Are Australian Shepherds intelligent dogs? Find out what real Australian Shepherd owners think.

Are Australian Shepherds Smart? – Here’s Why They’re Intelligent

If you’re still debating on keeping an Australian Shepherd, research is very important. Most people already know that Aussies are lively, energetic and hard-working. But how do their intelligence compare to other breeds?

So, are Australian Shepherds smart? Australian Shepherds are highly intelligent dogs. In fact, they’re tied for the 66th smartest dog breed for obedience & working intelligence. And although they’re classified as a breed with “average” intelligence, they make up for it with high instinctive and adaptive intelligence.

Many dog owners reference Coren’s list of dog intelligence. However, obedience & working intelligence isn’t always the best way to gauge a dog’s IQ, especially with the Australian Shepherd. Let’s examine why they’re smarter than people think.

RECOMMENDED: The Owner’s Guide to Australian Shepherds

Measuring Aussie Intelligence

The Blue Merle Australian Shepherd is by far the most unique and beautiful Aussie color.

Australian Shepherds are smart. But Coren’s intelligence test isn’t a good indicator of their true IQ. To understand why Aussies were ranked so low, we must first understand how Coren measured dog intelligence.

Stanley Coren is a pHD and canine psychologist from the University of British Columbia. With the help of 199 obedience trial judges from North America, he had hundreds of dog breeds tested based off his criteria.

Coren’s Dog Intelligence Criteria

Coren’s criteria tested these dogs on two things: obedience and ability to learn.Though the criteria was met with criticism, it’s still the standard we have for measuring obedience and working intelligence.

Stanley Coren based his trials off these two criteria:

  1. The number of repetitions needed for a dog to learn a new command. Dog breeds that learned with fewer repetitions were seen as “more intelligent” breeds.
  2. The success rate that a dog breed will obey a known command on the first attempt. A higher rate of success meant that the dog was not only smarter, but more obedient.

Although Coren tested hundred on breeds, not every breed qualified for his final list of dog intelligence rankings. Only breed with at least 100 responses were qualified.

Furthermore, only dog breeds that were recognized by the American and/or the Canadian Kennel Club were tested in the trials. As it turns out, Australian Shepherds were popular enough to be tested at least 100 times and recognized by both clubs.

How Australian Shepherds Performed

As mentioned, Aussies were the 66th smartest dog breed out of 138 qualifying breeds. And while that’s not exactly “spectacular,” it’s better than most dog breeds.

Consequently, Australian Shepherds were classified as “average intelligent dogs.” This meant that they’re able to learn a new command with just 25 to 40 repetitions.

In addition, Australian Shepherds obeyed a known command on the first attempt just 50% (or better) of the time. These numbers are pretty typical. Plus, there’s really nothing wrong with being average.

In actuality, some of the most popular dog breeds are in this intelligence class. It’s not a coincidence. For example, the Dachshund, Boxer, Great Dane, Shiba Inu, Havanese and the Boston Terrier are all “average.” Not bad company at all.

Aussies vs. “Smartest Dogs”

Australian Shepherds didn’t do too bad. But how do they stack up against some of the world’s most intelligent dog breeds?

Conveniently, the “smartest dog” category also happen to be the top 10 performing breeds. These dogs can learn a new command with fewer than 5 repetitions. This means they’re at least 5 times faster at learning commands than Aussies.

These dogs are also able to obey a known command (on the first attempt) 95% or better of the time. Not only are they incredibly quick learners, but they’re super obedient too!

The smartest dogs are your all-time most popular breeds. For reference, these include the Golden Retriever, Labrador Retriever, German Shepherd, Dobermann and the Poodle.

Is Your Australian Shepherd Smart?

Australian Shepherd owners answer the age-old question: are Australian Shepherds intelligent dogs?

In order to really gauge how smart Australian Shepherds are, we surveyed 10 real Aussie owners on the popular Aussie Subreddit and other dog forums. Of course, not all individual dogs will be equal in intelligence. Here’s what they had to say to this question:

Real Owner Answers

1. Nothinginparticular says Yes:Mine is super smart in that she’s easily trainable, knows how to get what she wants, very expressive and communicative. Also a big ditzy goofball who runs into stuff and hits her head a lot.

