Are Border Collies Smart Dogs?
[All you need to know]

Aaron Rice Expert Dog Trainer
Written: January 17, 2022

Are you thinking of bringing home a new dog? You might have heard about the smartness levels of the Border Collie breed. This aspect is tempting you to select the dog breed. What you heard about this breed is completely true. 

From our experience, Border Collie is indeed one of the smartest of them all. They are loyal companions, astute learners, and keen observers. We are familiar with the saying, “With great power comes great responsibility.” Smart dogs require that extra dose of engagement to remain focussed and stay away from deviant behavior.

Originally bred on the border of England and Scotland, that is the primary reason behind why their name starts with “Border.” While “Collie” is a Scottish term denoted for Sheepdog. They were raised as herding dogs to direct sheep. This trait is one of the major factors behind their intellectual superiority and focussed mentality.

In this article, we will share our insights into the reasons that make Border Collies a smart canine breed. We will dig deep into some key considerations you need to keep in mind before adopting a Border Collie. You will get better clarity into whether they are the right choice of dog for you or not. 


Without more delay, let’s delve into what differentiates Border Collies from the rest of the breeds and why they are right at the top when it comes to smartness.

Understanding Dog Intelligence Quotient (Dog IQ)

Dog IQ can be stated as a measure of their memory capability and apply that memory in performing daily tasks. There are three aspects involved in Dog IQ, namely:

  1. Instinctive Quotient
  2. Adaptive Quotient
  3. Working Quotient and Obedience

Instinctive Quotient

The first aspect is dependent on a canine’s natural ability to perceive and understand things around them. It varies for each breed. For instance, the German Shepherd is a great choice for a service dog, while a Labrador can be of immense help in therapy. 

Border Collies are good at herding, and this comes under their instinctive quotient. We will discuss their herding capabilities in the later sections. They effectively drove flocks of sheep in formations, i.e., made them walk in a particular direction. Ancestral qualities are a major driver for this dog’s IQ component.

Adaptive Quotient

This aspect is involved with the dog’s capability to solve problems and execute difficult tasks. It is also a measure of a dog’s aptitude to learn new things on their own. Recognizing mistakes and learning from them also comes under this particular quotient.

This quotient is what makes the Border Collie rank miles ahead of the other breeds. Their pace and eagerness to learn are almost unbelievable for trainers and owners. Their cognitive assessment skills and intellect are awe-inspiring to see.

Working Quotient and Obedience

As the name suggests, it is an indication of how well your dog responds or obeys commands. The dog needs to apply both the instinctive and adaptive quotient to showcase the working quotient and obedience. 

This breed is great at picking ques and applying the acquired knowledge based on the right context. It is quite a deadly combo when it comes to selecting your dog breed. 

The Border Collie is excellent in all three of these departments and makes a top contender for the smartest canine breeds in the world.

Border Collie – An Introduction

A medium-sized body characterizes border Collies, and their key traits include high energy, athletic, hardworking, and herding nature. Their proactive nature can be infectious and brings joy to all the members of the family. 

They make the perfect fans if you love playing outdoor sports. Their attractive blend of intelligence and physical fitness makes them ace any dog sport or game. The English-Scottish origin gives them the in-built herding and farm dog qualities.

Their personality, in general, is charming and affectionate. Apart from being herding dogs, they can also be one of the most loving domestic pets out there. 

They are agile, avid learners, and highly trainable. Their cognitive and memory skills are impeccable, to say the least.

But no canine breed is perfect after all. Their high energy, stamina, and intellect do not allow them to settle down idly for long durations. If they don’t receive the required attention and physical stimulation, a temperamental monster is rearing to be awakened!

In a nutshell, Border Collies are like the all-rounders in the canine world. An amalgamation of energy, intellect, alertness, loyalty, and hardworking nature.

Now that we have a good understanding of the Border Collie’s nature, let’s deep dive into why they are the smartest dog breed in the world.

Why Are Border Collies So Smart?

There is no single answer to what makes Border Collies super smart. Let’s see the various aspects in this section.

Herding Nature

Border Collies were originally bred to take care of cattle and other farming needs. They were the farmer’s helping hands or the working dog. They effectively led flocks of sheep to the shed safely and promptly obeyed the owner’s instructions.

Even today, they are sharp in responding to instructions and score high when it comes to obedience.

The impact of a dog’s stare can’t be ignored while herding. This smart dog’s intense and powerful gaze is all that it takes to intimidate the flock they lead. Farmer’s call it “giving the eye.” This is how effective this breed is in controlling and managing your cattle herd.

Ease Of Trainability

Top levels of dog IQ make them super easy to train. If you start their training regime from an early age, they are guaranteed to excel in any form of physical activities and canine games.

