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Are Border Collies Smart? – Here’s Why They’re the Most Intelligent Dog

Border Collies are some of the hardest-working dog breeds you’ll find. They have a loving and spirited side, but also a fierce workaholic personality. But because they’re such brilliant workers, it makes you wonder just how smart they are.

The Border Collie is the smartest dog breed when it comes to obedience & working intelligence. In fact, the world’s “smartest” dog was a Border Collie who knew over 1,000 nouns. However, they’re smart in many other ways too. For example, their skillful ability to herd sheep requires a special type of inherent dog intelligence.

No matter how you look at it, the Border Collie is an extremely intelligent dog. There are several reasons why they’re “second to none” when it comes to intelligence. But what actually makes them smart? Let’s examine why they’re the world’s smartest.

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Measuring the Border Collie’s Intelligence

Border Collies ranked first in intelligence for obedience and working intelligence.

This smartest dog breeds list had accelerated the popularity of Border Collies. With these dogs sitting at the top of the list, plenty of potential owners curiously looked into them. But how do we know that Border Collies are the most intelligent dogs?

This research and study has been largely credited to canine psychologist and pHD, Stanley Coren. With the help of 199 obedience trial judges, Coren had the controversial goal of ranking breeds by IQ. And while his idea was initially met with a lot of criticism, he received a big response.

The Dog Intelligence Criteria

Using Coren’s dog intelligence criteria, the obedience judges evaluated and ranked over a hundred dog breeds. With the data from the judges, Coren was able to finalize his list of most intelligent dog breeds. His criteria for the trials was the following:

  1. The number of repetitions necessary for a dog breed to learn an unknown command. As you may have guessed, the fewer repetitions needed, the higher the breed ranked.
  2. The success rate that a dog breed obeys a known command on the first try. The higher the success rate, the more intelligent and obedient the dog breed.

Though hundreds of dogs were initially evaluated for Coren’s dog intelligence study, not all dog breeds made the final cut. Rather, only those that received at least 100 evaluations ended up in the final list, giving us a total of 138 breeds.

In fact, not even all dog breeds participated in the trials. Only dog breeds that were recognized by the AKC or the Canadian kennel club joined the trials. In other words, no mixed dogs or rare international dogs were allowed to be evaluated by the judges.

Because Border Collies were recognized by both the AKC and CKC, they participated. And thanks to the huge popularity of the Border Collie, they had no problems qualifying for the final list.

How the Border Collie Performed

The Border Collie performed the best. They’re number one! Because of their top performance, they took the title of the “smartest dog breed in the world.” Border Collies were in a class of their own, and only 9 other dogs came close.

So what does it mean to be number one? Being in the top 10 for intelligence meant that Border Collies were capable of learning a new command with fewer than 5 repetitions. They will be able to easily pick up a basic command in a few short minutes!

Personally, what’s more impressive is how obedient Border Collies actually are. Thanks to their top work-ethics, they’ll obey for the sake of working. As such, Borders were able to obey a known command (on the first try) with a 95% or better success rate!

Few dog breeds can compare to the Border Collie’s work and obedience IQ. But still, there are 9 other dog breeds in the same IQ class. These dogs include the Dobermann, Golden Retriever, GSD, Labrador, Poodle, the Rottweiler and more.

Border Collies vs. Average Dogs

The Border Collie blew the competition away! Out of 138 qualifying breeds, they came out on top. But how do these dogs compare to your “average” intelligent dog breed?

The average intelligent dog can learn a new command with 25 to 40 repetitions. In other words, the Border Collie is at least 5 times faster at learning new commands than your average dog.

Furthermore, average intelligent dogs tend to obey a known command on the first try with just a 50% or better success rate. Not even close to the obedience of a Border Collie, as the BC has nearly double the success rate for obedience.

There’s nothing wrong with being average. In fact, some of the world’s most popular and hard working dogs are average. For example, the Aussie, Husky, Great Dane, Greyhound, Shiba Inu, Boston Terrier, Dachshund and Boxer are all average.

2 Other Reasons Why Border Collies Are Smart

When it comes to measuring a dog’s IQ, there’s so much more to it than just obedience & working IQ. But because that aspect of dog intelligence is the most objective to measure, it’s easier to develop a criteria and rank breeds with obedience & working IQ.

However according to Stanley Coren, there are actually three dimensions of dog intelligence – with the other two being adaptive and instinctive intelligence And in my opinion, they’re much more important in measuring true dog IQ, though much more difficult to measure.

The Border Collie’s “Herding Intelligence”

Instinctive intelligence refers to the inborn or natural ability and skill that the breed was bred for. In the past, all dog breeds had specific roles and jobs in our society, whether it be herding, guarding, tracking, or retrieving. Dogs were purpose-bred to work with humans.

And when you think of herding dogs, the Border Collie easily comes to mind. After all, they’re some of the best in the world when it comes to herding. In fact, they’re widely considered the world’s best sheep herders, though they can herd cattle too.

