Let’s talk about the 13 smartest small dogs – because when it comes to intelligence, big dogs often get all of the credit.
But in reality, there are many small dog breeds (weight ranging from 2-22 lbs) that are extremely intelligent too.
Of course, the definition of intelligence can differ and there are different kinds of intelligence.
Some dogs have more “brain smarts” than others. In other words, they have a strong ability to think, learn, and solve problems. Other dogs are more “pack” intelligent.
This means that they understand social structures and obligations. But when it comes to intelligence, whatever the definition, not all dogs are made equal.
Today we’re going to discuss the 13 smartest small dog breeds, as well as what makes them so smart.
We’ll talk about:
- Shetland Sheepdogs
- Welsh Corgis
- Yorkshire Terriers
- Fox Terriers
- Rat Terriers
- Brussels Griffons
- Cairn Terriers
- Miniature Schnauzers
- Cocker Spaniels
- And Pomeranians
So let’s not waste another minute!
Poodles are defined as affectionate family dogs that are proud, confident, and clever.
The poodle can actually be divided into three different sizes:
- the toy poodle (6-9 pounds, 10 inches tall),
- the Miniature Poodle (15-17 pounds, 11-15 inches tall),
- the Standard Poodle (45-70 pounds, 15-22 inches tall).
Regardless of size, all poodles are known to have curly, wiry, dense hair that comes in a wide range of colors. More often than not, the poodle is one solid color.
But whether you are talking about a toy poodle, a miniature poodle, or a standard poodle, one thing remains true to all – they are extremely intelligent.
In fact, the poodle has been labeled as one of the most intelligent dog breeds in the world.
What makes them so intelligent?
Poodles are among one of the easiest breeds of dog to train.
This is the reason why you see so many poodles in things like shows, competitions, and agility training sessions.
Because they are attention seekers, this breed will do almost anything to make you happy.
In fact, studies have shown that a poodle can learn a new command in less than 5 repetitions.
Second, only to the Border Collie, this makes the poodle one of the smartest breeds in the world.
The Shetland Sheepdog, sometimes referred to as the Sheltie, is small to a medium-size breed of dog that is said to look like a mini Collie (despite the fact that these are actually two distinct breeds).
They are an extremely active breed of dogs that was once known as a “farmer’s best friend”.
In history, Shelties have long been used for guarding the flock, sounding the alarm on anyone or anything that comes near.
They also have a strong herding instinct and can often be found chasing squirrels, rabbits, or anything else that comes in the yard.
Many owners describe their shelties as great family companions, though they can be somewhat shy around strangers.
As you have probably guessed by the fact that they have made this list, they have also been described as extremely intelligent.
Like the Poodle, most Shelties can learn a new command within 5 repetitions of practicing it.
Much of their intelligence comes from their predisposition to perform tougher duties on the farm.
But in addition to being able to learn new, complicated things easily, Shetland Shepherds are also very intelligent in their ability to sense danger.
If danger is near, the Sheltie will be the first to let you know – a quality that makes them an excellent family guard dog.
Named “Papillion” (French for Butterfly) for its large butterfly-shaped ears, the Papillon dog is one of the smallest, smartest dogs in the world.
At its largest size, the Papillion doesn’t reach more than 10 pounds in weight.
But don’t write this breed off just because of its small size – the Papillion is an active competitor that loves both agility and obedience training.
Often categorized as a lap dog, this breed would actually rather chase rodents away from your house than they would sit on the couch and watch television with you.
Though they are a small dog, they have a huge attitude that makes them the perfect watchdog.
They are often defined as the breed who “doesn’t know it’s own size”. They are outgoing, energetic, and love to be around people.
In terms of intelligence, Papillons are very eager to please their owners. This makes them very easy to train.
Their high degree of intelligence, combined with their eagerness to please and their abundant levels of energy make them the perfect candidates for agility and obedience training.
In fact, the Papillion is the number 1 toy breed in obedience competitions.
Patience, rewards, and gentle training work best for this breed.
Pembroke Welsh Corgi
The breed is active, animated, and always wants to be part of the family. Like the Papillion, the Welsh Corgi often doesn’t realize that it’s a small dog.
In history, the Welsh Corgi has commonly been used for herding camels and livestock.
Over time they have developed quick speed and agility that make them the perfect farming dog.
They also love hunting vermin. For this reason, they’re often referred to as the dwarf herding dog.
Celtic for “dwarf dog”, the Pembroke Welsh Corgi is a mid-sized dog that grows to be between 24-28 pounds.
The breed is commonly recognized for its short legs that are disproportionate to its long body.
Cardigan Welsh Corgi
A close cousin to the Pembroke Welsh Corgi, the Cardigan Welsh Corgi is also a dwarf herding breed.
The most notable difference between the two breeds is that the Pembroke has a “bobbed” tail, while the Cardigan has a notably long tail.
