Top 5 Smartest Small Dogs Breeds

We all want smart pets. What could be better than a dog that learns quickly and is easy to train? Even if you want a dog that is a smaller companion, you might want to choose a naturally intelligent breed as your pet. People bred dogs for a wide variety of different tasks, and that breeding led to some of the smartest small dogs.

But wait just a moment! Smart doesn’t necessarily mean easy! Many of these breeds originally had tasks that required them to use problem solving and lots of energy. This means that not only do you need to meet your pet’s exercise needs, but you also need to make sure that they get enough mental stimulation as well. Thankfully, we focus heavily on mental stimulation in our Dog Savvy Small Dog Training Made Easy course.

So, without further ado, here are five of the smartest small breed dogs (in no particular order).

Shetland Sheepdog


This spunky little breed originally performed a certain task for farmers. Can you guess what that might have been? We thought so! Like their name suggests, this breed assisted farmers with moving and herding their sheep. 

Though sheep don’t have the best reputation for brainpower, that doesn’t mean it’s easy to keep them moving in the direction that you want. Shelties had to use problem solving to keep the herd bunched and moving in the right direction, while also watching for stragglers or runaways. 

This translated to an intelligent little dog who has lots of energy. Nowadays, your Shetland Sheepdog might not be chasing sheep around, but they still feel that drive to herd and use their brain. Make sure you provide your dog with plenty of mental stimulation opportunities and lots of exercise!

Miniature/Toy Poodle

Toy Poodle​

Like their larger cousins, miniature and toy poodles have a solid stock of intelligence behind all those curls. Though people didn’t use the smaller toy and miniature poodles in duck retrieval like they did with the larger standard poodle, the little dogs retained the energy, charisma, and intelligence that the larger breed holds. 

While their larger brethren hunted ducks, the more pocket-sized poodles found themselves on the laps of royalty. However, that doesn’t mean life was all lounging and snacks. Many miniature poodles thrived hunting mushrooms, and some even found themselves using their intelligence and agility to win over the hearts of circus goers and street performers. 

Though your little poodle nowadays might not necessarily be putting in work in the sporting world, that doesn’t mean they aren’t one of the smartest small dogs. Your little pup is highly intelligent, and you should treat them as such. Just like all the other breeds on this list (and any other dog at that) you should provide ample opportunities for mentally stimulating activity to keep your pet happy

Miniature Schnauzer

Like the other breeds on this list, miniature schnauzers originally held “jobs” as well. Farmers kept this breed to hunt rats and vermin, and guard their property. This smart little dog used its brains and agility to excel at that task, rooting out even the cleverest hiding place and sounding the alarm if anyone came lurking through in the night. 

On top of guard and rat duty, farmers relied on this breed to help them herd livestock as well! Overall, this smart small dog is truly a jack of all trades. They employed lots of brainpower and plenty of energy and spunk, all of which remain to this day. 

Your modern-day miniature schnauzer might not be guarding your farm for you, but they sure love to display all of those great farm-dog instincts. These spunky little dogs like to chase and play, and use their brains to solve problems. Make sure you train smart small dog breeds, and provide lots of mental stimulation!

Cocker Spaniel

English or American, the Cocker Spaniel is a hunting dog at heart. This smart small dog breed got its name from the bird it hunts, the woodcock. In Europe, hunters used the breed for the Eurasian woodcock, and in the United States they used the breed for hunting the American woodcock. 

With dog show wins and Lady and the Tramp, the Cocker Spaniel surged in popularity. The breed moved out of the hunting grounds and into the hearts of households across the United States, but they remained energetic and intelligent. 

Your modern day Cocker Spaniel is one of the smartest small dog breeds. Like the rest of this list, they learn quickly and enjoy problem solving and learning new things. Make sure you provide your pet with lots of positive reinforcement training, and plenty of mental stimulation opportunities.

Fox Terrier

Fox Terrier

When you think of an animal that is smart, cunning, and wily, you think of the fox. So, what do you think of the dog bred to outsmart the fox? Fox terriers originally faced the task of flushing one of nature’s most intelligent animals, running alongside hunters during fox hunts. 

It takes some serious brain power to out-fox a fox! This breed is energetic, smart, and capable of problem-solving. They used their cunning to help them locate and flush foxes from their dens, and chase them into the open for their owners to hunt. When fox hunts fell out of favor, this breed remained the same intelligent and energetic companion. 

Your modern-day Fox Terrier is quite the smart small dog. They enjoy learning new things, and can pick up new behaviors with ease. However, like the rest of this list, intelligent dogs need to use their brain. This is why it is so important to ensure you provide plenty of mentally stimulating activities for your dog to do. 

If you find yourself with a dog breed that’s a little too smart for their own good, who happens to get themselves into trouble from time to time, we can help! Our monthly Ask The Trainer subscription can provide you with personalized advice with your pet using the Ask Our Trainers Forum.

1 thought on “Top 5 Smartest Small Dogs Breeds”

  1. I never understand why Dachshunds rarely make these “small, smart dogs” lists. They are very intelligent, quick to learn, but they can be stubborn. They need a consistent, but even and gentle approach when training and disciplining. Early and consistent socialization is important….to strangers, children, other pets, car rides. They adapt well to the city or the country, are equally good in active or more sedate households, are up for big adventures or just a short jaunt around the block. They’re happy on the move or lazing on their favorite, warm, soft spot. They like to be clean and shed very little (smooth coats, I have no experience with long & wired coats), doggy odor is pretty much nonexistent so they don’t require frequent bathing. They make an excellent choice for those who want a house companion that leaves little visual evidence of its presence. They make excellent watch dogs, alerting to the slightest disturbance with their big, deep bark more like what you’d expect from a Dane than a 12-20 lb Dachsie….no ‘yapping’ from a Dachshund! In fact, they are the quintessential big dog in a little dog’s body in pretty much every way!
    They’re bred to root out badgers and other underground creatures (Saw mine dig out and go down after pocket gophers many times….AMAZING! Snakes were her favorite, though!). For that reason, expecting to have a perfectly pristine city yard may not be terribly practical if you live with a Dachshund, although training them to their own corner to dig up can help…..somewhat….maybe…..or so I’ve read. If they don’t sniff out an underground rodent to go after, they’ll just start digging anywhere for any reason or no reason at all beyond the sheer joy of digging. (How’s a dog to know when they might run into something unexpected and interesting if they don’t DIG for it?)
    They are a very muscular dog, with strength that belies their small stature. They are NOT fussy eaters, and weight is a definite issue that must be regulated throughout their lives to maintain a healthy spine. Beyond possible back problems (mostly avoidable), they have very few health issues, live about 14 yrs and are typically healthy throughout their lives if their weight is maintained and stools are provided to keep them from jumping onto and off from furniture, which they do quite well despite their short legs and long torso. All-in-all, the Dachshund is an intelligent, personable, lovable, adaptable, mighty dog in a small, neat and attractive package. Every dog lover should have at least one in their lifetime, but be prepared to be hopelessly hooked once you do!


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