The ability of Border Collies to round up sheep, move them into formations and push them towards a direction requires a special type of IQ, that is instinctive intelligence. They’re able to perform this job using mostly instincts. In other words, they don’t need much human training.

If he doesn’t have enough stimulation, then the herding instinct immediately kicks in and he’s very hard to work with, at least without upping the amount of stimulation. 

– Secretsomeone (Border Collie Owner)

Even if a Border Collie has never seen a sheep in his or her life, these instincts are often seen in daily life with these dogs. It’s not unusual for Border Collies to nip at the heels of humans. And, it’s especially common in puppyhood when they’re fighting the instincts.

But why is this a type of canine intelligence? Well if you think about it, knowing exactly what position to move into in order to guide a flock requires intelligence. This instinctive IQ is exactly what makes the Border Collies so effective at sheep herding.

Don’t believe me? Check out this amazing Border Collie at work:

The Border Collie’s Adaptive Intelligence

The final dimension of dog IQ is adaptive intelligence, which refers to the ability of the dog to learn for itself. This may include anything from their problem-solving ability to how they’re able to learn from previous experiences and mistakes.

While nearly all individual Border Collies have roughly the same instinctive intelligence, it’s not the case when it comes to adaptive intelligence. This component of dog IQ may vary greatly even among dogs of the same breed.

But believe it or not, the Border Collie isn’t all about obedience training and herding. And while adaptive intelligence varies, most of them are born with high adaptive intelligence.

For example, one owner tells us a story about her Border Collie:

Oreo knows when its time for everything! He’s learned what it means when I pick up different objects. Like sunscreen means were going for a walk!

– Hannah Sheen (BC Owner)

The fact that Oreo was able to learn the associations of objects with consequent actions is incredible for dogs. Border Collies are more than capable of picking out the small details of human actions. This is, in fact, adaptive intelligence in dogs at its finest.

Another owner gives us this example, saying:

My Border has a bit of separation anxiety. He’ll start barking if I leave the house for work. But if I’m going out to water or cut the lawn, he won’t bark. He somehow knows and it’s scary.

This owner’s Border Collie probably isn’t psychic. Rather, he was probably able to pick up small cues that led him to believe the owner was leaving for a long or short period of time. This could have been anything, such as the clothes worn by owner when leaving.

These are just a few examples of Border Collies with extremely high adaptive intelligence. However, I’m sure if you asked any Border Collie owner, they’ll tell you similar stories that would leave you never doubting their intelligence again.

Is Your Border Collie Smart?

One of the best ways of gauging the intelligence of a dog breed is by asking real owners. Who else would know the Border Collies better? So, we surveyed the Border Collie Subreddit and other forums to ask this question. Here’s what these owners had to say about their Borders:

Real Owner Answers:

1. Tigui91 says Yes:One of the great things is that Border Collies are so smart the virtually teach themselves how to potty train, and crate train. You have to be patient and try not to get frustrated as they are very sensitive dogs.”

2. Jerretjackzn29 says Yes:I’ve never met a dog that I thought was ‘too smart’ until I met my Border Collie. Seriously too smart for his own good sometimes.”

3. Mr_brant says Yes:Out of all the dogs I’ve ever owned, my latest Jett is by far the most intelligent. I rescued him in 2010 during a pretty difficult time in my life and in reality, he rescued me.

4. Settlersofmixed says Yes:I think everyone in the world knows that Border Collies are intelligent dogs….and if not, trust me they are!

5. Turtlebeansforall says Yes:So, I grew up with Border Collies. Fair warning to all BC owners. If you get another breed that’s less intelligent, you may not be able to tolerate it!

6. Thehazzanator says Yes:Border Collies are very smart loving creatures. I’ve grown up with so many different dogs, but as an adult now with a Border Collie, I couldn’t imagine her being any other kind of dog.”

7. Rcj72688 says Yes:There’s a reason why Border Collies are the smartest breeds in the WORLD. I was skeptic until I actually brought one home.

8. Ereencepark2 says Yes: “There are little things he does that makes me KNOW he’s smart. But my Border Collie can be really stubborn with training at times.

9. Tokisushi says Yes:Border collies are really high energy and incredibly smart, but each individual can have different aptitudes and personalities.”

10. Amareloremipsum says Yes: “My 6-month old Border Collie Kratos is so amazing. He’s very intelligent, gentle with people and kids, responsive and athletic. He’s just my dream dog.

Dealing With Smart Border Collies

Now that we’ve seen just how smart Border Collies are, there are some things to consider. It’s “cool” owning the smartest dog breed, but it can come with some pain points. In fact, many owners will tell you that a smart dog is not for everyone.

It’s because the more intelligent the dog, the more mental stimulation is required. This is certainly true for the Border Collie. Without sufficient mental stimulation to their minds, they may exhibit some destructive behavior, such as chewing.