2. Emgerly says Mixed:We call mine the ‘smartest idiot you’ll ever meet.’ He knows so many tricks and listens to commands so well, but fake throw a ball and he goes running EVERY TIME. One time he even jumped up on my desk and couldn’t figure out how to get back down the way he came.

3. Squanchyfetuss says Yes:Mine was potty trained at 8 weeks. Probably the smartest boy ever. Maybe five or less accidents in 2 years since he was 8 weeks old…he’s great off leash because he walks right next to me. Best dog I’ve had.

4. Forest1000 says Yes:My Lexus is too smart for her own good, most of the time. She “talks” to my kids on Face Time and will perform commands over FT. She’s learned the sound for Skype and FT calls.

5. Adeniumesper says No:Is anyone else’s Aussie…dumb? I got him fully expecting this intelligent being, but my god. He’s so ditzy and goofy! Wouldn’t trade him for anything but goodness.

6. Carmen315 says Yes:Mine is so smart and so athletic but she cannot catch anything you throw to her even if her life depended on it.”

7. Winsomedimsum says Mixed:Yeah mine is probably about as sharp as a dull 4 year old human. She’ll shake your hand and she’ll play dead if you pretend to shoot her, but she’s also scared of random objects like blankets and shadows.”

8. Schlepenheimer says Yes:I’ve owned..two Aussies. My Aussies have been very trainable and intelligent, but they know how to relax as well, and really seemed to love ALL people and other dogs.

9. Becca723 says Yes:She’s adorable. She’s incredibly smart and loves to learn tricks. My Aussie does every thing she can to make me happy. She loooooves to cuddle.

10. Riansettles says Yes:Full of life these dogs are. Unlimited energy. So smart also. Sometimes we wish we bought a dumb dog. Lol. Kidding of course. Love all Aussies.

Why Aussies Rank Low for Intelligence

There are a number of reasons why Australian Shepherds are ranked so low on the dog intelligence list.

Obviously, Coren’s trials are flawed. Although I think it’s a great reference point, it doesn’t truly capture a dog’s intelligence. Obedience & working intelligence just happens to be the most objective way of measuring IQ.

So despite so many real owners claiming their Aussie to be very intelligent, why did they rank so low on his list? There are a number of reasons, but let’s discuss the main issue.

Standardizing Dog Intelligence

Stanley Coren conducted his intelligence test based off two very specific criteria. The first was based on how quickly a dog can learn a new command. The second criterion was the percentage that the dog will obey the command on the first try.

The problem with this test is that different dog breeds and individual dogs have different motivators. Some dogs respond better to their owners. Other dogs respond better to food, whereas some prefer their favorite toy.

For these reasons, creating a standardized test based on Coren’s criteria can really skew results. And if you think about it, his “intelligence test” is really more of an obedience test.

But just because your Australian Shepherd doesn’t obey the first time around, doesn’t mean they don’t understand what you were saying. Aussies just aren’t as biddable as other dog breeds.

Energetic Fun-loving Dogs

It’s no secret that Australian Shepherds are ultra-energetic and hyper dogs. Plus, they love to have fun. Give them a large backyard and you can expect them to run and play for hours at a time.

So because of their temperament and personality, Aussies probably can’t stand being still and going through hours of obedience tests. With that in mind, can you really be surprised they performed so poorly on the trial tests?

I know Australian Shepherds are high energy. But i cant even get dressed in the morning without her bouncing up and down like a pogo stick and biting my clothes.

– Juliamxc (Aussie Owner)

Like we mentioned, Australian Shepherds have different motivators than other dogs. They’re not necessarily disobedient or unfaithful dogs either – they just won’t do everything you want! You can call them free-spirited dogs.

Yes, obedience training can be hard at times. But as long as you can keep them interested in the task at hand, they’ll comply with no problems. The best method to do this is to turn obedience training into a game.

Some dog breeds like the Border Collie (the “smartest” dog) do extremely well because they enjoy working for the sake of working. Although Australian Shepherds are hardworking too, they need to be assigned to a “job” while being mentally stimulated.