They are so eager to learn new commands that they won’t stop until they have mastered each one of them. From an owner’s perspective, too, conducting training sessions with a Border Collie can be an enriching and fun experience. They will learn all your complex commands with great efficiency.

On average, the Border Collies’ time required to learn a new command is around 5 seconds. They can even identify the differences in whistle commands. More often than not, they just need to listen to commands once, and they are good to go. You, as a trainer, can save loads of time due to this impeccable quality of the Border Collie, making them a trainer’s delight.

Search And Rescue Ability

Their razor-sharp observation and analysis skills make them tailor-made for search and rescue operations. In addition, their olfactory and tracking senses are mind-boggling. This aspect makes them search parties’ delight.

Border Collies play an integral part in many bomb detection squads due to their ability to track explosives well. Their natural sniffing skills and the intellect to apply them for practical use cases coupled with adaptive learning make them a force to reckon with.

Their knowledge application can be so impressive that it can be a treat to watch if you’re their owner. Their sniffing skills tend to improve after each search and rescue mission.

A systematic training schedule is necessary to make them seasoned in this activity. But, due to their swift instruction grasping levels, trainers need not sweat themselves teaching them the search and rescue skills.

Sensing The Owner’s Desire

Border Collies aren’t just smart. They are a super-intelligent breed. Sometimes they can even sense the next command you’re about to give them once they’re familiar with you.

They observe and analyze your behavioral patterns more than you can think of. So the next time you are thinking of giving them a command, they may even execute it before you finish. 

Usually, it is us humans who predict our beloved pet’s behavior and have fun playing with them. But, to watch the opposite happening is a surprising event to witness.

Rocking The Dog Sports

For a dog that is as agile and energetic as the Border Collie, performing well in canine sporting events is not a big deal. Apart from herding, search, and rescue, obedience training, they are brilliant in gaming events for dogs.

As an owner, try to focus your dog training around those events which require speed and obedience. They will be outstanding performers in running, mental puzzles, frisbee, flyball, and tracking events.

We have so far discussed the major factors behind the insane smartness levels of Border Collies. In the upcoming section, let us list some of the Border Collie dog breed highlights.

Border Collie – Highlights

  • According to the book Intelligence of Dogs, the Border Collie is ranked as the smartest dog breed.
  • Being an energetic herding dog, Border Collies require additional amounts of physical exercise or stimulation.

  • Although agile and strong, they’re not aggressive. They have a steady temperament and utilize it to control flocks of cattle during the herding routine.

  • Border Collies make stupendous watchdogs due to their alertness, intellect, and proactive behavior.

  • Many often mix up the Australian Shepherd breed with the Border Collie due to their similar physical features. 
  • Their eyes are colored differently. 
  • Border Collie dogs have uniquely colored coats and are visually pleasing. 
  • They make great family dogs due to their limitless loyalty and affection towards the family members.

Test Results of Border Collie’s Smartness

Here we will present some quantifiable stats that prove the intellectual superiority of Border Collies over other breeds. These results were based on a test conducted by canine psychologist Stanley Coren to measure dog IQs. Around 200-panel members, including those from American Kennel Club, were part of this study.

Various parameters like the number of iterations required for a dog to learn a command, obedience capabilities, etc., were tested in detail. This is how some of the results turned out:

  • 138 dog breeds reached the final round, including the Border Collie 
  • Border Collies won first place in the intelligence tests. 
  • Other intelligent dog breeds were able to learn a new command in 30-40 repetitions, while the Border Collie managed it in a mere 5-10 iterations on average. 
  • They were able to obey an entirely new command with double the success rate compared to all other breeds in total.

The Border Collie was declared the smartest canine breed. Some of the others that made it to the top 10 list were German Shepherd, Golden Retriever, Poodle, Labrador, Papillon, Australian Cattle Dog, and Doberman Pinschers.

If you are already a proud owner of a Border Collie, you very well know how smart they are. But if you don’t here we list a few indicators that may come in handy:

  • If you throw a ball beyond the reach of a Border Collie, they will not give up and try to find ways to track the ball and bring it back to you.
  • Try hiding the dog’s toy somewhere in the house. They will sniff and find it out soon enough.
  • Border Collie’s memory levels are top-notch. If they have seen you only once and you show up in front of them after a long while. Don’t be surprised if they recognize you immediately.
  • No matter if the command is complex or simple, they understand it in the first attempt on most occasions. Try teaching them something new and check the result. You will be surprised.
  • To top it off, Collies can accurately respond to whistle commands too. The way they react and obey whistles is a joy to watch.
  • Once they get accustomed to you and form a bond, they can predict what you’re going to tell them next. This aspect is extremely rare to see in dog breeds and stamps the superiority of this breed.

