Why Are Border Collies So Smart?

Why Are Border Collies So Smart?

Although we all think our dogs are smart, there are some breeds that stand above others when it comes to intelligence.  The Border Collie is known as being the smartest dog breed in the world today, but what exactly places the Border Collie in a league of its own?

This article will dive into what makes the Border Collie rank so high intelligence-wise, how dog intelligence is determined, as well as compare the Border Collie’s intelligence to other dogs and even humans!

So, Why Are Border Collies So Smart?

Border Collies are so smart because they outrank other dog breeds on the dimensions of dog intelligence. They have an incredible work ethic, superior herding skills, can easily solve problems and follow commands, as well as recognize more words than other breeds.

Border Collie Intelligence Rank

The Border Collie has been ranked the most intelligent dog in the world after completing various tests and studies over the past years by several people and dog organizations.

According to Stanley Coren, a psychology professor and researcher of dogs’ mental abilities and intelligence, there are three dimensions to dog intelligence:

  • Instinctive intelligence: This dimension refers to the dog’s ability to perform in terms of his natural-bred ability. For example, a Labrador Retriever will have an instinct to retrieve, a Jack Russel will have an instinct to hunt, and a Border Collie will, of course, have an instinct to herd.
  • Adaptive intelligence: The dog’s ability to learn commands, perform complicated tasks, and solve problems.
Border Collies Waving
  • Working intelligence and obedience: This dimension refers to the dog’s obedience level and ability to complete a task by combining instinctive intelligence with adaptive intelligence.

It is a combination of these three dimensions that put the Border Collie at the top of the intelligence list.

Why Does the Border Collie Rank Top in all Dimensions of Intelligence?

Border Collies rank top in instinctive intelligence because of their natural ability to herd. They were initially bred to herd flocks of sheep on their owners’ commands.

Subsequently, they are great at obeying commands and completing tasks with accuracy.

Another reason why this breed stands out from the rest is due to their above-average adaptive intelligence. Border Collies are highly trainable and eager to please.

This dog is often so in sync with its owner’s body language and psyche that they can easily predict its owner’s next command.

The working intelligence and obedience of a Border Collie is where the magic really happens.

Combining their senses of smell, their instincts to herd, their agility, and understanding of commands, they can perform jobs successfully at a great success rate than most dog breeds.

For instance, they make great search and rescue dogs and are often used to assist police in bomb detection.

How Smart is the Border Collie Compared to Other Dogs?

If you’re still not convinced that the Border Collie deserves its place at the top of the intelligence list, have a look at the following comparison between an average dog versus a Border Collie:

Point of ComparisonAverage dogBorder Collie
Learning a new commandAn average dog can learn a new command with 25 to 40 repetitions.A Border Collie can learn a new command five times faster – 5 repetitions.
TrainingAverage dogs often lose interest and look away or get easily distracted during training.Border Collies usually look forward to training as they never want to let their owners down. During training, they are attentive and eager to please.
Learning wordsThe average dog has a “vocabulary” of around 165 words.The average Border Collie has a “vocabulary’ of around 250 words.
SensitivityThe average dog is quite happy to laze around on the couch or porch and will pay no attention to the lifting of an eyebrow or a silent hand signal.The Border Collie is highly sensitive to any cue or hand gesture as his intelligence makes him permanently attentive and eager for that “next piece of the action.”

How Smart is the Border Collie Compared to Humans?

According to Coren, dogs’ mental abilities are more or less equal to that of a 2 – 2.5-year-old human. He arrived at this conclusion because of the following reasons:

  • Dogs can understand around 165 words and Border Collies around 250 words.
  • Dogs have a basic understanding of arithmetic and can count up to 4 or 5.
  • They can solve spatial problems like finding a hidden snack.
  • They can operate mechanisms like latches and simple machines.

What Are The Benefits Of Having An Intelligent Dog?

There are endless benefits of having an intelligent dog:

They keep you fit

Most extremely intelligent dogs need plenty of exercise and stimulation, thus, you will be forced to stay active!

They are easy to train

There aren’t endless repetitions and frustrations in teaching the dog a new trick or command – these training sessions are primarily only fun.

They are entertaining

Intelligent dogs know how to get and keep your attention by acting out in the funniest ways. Hence, they are like natural stress relievers and, with all their energy, will entertain you for hours on end.

Meet new people and other dog-lovers

Upon witnessing your four-legged companion’s tricks and level of obedience, people will be intrigued as to how you achieved this special bond with your dog. The result might just be a new friend or two.

What Evidence Exists of Border Collie’s Actual Intellect?

I’ve already told you about the Border Collie’s ability to detect bombs and learn more words than the average dog, but allow me to introduce you to Chaser, Ted, and Splash:


Chaser, who has sadly passed away in 2019 at the age of 15, could identify more than 1000 proper nouns throughout her lifetime. According to an American Kennel Club article written by Abbie Mood,

Chaser even knew different adjectives such as smaller, bigger, faster, and slower. Watch the video below to see this amazing intelligence for yourself.


It turns out bombs are not the only things Border Collies can detect. An unbelievable story is the one about Ted. Back in 2015, Ted sniffed out a cancerous lump in his owner Josie Conlan’s breast.

According to The Telegraph, Ted wouldn’t stop pawing, crying, and nudging at Josie’s chest, which ultimately led to her visiting the doctor.


Splash is an intelligent Blue Merle Border Collie, and in the video below, she performs tricks and acts on commands that undoubtedly require an above-average intelligence level.


Border Collies are a fun dogs to own; they are fierce, fast, agile, loyal, and energetic workaholics. Given their ability to understand more words, learn new commands easily, and solve spatial problems it is clear why the Border Collie ranks at the top of the dog intelligence scale.