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Smart dog breeds for families

The term “smart,” which can be defined as anything from mentally alert to sharp to quick, has different meanings to different people. When it comes to dogs, most breeds are smart, but in different ways. For instance, working breeds will be quick to learn and perform specific tasks, while hounds have excellent smell and sight. You may identify particular traits as “smart,” and so the right dog breed for your family may be different from another’s. While many top 10 lists deem the border collie one of the smartest dog breeds, is it the smartest breed for your family? Continue reading for descriptions of some of the top-ranked dogs—in no particular order—along with some considerations for families.
Poodle dog breed


While they may be well-known for their fancy fur coats, don’t be fooled—poodles are exceptionally bright. Originating from France, they thrive on learning and obedience and are excellent candidates for agility training. That said, poodles do require extensive grooming maintenance and overall attention. They are bred in several different sizes, including toy, miniature, and standard, giving your family a variety of choices if breed size is a deciding factor.

Your family would love this breed if:

  • You are interested in competing in dog agility or obedience events.
  • Someone in your family has a history of allergies since some people find this breed less likely to cause allergic symptoms.

This breed may not be right for your family if:

  • You have small children—this refers to the toy variety, as they can be considered fragile.
  • You do not have the time to take care of this breed’s grooming requirements.
  • You have a moderately sedentary lifestyle.

German shepherd dog breed

German shepherd dog

This bold, beautiful breed is strong, intense, and fiercely loyal, as well as fun and energetic, and German shepherd dogs (GSDs) can be great family dogs. As a working breed, these dogs shine when they have a task to train for and perform, which is why GSDs are so popular for police and military work. These large, powerful dogs require a lot of time and training, but can be devoted and loving family members when given the required attention. GSDs are often considered one of the most intelligent dog breeds.

Your family would love this breed if:

  • You have an active lifestyle with a great deal of time to devote to exercising and working with your dog.

This breed may not be right for your family if:

  • You cannot commit the time for the lofty exercise and training requirements of the German shepherd dog.
  • You live in a small apartment with no yard.
  • You prefer small- to medium-size dog breeds.

Golden retriever dog breed

Golden retriever

These long-haired beauties are another smart dog breed, known for their sweet, happy-go-lucky nature, and training ability. Retrievers are eager to please and will effortlessly become devoted family members. Similar to other large, intelligent dogs, this sporting breed requires plenty of exercise and training activities to minimize destructive behaviors. As retrievers, they thrive in hunting and other outdoor activities, but are also happy to stay at home, so long as their exercise requirements are met.

Your family would love this breed if:

  • Hunting or retrieving is on your family’s list of hobbies.
  • Your dog would have easy access to the outdoors for off-leash activity.

This breed may not be right for your family if:

  • You are not willing to commit a moderate amount of time to grooming, brushing, and cleaning up hair at home.
  • You have a moderately sedentary lifestyle and spend minimal time outdoors exercising.

Border collie

Border collie

This highly energetic and hardworking herder regularly tops the list of smartest dog breeds. As with most other intelligent, active dogs, border collies need a job and the opportunity to work. While they require considerable time and energy, border collies are immensely fun and loyal family members.

Your family would love this breed if:

  • You live a highly active lifestyle and enjoy running, hiking, and other outdoor activities.
  • You are interested in pursuing agility training with your dog.
  • You have a farm with a need for a herding dog—the border collie’s dream job.

This breed may not be right for your family if:

  • You won’t be able to provide a wide-open space everyday for off-leash activity.
  • You prefer a dog with a more laid-back personality.
  • Your idea of exercise is a leisurely walk around the block.

Papillon dog breed


One of the few toy breeds to regularly make the list of smartest dog breeds, this tiny delight’s name is the French word for “butterfly.” The term refers to their large ears, but could also allude to their persona. Another great breed that excels at agility trials, papillons are energetic and sharp. They are also great little family dogs who would fare well in a smaller home or apartment, so long as they get enough exercise.

Your family would love this breed if:

  • You prefer a tiny, energetic dog.
  • You live in a small apartment or home.

This breed may not be right for your family if:

  • You have small children, because these tiny, five-pound dogs can be fragile.
  • You plan to regularly go for long runs or hikes with your dog. While this breed needs exercise, a papillon’s little legs will have a hard time keeping up with you on a lengthy run.

Labrador retriever dog breed

Labrador retriever

This sporting breed loves to please and is a family favorite. Not only are these dogs incredibly smart, they have been the country’s most popular breed for 27 years in a row. As with other intelligent dogs, Labradors insist on regular exercise and training, and they benefit from having a job. Give them a task and they will reward you with companionship. This breed is a popular choice for seeing-eye and therapy work.

Your family would love this breed if:

  • Hunting or retrieving is on your family’s list of hobbies.
  • You have a moderate-to-active lifestyle and enjoy running, hiking, or swimming.

This breed may not be right for your family if:

  • You do not have the time or desire to commit to this breed’s exercise and training requirements.
  • You prefer a smaller, more relaxed dog.

Bloodhound dog breed


Bloodhounds are considered one of the most intelligent dog breeds, based only on their exceptional sense of smell. While they may not be top winners at agility competitions, this breed is smart in its own right, and excels at tracking activities, such as hunting or drug or bomb sniffing. Bloodhounds make wonderful family additions when they can practice what they are good at, which involves adequate exercise and mental stimulation.

Your family would love this breed if:

  • Hunting or tracking is a family hobby.
  • You prefer larger, active dogs and have time to devote to exercise.

This breed may not be right for your family if:

  • You do not have a fenced-in yard. This breed’s keen sense of smell is known to lead them to wander.
  • You have neighbors who may be sensitive to howling or barking. Hounds tend to be vocal when they catch a scent or sight.

Intelligence comes in varying shapes, sizes, and breeds of dog. The term may mean something different to everyone, but one thing is certain—smart dogs can be wonderful companions. Smart pet owners protect them. Whether you are keen on training a dog for therapy or looking for a smaller dog to play frisbee with everyday, there is a smart dog for everyone.

When choosing your family dog, keep in mind that most smart breeds require significant amounts of exercise, training, and mental stimulation. However, with the appropriate time and dedication, these dogs easily become fun activity partners and loyal family members.

No matter which lovable dog you gravitate to, be smart and learn more about Trupanion’s dog insurance to keep him protected.