Pembrokes also tend to have pointy ears, while Cardigans’ ears are more rounded.
In terms of personality and intelligence, both the Pembroke and the Cardigan Corgis are very similar.
What makes this breed so intelligent?
The first thing that lands this dog in the smartest dog category is their herding intelligence.
For this breed, herding comes completely naturally.
In terms of learning new commands, it only takes the Welsh Corgi between 5-15 repetitions before they learn something new.
This means that you can teach them a new trick within just a few minutes.
And despite the fact that they are a very stubborn breed, they are also very obedient, which makes training easy.
More commonly referred to as a “yorkie”, the Yorkshire Terrier is a tiny, “tomboy” breed of dog.
Nicknamed the “tomboy toy”, all 5-7 pounds of this little dog is full of spunk and character.
A big dog in a small dog’s body, this breed is always out for adventure – and yes, sometimes that means causing trouble too.
But when the Yorkshire Terrier isn’t causing trouble, they’re busy making loving, affectionate companion dogs.
Yorkshire Terriers fit well into any family and because of their small size, they are the perfect fit for families with young children too.
According to the canine psychologist, Stanley Coren, Yorkies are of above-average intelligence.
But what makes them so intelligent?
Research shows that Yorkies learn commands in 15-20 repetitions, meaning that it only takes one afternoon for them to learn a new trick.
In addition to learning new tricks quickly, Yorkies are also very socially intelligent and intuitive.
Many owners will tell you that they just seem to pick up on how they are feeling and always have a clear understanding of what is going on.
Another type of Terrier, the fox terrier, also has a very spunky personality.
Though they don’t look anything like the Yorkshire Terrier, they share the same impulsive, intense, and curious personalities.
Originally bred for hunting foxes and flushing them out of their hiding places, this breed weighs in at about 15-20 pounds and is made for the hunt.
The Fox Terrier comes in two different varieties – smooth or wire-haired.
During times when they were used for hunting, smooth varieties had the benefit of being less likely to be confused with a fox, while wire-haired varieties were less likely to be injured.
Today they are more commonly seen as show dogs and family companions than they are fox hunters.
But why does this breed land on the most intelligent small breeds list?
While this dog can learn tricks quickly too, it’s their keen sense of observation that earns their spot.
Fox Terriers are very observant and always aware of their surroundings.
They also have an extremely good sense of smell and eyesight that make them the perfect family guard dog.
True to the Terrier name, Rat Terriers can be defined as feisty, lively, and energetic.
Weighing in between 10-18 pounds, the Rat Terrier is considered the ideal farm dog, especially when it comes to chasing away vermin.
According to rumor, it was actually President Theodore Roosevelt who gave the dog its name after his own Rat Terrier hunted all of the rats out of the White House!
This breed can make an excellent family dog and is guaranteed to keep its owners laughing.
But buyer beware, the Rat Terrier also has an extremely stubborn streak and needs to be watched closely when putting out in the yard.
This breed often receives the nickname “Houdini” as they can always dig or climb their way out of a situation. And due to their quick speed and agility, you wouldn’t stand a chance to catch up.
While the Rat Terrier’s stubborn streak may mean that they don’t listen all the time, that doesn’t mean they aren’t intelligent.
This breed lands on the most intelligent small dogs list because of their ability to work and think independently.
The Rat Terrier has long been trained to work independently of humans – and for them, being able to think quickly could be the difference between life or death.
And while they usually follow human commands quite well, any disregard doesn’t mean they are ignoring you, it just means they think they know better.
The Brussels Griffon is a unique looking breed that many say resemble the appearance of Chewbacca from Star Wars.
Considered a toy breed, this dog only stands about 7-10 inches tall and weighs in at around 8-12 pounds when fully grown.
The Brussels Griffon was originally bred in Belgium and was used to hunt and kill vermin around farms and stables.
Today, this breed is more commonly seen as a house pet and makes a loving and affectionate companion.
With that being said, the Brussels Griffon is not for everyone. This breed is extremely active and has plenty of energy to go around.
They require plenty of exercise and attention, or they can otherwise become stubborn and destructive.
So why is the Brussels Griffon on the list of the most intelligent small dogs?
While this breed is easy to train, it’s their social intelligence that lands them on the list.
The Brussels Griffon is very self-aware and confident. They are also a very social and happy-go-lucky breed, which also helps to make training in public somewhat easier.
Best known for their role as Dorothy’s friendly companion in the Wizard of Oz, the Cairn Terrier was initially bred on Scottish farms, again to chase away rats and other vermin.
True to the Terrier name, this breed is loving and loyal, but also extremely active and energetic. They require a great deal of activity and playtime to stay content and happy.
If you’re looking for a small lap dog, the Cairn Terrier probably isn’t the best choice for you.