Reasons Why Australian Shepherds Are Smart

An Australian Shepherd may run away if not properly trained. There are many reasons they may run, such as a chase motive.

So far, we’ve only discussed obedience and working intelligence. However, there’s so much more to dog IQ than just this, according to Stanley Coren.

In fact, Coren suggests that there are actually three dimensions of dog intelligence. The two others are adaptive and instinctive intelligence.

In my opinion, both of those are more important in calculating true dog IQ. It’s just that those two components of IQ are the hardest to objectively measure. Let me explain.

World Class Herding Aussies

As you may already know, Australian Shepherds may not be the most “biddable” dogs. And as we discussed, this doesn’t mean they’re dumb (or even average intelligent) dogs.

However, there are other areas of dog expertise that Australian Shepherds truly excel at. Instinctive intelligence refers to the ability or special skill the dog breed was originally developed for. Nearly all modern dogs were purpose-bred.

Australian Shepherds were bred for herding small cattle, goats and sheep. In fact, they’re some of the best herders in the world! They herd by nipping at the heels of the animal and you’ll often notice these instincts in the home.

My Australian Shepherd is from a versatility line and he’s great normally. But when he gets excited or if i move quickly, he will try jogging alongside and nip at my heels.

– Cuddlykat (Aussie Owner)

Their ability to round up livestock, push them into formation and drive them in directions requires a special type of intelligence, that is, instinctive intelligence. All this, happens with little to no human training. Aussies were born with this ability.

Give them a herding job and they’ll thrive at it. However, not all Aussies will be excellent from the start. Those use these dogs to herd say they’re the best at herding cattles. On the other hand, Border Collies are known to be best at herding sheep.

Check out this Aussie in action:

Australian Shepherd’s Adaptive Intelligence

The final dimension of dog intelligence is adaptive intelligence. It refers to the dog’s ability to learn for itself and solve problems. Dogs that can learn from previous mistakes have high adaptive intelligence.

Though most individual dogs of a breed have roughly the same instinctive intelligence, adaptive intelligence can vary quite a bit among individual Aussies. Still, most owners tell us events and stories that clearly show signs of high adaptive intelligence.

One Australian Shepherd owner explains:

So we’ve been trying to train our 13 week old Aussie with a bell hanging on the back door to ring when she wants to go out to potty. The puppy will now take advantage by ringing the bell to go outside to play.

– Genericmale21 (Reddit User)

The Aussie owner continues by saying, “He’s too smart for his own good.” Surely, that’s how many Australian Shepherds feel too! Learning and taking advantage of the situation is undeniably high adaptive intelligence.

Similarly, another owner tells us about his intelligent Australian Shepherd:

I feel like my 10 month old Aussie has already learned the city streets. He gets excited every time we go to the dog park. And just by observing the neighborhood in the car, he’s started to get excited 5 minutes before we even arrive!

– David Y. (Aussie Owner)

These are all great stories that show high adaptive intelligence within Aussies. And even though it’s just two stories that we shared, there are a lot more. We could continue, but the list probably would never end!

If you’re not convinced, just ask any Australian Shepherd owner. I’m positive they’ll have plenty of stories just like these.

Does the Aussie’s Intelligence Matter?

It doesn't really matter is your Australian Shepherd is considered smart or not.

Just like all dog breeds, not all Australian Shepherds may be highly intelligent. But does it really matter if they are?

The truth is, your Australian Shepherd really doesn’t need to be that smart. Nearly all dogs are smart enough to provide what most owners need, especially if you’re just looking for a companion dog.

The most important thing is that your Aussie is loving and affectionate. Instead, ask: are Australian Shepherds a good match for me (my family) and my personality?

Unless you plan on teaching your dog important complicated tasks, then it’s pointless to have a breed like a German Shepherd, Poodle or Border Collie (the top 3 breeds for canine intelligence).

Rather than focusing on a dog intelligence list published by the “experts,” it’s far better to focus on developing a dog for your own specific needs. There’s a lot of things that Aussies are highly capable of doing.


Do you own an Australian Shepherd? If so, let us know in the comments section below – is your Australian Shepherd smart? Tell us why.