Mental stimulation for your Border Collie usually comes in the form of obedience training. Not only does it keep them sharp, but also obedient. And according to Canna Pet, Border Collies need at least 1 to 2 hours of physical and mental activities daily!

Smart Toys for Border Collies

Of course not every dog owner will be able to provide a couple hours for their Border Collie. It’s why I recommend getting your dog some smart toys and dog puzzles to help out! It will keep their minds occupied while you’re busy.

Here’s just a few of my dog’s favorite smart toys! The first I’d highly recommend is the Nina Ottosson Dog Puzzle. It’s a pretty unique puzzle and comes in three variations (I got the Hide n’ Slide) that you can try with your BC.

Simply slip in your Border Collie’s favorite treats and let them go to work. They may quickly solve the puzzle, but it’ll keep your Border Collie entertained and stimulated for a while! If this sounds good, I highly checking it out!

Another fantastic smart toy is the StarMarks Bob-A-Lot Feeder. It’s great if your Border Collie eats too fast, but most importantly, it makes them “work” for their food.

The Bob-A-Lot comes with two chambers, so you can put both their treats and meals in there. Just make sure you’re getting a large size for your Border Collie.

It doesn’t matter if you choose to go with my two recommendations or not. There are many good ones out there! What’s more important is that you get your Border Collie something. Browse through Amazon and you’ll see a ton of great interactive dog toys!

Is the Border Collie For Me?

The Border Collie is a fantastic dog, but are they the right fit for you? When you’re picking out a dog, it’s important that you pick one based off your needs, lifestyle and personality. This is a mistake I’ve seen far too many owners make.

Never pick a dog breed because they’re “smart.” The truth is, all dogs (especially a Border Collie) are smart enough for you and your family. And as we mentioned, these dogs require a lot of work because they’re so smart.

If you have the time and capacity to raise a healthy and happy BC, then by all means go for it! They’re loving dogs with an (sometimes overly) energetic personality! But at least, there’s never a dull moment with these dogs.

These dogs are not right for everybody. It really takes a dedicated owner. Border Collies are the happiest when you assign them a job or role in the family. And if you can provide that, these dogs will thrive.

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Tuesday 13th of September 2022

Tried a puzzle game with my 2 Aussies (1 after the other died) and they both did the same thing. Watched me set it up with treats inside, placed it on the floor, they looked at the puzzle, looked at me with a "Are you kidding me?" expression, picked the whole thing up and flipped hard back down. All treats were out and they were quite please with themselves. And I never had a BC that smiled like the one did--that's learned.


Wednesday 15th of March 2023

@Carolyn, Oh my goodness. I’ve always had labs and I swear by the time they are mature adults they can have the intelligence of a 5 year old. I wanted a companion for him so I got a Border Collie- Australian Shepherd mix with a touch of Lab. I’ve had him since New Years Eve. He was on his way to being house broke within a month - he’s 4 months old now and knows about 10 commands. The only one I worked on with him was sit. He is my shadow. If he doesn’t want to do what you say he’ll stay just out of reach maintaining eye contact and being very playful. It does no good to get mad you just have to hold his eye contact and reason with him. He had figured out how to get the baby gate open pretty quickly by pushing up on it. So I bungee it down when he’s in it. But the other day the lab was confined because I was feeding them and the gate wasn’t bungeed… I looked over and the BC had opened it from the button on the top and was swinging on it…. So fine I put him in and bungeed it down… he now knows how to climb over—-haha—- no kidding. The other thing he knows how to do is unzip his play yard. He’s a challenge but he’s I think he’ll be worth it. I’ve gotten him several interactive toys but they are mostly for feeding. I wish there was something more than what I am finding out there. If anyone knows of any I’d love to hear about them.


Monday 7th of March 2022

I'm planning to adopt a Border Collies, and I'm so lucky I found your post


Monday 18th of October 2021

I think this was very helpful for my research paper thank you.


Wednesday 14th of April 2021

I think anyone who has seen Chaser with Neil DeGrassie would agree border collies are the smartest. I picked up a Mexican stray 15 years ago who had border collie in him and a lot of border collie behaviours. he had a vocabulary of over 100 words and was the smartest dog I ever had. He could ID toys by name for eg. Of course natural selection is at play with a street dog as well.


Thursday 25th of February 2021

I agree my English Shepard (smooth collie) is amazing! So easy to train and so smart! I have 10 acres and have chickens, do small scale farming and work from home. He’s not quite 2 and was a challenge as a puppy, but truly becoming a joy to live with! We hike/run miles per week and I give him various “jobs” to do and he’s had extensive socialization with dogs and all kinds of people and kids here. I would never own another breed, but they’re definitely not for everyone. I’m willing and able to train and provide him with a lot of exercise and mental stimulation and that’s precisely why he’s becoming such an excellent, loyal companion on my farm.

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