time. If you live a more sedentary lifestyle, there is a dog out there that would love to lounge with you all day. You may have to look around a bit until you find each other. And don't forget, senior dogs deserve love too and are often more inclined to cuddle all day. Plus, they tend to be the most thankful for their new home and are happy to show you their appreciation every day.
Let's break down the breed characteristics a bit, shall we? The AKC organizes dog breeds into seven main dog categories:
1. Working dogs
2. Herding dogs
3. Sporting dogs
6. Toy breeds
7. Non-Sporting dogs
As mentioned before, you will want to get to know your dog and what it was bred for before deciding to bring him into your home. Jack Russells and other terriers are prone to having a high prey-drive while herding dogs like Australian cattle dogs will have an instinct to chase and herd all the things (animals, children, etc.) And God bless them, but if you get a Bloodhound, you should be prepared for some noise.
Figuring out what your dog was bred for can help you provide a stimulating and appropriate outlet for your dog's natural tendencies. It can prevent the unfortunate revolving door that makes dogs even more anxious and harder to adopt.
Now that you have thought about your dog friend, now is the time to take an honest account of your family culture. Do you have a house of young kids? You will need to find a family dog that is good with children. Do you love to travel? If so, are you planning to bring your doggie with you or are you okay spending money for doggie daycare or pet sitter? What about pet hair? Are you prepared for the endless struggle with it? Or is your family sensitive to pet dander, requiring a breed that doesn't shed?
And finally, and what many new dog owners forget about, you need to get realistic about the noise level you are comfortable with. Schnauzers and Chihuahuas are notorious barkers. So if you have sleeping babies, sensitive neighbors or a low tolerance for background noise, you might want to look for a breed that doesn't have quite as much to say.
There is no right or wrong answer as you narrow in on your best pet. And, there is no rushing the process. You will be doing everyone a favor to take some time and get clear about what you want before signing up for something you can't commit to.
Now that we've covered the dog breeds' ins and outs and characteristics, let's hone in on the smartest breeds.
What is a Smart Dog?
Psychology professor and neuropsychological researcher Stanley Coren spent many years studying the cognitive abilities of our canine companions. He has written several books about his findings, including How Dogs Think and The Intelligence of Dogs.
During his research, Coren established three different types of intelligence: instinctive intelligence (which has much to do with those breed instincts we mentioned earlier), working intelligence (being able to learn new commands) and adaptive intelligence (or the ability to solve problems.)
It should be noted that Coren did not spend time with every breed when he made this list, and I have some unanswered questions about dogs who lack trainability entirely out of stubbornness and a strong will. (Which is why I suppose Shih-Tzhus aren't on this list.)
Related: The 9 Best Grain-Free Dog Foods
Stanley Coren's List of Smartest Dog Breeds
Some of the pups on this list may or may not surprise you!
Border Collies were bred to be workers, and they are good at it. Quick to learn new tricks and a love of working, it's no wonder that Coren ranked Border Collies as the most intelligent dog. This is a muscular, affectionate breed, and with enough mental stimulation, can be a great family pet. Just be sure to keep an eye on their instinct to herd children.
Loved for their hypoallergenic quality and a bit of sass, poodles rank #2 for smartest dogs. Many families are happy to discover that this breed comes in a few sizes: standard, miniature and toy. And we can't mention poodles without bringing up the ever-popular poodle-mixes such as Labradoodles and Goldendoodles, which tend to be a little more easy-going than their purebred counterpart.
The German Shepherd stigma ends now. Or, at least it should. Shepherds are known for their fierce loyalty and ability to learn new commands, which is why they make great search and rescue dogs or police dogs. (Much like the Belgian Malinois.) But don't be fooled. Their courageous spirit is no reason to exclude them as a family pet. Once you've had a German shepherd in your house, you may not want to live without them again.
Golden retrievers are one of the best things to come from Scotland. (Second to its new female-inspired law.) A Golden's trainable personality and happy-go-lucky spirit make it a great family pet, therapy dog and service dog. Just looking at them can make quarantine a little less lonely.
This is another breed that gets a bad rap. In reality, Dobermans are loyal, alert, and smart. Made to work and protect, they make excellent watchdogs. However, their uncanny guard dog qualities do not make them a vicious breed. I have known a few Pinschers who favor frolicking in fields of green to watching for intruders. I'm just saying.
Another breed from Scotland, Shelties are playful and energetic. But when playtime is over, these dogs are eager to work and learn new commands. And while all dog breeds are sensitive to mood changes in the family, Shelties are exceptionally in-tune with their family, making them great additions to the home environment.
Labradors are great workers. These easy-to-train make great service dogs and hunting partners. And their friendly personalities make them fantastic family pets if you can get past the intense puppy phase. Protip: If you have a lab puppy, be sure to stock up on chew toys. This is a high energy breed.
Ready to Take the Plunge?
Adopting a pet should be a lifetime commitment, and the best way to avoid adoption failure is to do your research before bringing a pet into your home.
While not every shelter offers a foster-before-you-adopt option, most need foster parents. And while you may not be able to foster the cute and highly adoptable spaniel or papillon you've had your eye on, you will learn a lot about unconditional love and the responsibilities of owning a dog. And that's not to mention the incredible impact it will have on your foster dog's stress and ability to get adopted.
So whether you are looking to make quarantine a little less lonely, do some good in this crazy world or add a new member to your family entirely, check out your local shelter. And as an added bonus, most shelter staff have gotten to know the dogs pretty well by the time they get to the adoption floor. So if you aren't too sure about the right dog for your family, someone there may have some good insight for you.
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7 Smartest Dog Breeds:
- Border Collie
- German Shepherd
- Golden Retriever
- Doberman Pinscher
- Shetland Sheepdog
- Labrador Retriever