Smartest Small Dog Breeds [11 Best Breeds]

Small dog breeds have been winning the hearts of dog lovers for centuries with their adorable appearance, unwavering loyalty, and unique personalities. But these pint-sized pups have more to offer than just their cute looks; some of them are also among the smartest dog breeds.

With their exceptional intelligence, these small breeds can learn new tricks and commands at an impressive pace, making them excellent companions for those who appreciate a trainable and fast-thinking pet.

Among the many small dog breeds, some stand out for their keen intellect. These dogs not only excel in obedience and agility but also in a variety of canine activities. The Miniature Poodle, for instance, is one of the smartest small dog breeds, initially bred as a truffle hunting dog before it became a companion.

smartest small dog breeds
Smartest Small Dog Breeds: Top Picks for Your Perfect Companion

Its intelligence and trainability lead them to excel at various dog sports. Additionally, Shetland Sheepdogs are known for their quick thinking and the ability to learn complicated tasks with ease, making them talented herding dogs.

In this article, we will explore some of the most intelligent small dog breeds. From their history to their unique skills and characteristics, we’ll dive into the fascinating world of these cognitive champs to help you find the perfect furry friend for your home. Get ready for some serious canine brainpower, and prepare yourselves to be amazed by these pint-sized geniuses.

Intelligence Factors in Small Dog Breeds

owner trains Chihuahua outside
The owner trains her Chihuahua outdoors.

Instinctive Intelligence

Instinctive intelligence refers to a dog’s natural ability or skill set that it inherits from its ancestors. In small dog breeds, this could be their agility, hunting ability, or companionship traits. For instance, the Miniature Poodle was originally a truffle hunting dog, while Papillons are known for their love of learning, making them easier to train compared to other small breeds.

Adaptive Intelligence

Adaptive intelligence refers to the dog’s ability to solve problems, think critically, and learn from new experiences. Small dog breeds, such as the Schipperke, have good adaptive intelligence, needing constant stimulation in order to prevent boredom and destructive behavior. These little dogs use their cleverness to find entertaining ways to entertain themselves, sometimes with hilarious consequences for their owners!

Working and Obedience Intelligence

Working and obedience intelligence is a measure of how quickly and easily a dog learns and responds to human commands. Some small dog breeds excel in this category, making them ideal for assistance or dog sports. Shetland Sheepdogs, for example, are known for their high working intelligence and responsiveness to training, making them excellent partners for activities such as agility, obedience, and herding.

In summary, the smartest small dog breeds display a combination of instinctive, adaptive, and working intelligence that make them quick learners and engaging companions. While each breed may have its unique strengths, they all share a common trait: their intelligence is undeniably impressive and adorable all at once.

Top Smartest Small Dog Breeds


Poodles have three size variations: Standard, Miniature, and Toy, with the miniature and toy sizes being classified as small breeds. No matter the size, Poodles are highly intelligent, obedient, and great at problem-solving. As former hunting companions, they are now popular in obedience competitions and are also known for their fabulous haircuts.

Toy Poodle gets a reward
Toy Poodle gets a reward from his owner.

Border Collie

Technically a medium-sized breed, Border Collies still have a compact stature but pack a significant amount of smarts within their frames. They’re known as the overachievers of the canine world, originally bred for herding livestock. These tireless dogs love to learn new tasks and are especially eager to please their owners.

Border Collie follows owner
Border Collie follows owner in the field.

Shetland Sheepdog

The Shetland Sheepdog, affectionately known as the “Sheltie,” is a herding breed with intelligence to spare. They’ve got the brains and the looks with their beautiful, fluffy coats. Shelties are known to excel at various dog sports and obedience trials, proving their place among the smartest small dog breeds.

A Shetland Sheepdog with beautiful Golden eyes.
A Shetland Sheepdog with beautiful Golden eyes.


The Papillon, French for “butterfly,” thanks to its unique butterfly-shaped ears, is a small but brilliant breed. Papillons are known for their agility and alertness, making them excellent watch dogs. Though they may be small in size, their personalities and intelligence certainly compensate for their stature.

Papillon dog
Papillons are tiny and cute pups! But they are ENERGETIC

Cocker Spaniel

Cocker Spaniels are both adorable and intelligent, often referred to as the ideal family pet. This sporting breed was initially used for hunting but has since become a popular choice for companionship. Their gentle and affectionate nature pairs well with their smarts, making them fast learners and devoted companions.

Cocker Spaniel runs away
Cocker Spaniel runs on the field.