Things are not always this simple. It will help if you put in consistent effort and patience to bring out the best in them. Focus on implementing a systematic training plan after seeking the guidance of a professional dog trainer or a veterinarian for improved results.

If you aim to have a family dog, strict training schedules for the dog are not mandatory. Basic physical and mental stimulation will be enough.

But to shape up the dog for professional sporting events, a stringent workout regimen is to be followed. Without much surprises, your Collie would respond and improve to the training with ease. If genius had a name in dog breeds, that would be Border Collie.

In the subsequent sections, we will describe some key considerations of owning a smart breed like the Border Collie and some potential limitations related to this breed.

Owning A Border Collie - Key Considerations

By now, if you have decided to bring home one of the smartest dog breeds you will ever find, then there are a few things you should keep in mind. 

  • Being bred for herding, they will have that instinctive intelligence in them always.

  • They require additional levels of physical exercises and open areas to run and play.

  • Since Collies are proactive, a lack of a strict workout regime can get them agitated and restless.

  • Proper grooming is a must. This is required for good coat health and helps prevent them from diseases and infections.

  • The training schedule must start from an early age. If not, they will turn out to be disobedient and obstinate.

  • Sometimes they can overdo their smartness. So always keep them engaged in something productive. Joblessness will make them aggressive at times.

  • If you have a busy work schedule of your own and live in a confined apartment, the Border Collie may not be the best canine breed for you.

  • People with sedentary lifestyles can also struggle to match the high energy of a Border Collie.

  • Perform research on the dog’s history. For instance, identify where they came from. You can always check with the authorities at the adoption home for such details.

  • Collies can be needy towards the owner (Velcro dogs). They may feel separation anxiety when you are not around. It will be a difficult task to leave home without your canine buddy.

  • There may come the point when you run out of ideas to keep them busy and engaged.
  • They can help you stick to your workout goals. Their positivity and vigor are infectious to the owner, being super energetic. Your life will never be the same after owning a Border Collie.

  • Engage them in dog puzzles and other cognitive enhancement activities for your dog. They love these games, and it will be a fun experience watching them problem-solving the puzzles.

  • Living with a Border Collie is like getting a playmate, family member, training buddy, companion all rolled into one.

Based on these key pointers, think of finalizing the decision of adopting a Border Collie. Ensure that your lifestyle matches the intensity levels of the Border Collie. Owning a super-intelligent and active dog is not as easy as it sounds.

Border Collie Celebrities

In this section, we will look at some of the most high-performing Border Collies who have won accolades due to their high achieving skills and learning mentality.

Chaser – Smartest Dog In The World

This female Collie was declared as the “Smartest Dog In The World” by the Guinness Book of World Records. She knew over a thousand words/pronouns. Chaser knew every word her owner said and could predict the next word coming after a set of words were uttered. 

Zoe – The Performer

Zoe performed plenty of tricks and showcased sheer brilliance in listening to commands. She was a talent who cherished to awe her audience every time she got on stage.

Ted – Cancer Detector

Ted proved the theory that dogs could smell cancer. This Collie identified breast cancer in the owner by sniffing a lump in her breast. The dog gave a cry after recognizing the lump. Due to this, the owner went on to get it checked and was diagnosed with breast cancer.

Brac – The Balancer

With proper training, Brac learned to balance things on his head beautifully. He went on to learn to balance multiple things at once. For example, eggs, oranges, bacon, and so on. The dog’s training, who started this balance training as a pass-time activity, later became a game-changer. 

These examples are inspiring snippets of some of the best and brightest canines ever to set foot on this planet. We had a male Collie called Ramon in our dog training institute who used to ace track and field training sessions for years. Obedience training Ramon was a joy for all our training colleagues as his grasping levels were phenomenal.

Wrapping Things Up

As we have discussed throughout this article, the positive aspects of a Border Collie are innumerable. From their intellectual dominance, observation, loyalty, and tracking prowess, the list just goes on. But as a responsible owner, educating yourself before deciding on the adoption is crucial.

They are not those lazy breeds who love curling up in the corner of your apartment for most of the day. Setting a proper training regime to utilize their massive energy levels properly is a must-do prerequisite. As long as they receive an adequate amount of physical and mental stimulation, there is hardly another breed that matches the overall personality of a Border Collie.

If you are looking for a lifestyle boost, service dog, sporting or tracking pet, or even a guard dog, this breed will work wonders for you. They can be an invaluable addition to your family due to their caring and compassionate nature. 

In case of unwanted aggression or sudden dips in the energy levels of your dog, we strongly recommend you seek the expert guidance of a trusted vet or dog trainer to identify the root cause of this problem. We urge you never to involve yourself in the self-treatment of the canine as it can be detrimental to their wellbeing.

We hope you got some valuable insights into why the Border Collie breed is considered to be one of the smartest of them all.