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11 Comments

  • We have had the pleasure of having three Aussies. Each was extraordinarily smart. Our last learned long distance, more than 100 yards, hand signals in one day. Lots of fun, hates to be left alone in the house, loves to go with us cross country skiing and keeps up all day in spite of deep powdery snow. Goes crazy and aggressive when the door bell rings. Though there are no fences, they always stay close to us and gets a bit anncy when they can’t see us. They will stay on command for at least 30 to 60 minutes. They are very good at healing, stop at corners and ignore other dogs when on the leash. That being said, I do not suggest Ausies for anyone who doesn’t want a close friend for lots of outdoor activities. Doc says more exercise. Your Aussie will get you out of the house and enjoying long walks.

  • I have 2 Aussies, my black/white tri is super intelligent, very driven to please, very intuitive to what you want, and naturally anticipates whats next. He obeys me 95% or better on 1st command. Learns new tricks with ease 5-10x will retrieve the newspaper from the front driveway, retrieve his collar, retrieve my wife’s sneakers from the closet, my phone, a hammer, and my sandels. He knows toys by name. Will retrieve anything you point at within 20ft if he does not know the name of the item. He even nose touches his collar as a way to ask if he can come with when he sees me getting ready to leave the house (putting on shoes, gathering my edc stuff). He will obey my wife maybe 60% of the time on 1st command, and at one time ignored her and stared at me when she asked him several times to get his collar, as if asking me if he should listen to my wife. When out in public my male is wary of strangers, wont let just anyone pet him, gets defensive, and thinks he is our body guard. He also exhibits good parenting/herding skills, If the cats play too rough he will break them up, or if they are fighting he will bark at them to stop. When our 2nd Aussie (female) was a puppy and had play dates with her little mates and they got to wild and noisy he would pull them apart. Also if people argue or wrestle he is there to break them up. He is also a frisbee master.

    Stanley Cohen is smart but his intelligence test is way off on Aussies. Many Aussies will not follow direction of someone they do not see as their leader, and it takes time before they will designate you as their leader. Aussies don’t listen to everyone equally, they have one master (family member they follow) the others they treat as equals to themselves in a ‘Your not the boss of me’ sort of way.

    My female is not eager to fetch things for you, but loves to pull so I got a dog sled harness for her and go bike joring with her. She is affectionate and loving and has basic commands down sit,stay,down, roll over, etc. just not that eager to fetch. She has outsmarted us a few times creating a tactical diversion to get what she wants. For example my wife was eating some food she likes and knows we will not give her food until we are done eating so she rang the potty bell on the back sliding door to like she wanted to go potty, but when my wife went to let her out the door she made a beeline for my wife’s food and started lapping it up. Hows that for intelligence, she also used the same tactical distraction fooling my male Aussie so she could get the billy stick he was chewing away from him without a struggle.

    • Thanks for sharing, Steven. I agree with you. We have a miniature Aussie ourselves and it’s true that they’re much more responsive to some people than others (in terms of obedience training). There are certainly a lot of flaws in Stanley Coren’s trials, but unfortunately, it’s all we have. There really is no “perfect” method of measuring dog intelligence from a completely objective stance.

  • I have a full size aussie who is crazy smart! I can teach her a new word or command in about 5 tries…she’s been that way since she’s been a puppy. This includes names. We only need to go to a friend’s house twice (especially if it’s a dog) and she remembers where the house is. So I say, “Let’s go to Bear’s house!” and she will pull me straight there. She’s also really good at fetch or frisbee. She’s always up for a run or a game, and didn’t need any training at all to chase or catch a frisbee–she just naturally did it the first time. I’m also impressed when we go to the dog park and there are dogs running all over the place. A lot of the dogs will run right into me without watching where they are going. My dog will run right by me, without running into me, but will be so close I can feel her fur graze by me. They’re incredible fast and agile, and really track people and objects (like balls or frisbees) with incredible focus. She knows a LOT of words and commands, and it doesn’t take her long at all to learn them. Whether she does them every time is a different question! If I’m holding a treat she suddenly remembers every word she’s ever learned and follows all directions. Otherwise she may ignore me sometimes, but obviously knows what I’m saying. She’s also a really happy dog who loves everyone she ever meets. You can’t help but love her happy attitude and wiggly butt! That said, she definitely gets into trouble if she’s not exercised enough or if she’s bored. If it weren’t for that I’d say she was the perfect dog!