These little balls of fluff known as Pomeranians are smaller in size but big on intelligence. Their alertness makes them excellent watchdogs, and their lively personalities make them perfect as companion animals. Training Pomeranians can be quite an entertaining endeavor due to their propensity for mischief.

Pomeranian on the grass
A white Pomeranian smiling on the grass.


Schipperkes are an intelligent and independent breed, which makes them both excellent watchdogs and sneaky escape artists. This small dog breed originates from Belgium, where they were bred to be versatile working dogs. Their energy and problem-solving ability ensure that there’s never a dull moment with a Schipperke around.

two Schipperkes
Two Schipperkes enjoying a sunny day out

Welsh Corgi

The two types of Welsh Corgis, Pembroke and Cardigan, are both known for their intelligence and charm. These quirky, short-legged herding dogs are famous for their association with the British royal family. Adept at learning new skills, their quick-witted nature is masked by their goofiness and adorable smiles.

Pembroke Welsh Corgi breed training
Training a Pembroke Welsh Corgi breed by his owner.

Miniature Schnauzer

Miniature Schnauzers pack a whole lot of intelligence and personality into small, scruffy packages. Bred as farm dogs and ratters, they’re alert, fearless, and keen problem solvers. Miniature Schnauzers are also known for their impressive beards and eyebrows, making them stand out from the crowd with their unique appearance.

Miniature Schnauzer stretches body
Miniature Schnauzer stretches body on the field.

Fox Terrier

Fox Terriers come in two varieties: Smooth and Wire. Despite their different appearances, both types share impressive intelligence and a strong hunting instinct. Originally bred for fox hunting, their cleverness and agility now make them adept at various dog sports and competitions.

Wirehaired Fox Terrier
Mother Wirehaired Fox Terrier with her puppies.

Yorkshire Terrier

Last but not least, the Yorkshire Terrier, also known as the “Yorkie,” is a small but intelligent breed with a strong personality. Originating from England, this small terrier was initially bred for hunting rats, but today, they’re popular companions with their silky coats and fiesty attitudes. Their quick minds make them easy to train and excellent at adapting to various situations.

Yorkshire Terrier at the park
Yorkshire Terrier is being trained at the park.

Roles and Abilities of Small Intelligent Dog Breeds

owner carries Toy Poodle
The owner carries her Toy Poodle.

Herding Dogs

Some small dog breeds, like the Shetland Sheepdog, were initially bred for herding. These pint-sized pups may have had to herd livestock 10 times their size! Shetland Sheepdogs are known for their agility, intelligence, and obedience.

So next time you see a little “Sheltie” doing tricks at the park, remember that they were once responsible for a flock of sheep! Isn’t that impressive?

Hunting and Tracking Dogs

Small dog breeds are not just lap warmers! Some were bred for hunting and tracking purposes. For example, the Miniature Poodle was initially a truffle hunting dog.

Who would have thought that a fluffy dog with a fancy haircut could be such a skilled hunter? Nowadays, they might not dig up those luxurious mushrooms, but they surely excel at various dog sports and learn tricks with ease.

Other hunting and tracking dogs like the Cocker Spaniel and Fox Terrier are known for their keen sense of smell and ability to follow scents. They were born to hunt, but they can also make perfect companions because of their quick learning abilities.

Companion and Lapdogs

In terms of companionship, the Affenpinscher and the Toy Poodle stand out among the smartest small dogs. Affenpinscher means “monkey terrier” in German, which hints at their playful and mischievous nature. Meanwhile, a Toy Poodle may look like it’s all pomp and circumstance, but they’re amazingly intelligent and can learn up to 250 voice commands!

The next thing you know, they might be running the world from their comfy laps.

Service Dogs

Small intelligent dog breeds can also serve as service dogs. Breeds like the Poodle, with their intellect and friendliness, make great service dogs for those with physical or emotional challenges, such as disabled individuals who require assistance with daily tasks. These small pups may not be able to carry your grocery bags, but they’re incredibly intuitive and can alert their handlers to potential dangers or changes in physical health.

So, as you can see, these smart small dog breeds have unique roles and abilities throughout their lives. They may be small in stature, but their abilities and intelligence are nothing to underestimate! Just make sure not to challenge them to a game of chess; you might end up losing.

Training and Obedience

Border Collie licks hand
Border Collie licks the hand of her owner.

Desire to Please Their Owners

One of the factors that make a dog breed highly trainable and obedient is their desire to please their owners. Dogs that are eager to please tend to be more focused and attentive, which makes them more receptive to training. For example, the Poodle and Papillon both display this endearing quality.