Though they make excellent family pets, this breed would much prefer to run around the yard and dig holes in the ground than they would laze around on the couch and watch television.
With that being said, if you are looking for a cheerful breed that can always put a smile on your face, the Cairn Terrier is a good go-to.
As they have landed on this list, you’ve probably already assumed that they are extremely intelligent.
But why are they considered so intelligent?
It’s not necessarily their ability to learn tricks that lands the Cairn Terrier on the most intelligent list, but their willingness, eagerness, and obedience to learn them.
With fun and consistent training, the Cairn Terrier will always happily be an active participant in their learning.
Like many of the other small dog breeds on this list, the Miniature Schnauzer was originally bred to fend away mice, rats, and other vermin.
They were originally bred in Germany but became very popular in America after World War II. The breed is most commonly known for their “schnauzer”, or moustache.
Because they are a Terrier breed, the Miniature Schnauzer has plenty of energy and loves to run around the yard and house.
They are also very alert and won’t hesitate to let you know if there is an intruder around the home.
In terms of intelligence, the Miniature Schnauzer ranks number 12 on a list of all intelligent dog breeds, both large and small.
But what makes them so smart?
This breed can learn a new trick within just 5-15 repetitions, meaning it takes no time at all to train them.
And with quick learning like that, you can teach the Miniature Schnauzer all of the regular tricks, and some unique or more impressive ones too.
Originating from Belgium, the Schipperke is a small Spitz-type dog. Given the nickname “Little Black Devil”, this breed lives up to the name.
Though they are loyal and loving, the Schipperke is also curious, mischievous, and feisty. They are often defined as a small dog with a big personality.
In history, the breed was used for guarding boats that lined the canals.
Today they are more of a family companion, but they guard the home much like the once guarded the canals.
More than anything, however, the Schipperke just wants to be part of the family.
What makes this breed so intelligent?
The Schipperke is a breed that not only learns very quickly, but also that is designed to work.
In addition to guarding jobs, the Schipperke is also frequently trained to be a hearing loss companion, a search and rescue dog, and a drug-sniffing dog.
They also do excellent in obedience and agility training, along with other dog sports.
The Cocker Spaniel is probably best known for the lead lady role in the popular movie “Lady and the Tramp”.
But long before this movie came along, the Cocker Spaniel was actually the number one most popular dog breed registered with the AKC (from the 1930s to the 1950s).
Though they are no longer the number one breed, they are still a popular choice among families today.
Not only is the Cocker Spaniel elegant and beautiful, but it also has a calm, uplifting demeanor.
The Cocker Spaniel is the perfect blend of playful and calm. They are happy to run around outside but would also love to curl up with you on the couch.
More than anything they are loving, affectionate, and just want to make their family happy.
What makes this breed so smart?
The Cocker Spaniel is an intelligent breed that learns commands quickly, but that’s not what lands them on the most intelligent list.
Even more so than their ability to learn new commands, Cocker Spaniels are very emotionally in-tuned with their owners.
In other words, they are very emotionally intelligent. It’s for this reason the Cocker Spaniels are often bred and used as therapy dogs and companions.
Pomeranians are a friendly, active, and playful breed of dog that loves to be around their owners.
They are an extremely small breed of dog, weighing in at only 3-7 pounds.
They are commonly referred to as the “little dog who thinks they can” and just because they are small doesn’t mean that they are reliant on their owners.
Rather, the Pomeranian is an extremely independent breed with a stubborn streak and a mind of their own.
Why are Pomeranians so intelligent?
Pomeranians can learn a new command within 5 to 15 repetitions.
They were also able to obey a known command on the first attempt with an 85% or above success rate.
This means that they can pick up on training easily and can understand a variety of different words and commands.
For this reason, you will often find Pomeranians competing in agility, competence, tracking, and flyball competitions.
They are also frequently trained as therapy companions for the elderly, or for the ill in hospitals.
In conclusion, there are plenty of intelligent small dog breeds in the world.
Many of the breeds on this list can be defined as “small dogs with big personalities”, and each and every one would make a great choice of companion.
Which small dog breed is the most intelligent?
When it comes to small dog breeds, the Poodle tops the list as the smartest of them all.
In fact, poodles not only dominate in the small dog category, but are listed as one of the smartest dog breeds in the world.
In a study by dog psychologist Stanley Coren, poodles ranked number two out of 132 dog breeds from around the world!
They were surpassed in intelligence only by one other breed – the Border Collie.
What is the best behaved small dog?
If you’re looking for a small dog breed that is also very well behaved, the Cocker Spaniel could be a great choice for you.
The Cocker Spaniel is very fluid in that they can enjoy outdoor playtime one minute and then come in and cuddle on the couch the next.
They are also very loving, loyal, and will do anything to make their owners happy.
For this reason, they are easy to control and to train. They also do very well with all members of the family including children and other pets.