    And when I compare her with other dogs I know who only know a few commands, I’d say she was pretty smart. When other people come over she’s friendly, loves to play, and is always happy to show off her tricks. When we go to the dog park she is the first to go catch a ball or a frisbee, or follow another owner’s commands to their dog (like to run up steps, through tunnels, catch a frisbee, or run with the owner). Everyone loves to watch her do tricks or catch things because she’s always up for some fun, even if she’s been running around for hours already. She’s a very popular dog in the neighborhood!

    Just for reference, she’s about a year old, but these are the things she absolutely knows that I can remember off the top of my head:

    Names: Roxie (her own), My 3 kids names, Mom, Dad, Grandma, and several friends
    Dog Friends: Fritz, Scout, Boone, Bear, Sophie, Marley, Toby, Figaro
    Objects/places: Ball, Frisbee, bone, car, leash, outside, inside, food, drink, dog park, a friend’s house, playpen, kennel,
    Commands: Let’s go, sit, down, stay, leave it, drop it, stand, find, kisses, hugs, up, hop up, out, no, good girl, yes, walk, run, go potty, heel, wait, kennel up, come, go in your playpen, go get it, in the car, off.

    That’s just my two cents about aussies and how smart they are!

  • I was not aware what a squirrel does to my guy. He is now 1.He has learned if he gets 1 in the right spot, he goes to the tree and waits for the squirrel to make it’s move. Brilliant

  • MINE IS AWSOME TOO. hE HAS MASTERED ABOUT 50 WORDS AND HE IS A LOVER., HE IS GOING ON 12 years and is like a puppy. He ring the bells on the door up to 2 times, and if I don’t go out with him, he gives me a look and won’t go without me. He guards the house and barks when anyone goes by or stops by and he has great instincs. He even tries to talk to melk, and that is so cute. He looks at me and uses his mouth to talk, and it is so cute. He is a Tri and I love him. When I am sad, he comes over and puts my hand on his head or his back so I can pet him and not be sad. He also loves the belly rub and the walks every evening. His daddy was a champion Aussi. Also a Tri.. And his coat is long and he started his shedding about a month ago, and omg, I brush him almost every day, and he still has hair to shed….High maintenance for sure. He is spoiled and he deserves it.

  • I have had two Aussies. Both of them were and are highly intelligent. I can teach them a command in 5 repetitions and sometimes less with my current one. When asked a question to figure out what he wants he tells me yes by licking his lips and no by turning his head away.
    They know and knew the names of all their individual toys. Squeeky, ball, chipmunk, hippo, game, squirrel, penguin, etc. They know and knew the difference between cookie, chicken, soft food and crunchy.
    My first one was very sneaky, he knew what to do to follow, watch between door cracks and windows and wait in order to run and get the bread of the counter and then knew how to smile to gain forgiveness.
    The issue is, there are times when they are like a cat, they hear you and know the command, but don’t feel like it so they just look at you as if to say, “nope, I’m not in the mood.” That decision making is not a lack of intelligence.

  • I have a MAS and this dog is super intelligent. Although I have told people that training them can be like teaching an ADHD child. As long as he focused on the task at hand, he can learn anything super fast. After trying for months to teach him basic commands and him just not picking anything up (this guy got kicked out of puppy training class for 4 of the six weeks, so he’s a puppy school drop out) and finally talking to a trainer about him Two weeks with the trainer, and the trainer recognizing the ADHD thing and instead taught me how to get him to focus, he’s turned into an incredible dog.

  • I had a wonderful black tri girl for 14 of the best years of my life. Smartest dog I ever owned. Now I have a 3 year old German shepherd and 2 two year old sibling Aussies. All 3 are girls and very energetic. I have found that the Aussies learn the same things at close to the same speed as the German shepherd, just differently. They are all loving, intelligent, protective bundles of fur. We do joke that the German shepherd says hello, the black tri says hi and the blue merle says huh? Would not trade any of them for the world.

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