They are known for their affectionate nature and willingness to work closely with their humans in learning new tricks and commands. An affectionate dog is also likely to maintain eye contact, which helps in creating a strong bond during training sessions.

Ability to Learn Tricks and Commands

The ability to learn tricks and commands quickly is another key element of a smart and trainable breed. Some small dog breeds excel in this area thanks to their quick comprehension and adaptability. Shetland Sheepdogs, for example, are talented herders that display remarkable intelligence and agility when it comes to learning new tasks.

Similarly, Border Collies have a strong work ethic and thrive when given a job to do, making them quick to pick up commands and perform well in obedience training.

When considering small terriers, remember that there can be a wide range of intelligence within this group. While some might be stubborn, others are quick to learn and eager to please, like the Miniature Schnauzer.

Obedience Competitions

Small dog breeds can also be incredibly successful in obedience competitions, which test their ability to follow commands, stay focused, and remain attentive to their owners. Shining examples of this can be seen in breeds such as the Papillon and Poodle. These breeds are known for their working intelligence and excel in dog sports like agility, rally, and tracking events.

In obedience competitions, dogs are judged based on their ability to perform tasks like heeling, staying, and retrieving. Their obedience intelligence is often demonstrated by their ability to follow both verbal commands and hand signals. When watching these small dog breeds in action, it’s easy to see that their brains are just as big as their hearts!

And, while we didn’t include a table, we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention a particular Poodle who took the obedience world by storm. Sir Fluffy McFluffington, a master of the stay command, once managed to stay put for an entire performance of Hamlet! Talk about dedication to his craft.

The Intelligence of Dogs Ranking System

Stanley Coren’s Research

Stanley Coren, a renowned psychology professor, set out to explore canine intelligence in his groundbreaking book, The Intelligence of Dogs. Through extensive research, he developed a ranking system based on three distinct categories of intelligence: adaptive, working, and obedience. Adaptive intelligence refers to a dog’s ability to solve problems independently, while working and obedience intelligence revolve around a dog’s ability to learn and perform tasks assigned by humans.

Corgi dog show
Corgis on a dog show with a lot of strangers.

One might imagine a small dog having a small brain and therefore, lesser intelligence compared to big dogs. However, this is far from accurate as size doesn’t always correlate with intellect in the canine world. In fact, some smaller breeds often exhibit impressive intelligence levels, surprising their larger counterparts.

American Kennel Club Ranking System

The American Kennel Club (AKC) also uses a ranking system for dog intelligence, taking into account factors like trainability and performance in dog sports. They acknowledge that while some breeds might be naturally adept at tasks like herding or retrieving, others excel in areas like therapy work or companionship.

well-behaved dog sits
A well-behaved dog sits and waits for his owner’s command.

A list of smartest small dog breeds according to the AKC ranking system might include:

  • Miniature Poodle: known for their agility and obedience skills
  • Boston Terrier: often called the “American Gentleman,” they’re friendly and easily trainable
  • Welsh Terrier: spirited and alert, making them highly trainable

Let’s not forget that every dog is an individual, and their intelligence may vary greatly even within the same breed. So while these rankings serve as a great starting point, remember that a dog’s true potential can only be unleashed through proper training, patience, and understanding. Plus, as any dog owner knows, sometimes there’s nothing smarter than a dog who knows the perfect moment to dish out some cuddles and unconditional love.


In our exploration of the smartest small dog breeds, a few contenders stand out:

  • Papillons: Known for their elegance and intelligence, they’re easy to train and love learning new things.
  • Cocker Spaniels: Both the American and English varieties are highly intelligent, making great companions.
  • Miniature Poodles and Toy Poodles: Originally truffle hunting dogs, they now excel at various dog sports and are easily trained.
  • Shetland Sheepdogs: Closely related to the larger Border Collies, these little dynamos are intelligent, agile, and fiercely loyal.

Of course, there are many dog breeds with various levels of intelligence, and often it’s about finding the right dog to match your individual needs and lifestyle. While the brains of a Miniature Poodle might impress you, consider if you’re prepared for its boundless energy! Or maybe you’re enchanted by the loving nature of a Cocker Spaniel – just remember that they’re also known for their energetic personalities.

So, while it’s true that these small breeds boast impressive smarts, remember that owning a bright pup also means dedicating time to training, mental stimulation, and providing a healthy, happy environment for them. After all, no brainy canine wants to be bored!

In the end, whether you’re adopting a small Einstein-like Papillon or a quirky, spirited Cocker Spaniel, owning a smart dog can be a rewarding and life-changing experience. Just be prepared for the endless questions from friends and family asking how you handle such a clever little genius on four legs!