How Smart Are German Shepherds? See What The Judges Said


Silly German shepherd moments are entertaining. The breed’s tinkering face often puts a smile on our face, but for them, the process of learning new tricks, understanding what is going on around them, etc., is absolutely serious business. So, how smart are German shepherds?

If you ever had one, you probably already know they are incredibly intelligent. For those who are having dilemmas whether some other breed is a better chess partner, allow me to present to you some facts that could sway you into getting a GSD.

The German Shepherd’s Intelligence Ranking Is Impressive

woman sitting next to her german shepherd

I am certain that you will be surprised by this top ten smartest dog list, so let me give you a word of warning. Do not go looking for a smarter dog. Your German shepherd is half shepherd, half genius.

Before getting into the actual ranking, it is important to note the different types of intelligence all dogs, and humans for that matter, can possess. No species is a master of all the kinds of smarts, but the German shepherd comes in pretty close.

Instinctive intelligence signifies how good a dog is at its primary role, i.e., what it was bred for. Second is adaptive intelligence, which simply means how quickly and efficiently a dog processes environmental information and solves problems.

The third type is the one we humans have the input in, working intelligence. This is essentially how good a dog is at performing tasks commanded by a human, or in even simpler terms – obedience.

Using these parameters to rank dogs, Stanley Coren, a life-long dog lover, psychologist and behaviorist, wrote a book that put the German shepherd in third place on the most intelligent breeds list.

What Made The German Shepherd Rank So High?

german shepherd running through a field

Many would not disagree with the statement, “German shepherds are the best all-around dogs in the world” for two simple reasons. One, they have high work drive, and second, they excel at solving problems for themselves. That means they excel at creating problems for owners.

With the second parameter which they were judged on being obedience, it was no surprise they ranked in the top three. There are plenty of reasons why German shepherds have been law enforcement’s and the military’s favored canines.

The will to please their owner or handler is beyond belief, and paired with their affinity toward humans, German shepherds deserve at least the bronze medal and an A for effort.

Adaptability is another trait this wolf-like breed impresses with. Regardless of living conditions, task at hand, stress, or any other factor, they make light work of changes in the environment.

One bit that is equally important but often overlooked is their high levels of playfulness. For such as serious, career-driven dog, wanting to show their childish side in the most useful of ways accomplishes great things in the big picture.

Even if people question the aggressiveness of the German shepherd, they are patient, tolerant dogs when properly trained. Maybe they are not the perfect dog for homes with children, or first-time dog owners, but they will certainly make it work.

They even have the trademark head tilting move that has been the topic of many debates among owners. We have an article that will answer any questions you might have about German shepherd head tilting.

To better understand this result, let us see what the criteria were, how they were applied, who judged the breeds’ intelligence and which ones fared best and worst.

Judging Criteria, Methodology, And The Top Ten Smartest Dogs

german shepherd in a field of flowers

One hundred thirty-three breeds were judged by one hundred ninety-nine certified obedience judges from the American Kennel Club and Canadian Kennel Club. They were asked to rate the dogs based on their working and obedience intelligence only.

The exclusion of instinctive intelligence was deemed a rational move because different breeds have different main roles and judging how they perform could not be done objectively.

Without a control group to compare results against, the parameter itself would become meaningless. This way, the individual performances of dogs were not cause for too many arbitrary results.

On that topic, the perception of the dog’s performance in these tests was generally even across the board. Out of one hundred ninety-nine judges, only ten did not mark the Border Collie as a first place.

Judges voted the Poodle as the second-smartest dog breed, closely followed by our hero of the day, the German shepherd dog, in third place. Perhaps you already guessed right, the fourth place belongs to the Golden Retriever.

This ranking done by accomplished judges from North America clearly does not warrant an explanation on why Golden Retrievers are the worst dogs.

Doberman Pinscher fans can be satisfied with fifth place, but I cannot say the same for fans of the seventh-placed Labrador Retriever. In between them is another herding dog, the Shetland Sheepdog, so the win truly goes to the herding group.

A small dog representative made the top ten. The Papillon is in good company, finishing just above the Rottweiler, in eight place. Surprise, surprise, the Australian Cattle Dog keeps scoring the points for team Herders, but this time from tenth place.

Next time you are with your Rottie, reward its breed’s successes with some of the best Rottweiler treats on the market. Do not forget to issue a few commands first. They do love a good command.

The Bottom Ten Dog Breeds

basset hound with a butterfly

We primarily welcome dogs in our homes as companions. If you are thinking that “the bottom ten” is a nice way to avoid using “ten dumbest dog breeds”, that is not the case.

These dogs simply showed that their interests lie elsewhere. Not being able to solve some problem, or ranking low on the obedience meter, does not make them unintelligent. They are simply dogs whose primary concerns are not to please the owner and roll on the floor.

If you want to teach your dog how to shake (not cocktails), then you should avoid the breeds I am about to mention. It is not that you will not be able to teach them the trick. They just refuse to do it.

Certain candidates you are probably expecting to see will not disappoint you, but you will be shocked to see some unlikely appearances on this list.

Poodles are beautiful, fancy dogs, but not as impressive as the exquisite but pricey Afghan Hounds, who managed to get in the bottom ten. They were joined by more “exotic” breeds like the Chow Chow, Borzoi, and stubborn grumpers such as Bulldogs, Bloodhounds, and Mastiffs.

What would a breed ranking list be without smaller dog breeds? The Pekingese, Beagle, and Basset Hound, also made the bottom ten, with a special guest appearance of the Basenji.


A German Shepherd standing in the snow

German shepherds always had the tools to succeed in this domain. How smart are German shepherds? Well, for most human-defined purposes, they are smarter than the tasks we use them for.

Even without professional training, they will read a room better than many people, leaving owners and guests in disbelief. Their temperament plays incredibly well with an experience-rich environment, and learning new things makes their heart and brain tick.

I hope the list of one hundred breeds was enough to portray the third-placed German shepherd as a dog you can trust with your midterms, work presentations, or even bookkeeping.