Are Border Collies Smart?

By John Martin - July 26, 2022

Border Collie posing

Border Collies are a breed of highly spirited dogs with fierce working personalities. They are extremely eager to please, making them great companions.

Besides their adorable looks and affectionate personalities, have you ever wondered about their intelligence?

This article will deal with a brief history of the breed, followed by a detailed dive into whether Border Collies are smart or not and the reasons behind it.

A Brief History of Border Collies

The Border Collie breed originated in the hills nestling between England and Scotland in the 1700s. It is believed they descended from a mix of herding dogs. They were primarily bred for their herding skills.

This breed gained popularity for its remarkable herding style in the late 1800s and eventually made its way to other regions. Border Collies began to be recognized for their shepherding value and working ability.

When Border Collies crossed the border into the United States, they fascinated obedience exhibitors with their tireless energy and love for work. Many organizations were formed to get this breed recognition. In 1995, the Border Collie breed gained full recognition.

The Criteria for Dog Intelligence

How does one decide which dog breed is the most intelligent?

Stanley Coren, a canine researcher and psychologist, is credited with devising the criteria that measure dog intelligence. His research was aided by data from over a hundred canine obedience judges. Though the initial response to the idea was criticism, it was well-received later on.

He laid out criteria for the obedience judges to evaluate hundreds of dog breeds. This data helped him finalize the list of the most intelligent dog breeds.

Coren’s criteria for ranking dog intelligence were constructed around:

  • How well a dog breed fared when learning a new command. How many repetitions did it take the dogs to grasp the new command fully? Obviously, lesser repetitions meant a higher ranking.
  • The second metric is how fast a dog obeys a familiar command on the initial attempt. The success rate determines the dog’s intelligence ranking.

Based on these criteria, a list of the smartest dog breeds was created. It featured 100 dogs that participated in the trials. However, only AKC and CKC recognized dog breeds qualified for the trial and subsequent final cut.

However, these 100 dogs were selected solely on the basis of their obedience and work intelligence. Dog intelligence also encompasses adaptive and instinctive intelligence. But these do not allow for an objective measure of IQ.

Also Read: Do Border Collies Bite or Nip?

How Do Border Collies Measure Up?

Based on these criteria, of all the dogs evaluated, Border Collies ranked the highest in the list of intelligent dogs. They performed the best to earn the number one spot.

They were able to pick up basic commands within minutes, with less than five repetitions. Their level of obedience and work ethic is remarkable. On the first attempt, Border Collies have a 95% or above success rate when obeying a known command.

The IQ of Border Collies remains unmatched, with only nine other breeds coming close to the same intelligence level. Among these dogs are the Poodle, labrador, German Shepherd, Golden Retriever, Doberman, Shetland Sheepdog, Papillon, Rottweiler, and Australian Cattle Dog.

How do Border Collies measure up against the average intelligent canine? Average dogs can sometimes require up to 40 repetitions in order to master a new command. In these terms, Border Collies are five times quicker than the average breed.

Similarly, the average breed has about a 50% success rate obeying a familiar command on the first take. Borders are not even in the same league as the average dog! They show almost a double rate of success when it comes to obedience.

Of course, average does not equate to bad. Average dogs like huskies, great Danes, Boston Terriers, etc., are among the most hard-working and popular dog breeds.

Other Aspects of Intelligence

As mentioned earlier, there are other dimensions to a dog’s intelligence than just the obedience and working factor. The reason why Coren opted to use only the single dimension for the trials is because of its objectivity. It is easier to list out and rank dog breeds using working and obedience intelligence.

Though the other two intelligence factors are more challenging to evaluate and measure across dog breeds, they contribute to a dog’s overall IQ. The level of smartness also depends on instinctive and adaptive intelligence.

When it comes to instinctive intelligence, this question is put forward—what was the purpose behind breeding a particular dog breed? Dogs have held various roles in society, varying from herding to retrieving. For ages, humans have bred dogs for specific reasons.

Instinctive intelligence talks about the innate ability and specific skill that was purpose-bred in a breed. For the Border Collies, this was their herding skill. Since the 1800s, borders have been bred to herd livestock such as sheep. They have earned the title of best sheepherders in the world.

Border Collies use their instincts to solve problems, such as rounding up the sheep when a storm approaches and pushing them towards higher ground. This instinctive intelligence is present even if a border has never had an interaction with a sheep in their life. This type of intelligence is what makes them such efficient sheepherders.

The final layer of dog intelligence is the adaptive dimension. This refers to a dog’s ability to learn from situations. It can relate to problem-solving or learning from past mistakes.

Almost all Border Collies have the same level of instinctive intelligence. However, the level of adaptive intelligence varies from dog to dog, even within the same breed.

An example of adaptive intelligence is a dog with separation anxiety that barks every time you leave to go to work. The same dog does not create a fuss when you step out of the house to water your garden.

The takeaway here is that the dog’s adaptive intelligence lazered in on a particular cue that they use to associate with you leaving the house for longer periods of time. This makes them anxious.

Besides these intelligence factors, research is also being done on emotional intelligence among dogs. Emotional intelligence refers to the ability to pick up on and comprehend a variety of emotions. However, it is the most challenging factor to measure with no clear answers to the complexity of emotional intelligence in dogs.

Also Read: When Do Border Collies Stop Growing?

How to Stimulate a Border Collie’s Intelligence

We have already covered how incredibly intelligent Border Collies are. These smart dogs require constant intellectual stimulation to stay healthy and happy. Without adequate mental stimulation, they will get bored and may turn to destructive behavior.

The right kind of challenge will stimulate not only their mind but also their physical bodies. Unlike most other dogs, they require extensive hours of mental and physical activities each day.

Below are some pointers to help you stimulate your Border Collie’s mind to the maximum while creating the best environment for the smartest dog in the world.

Physical Exercise

Border Collies have an abundance of energy. They are basically tireless. Since they are a working breed of dogs, they can pretty much toil the entire day with the same level of energy.

Make sure you are giving your Border Collie a sufficient amount of exercise daily. A minimum of one hour of physical activity is key to keeping them healthy. Go on long walks, visit the dog park, get a playdate for them—anything that will allow them to run around and exert themselves.

Border Collies are big on socialization. So taking them to dog-friendly places and allowing them to interact with other dogs is a great activity to get involved in.

Training Sessions

Dogs benefit from training sessions, especially if they are stubborn. A little guidance goes a long way in making the best companion. You will need to train them so that they follow your commands without giving you a mulish attitude in response.

These training sessions will keep your Border Collie stimulated. Since they are incredibly smart, they will take the training well. Proper training will ensure there will be no behavioral problems down the line.

Your training sessions can include giving them a task to do. Since they are workaholics, they will enjoy the stimulation that comes from accomplishing tasks.

You can also choose to teach them to respond to hand signal commands. It is easier for dogs to pick up on hand signals as opposed to voice commands. Certain hand signals are easier for dogs to understand. You can try a few things and make it a cool learning and bonding experience for both of you.

Obedience School

If you are not in the position to train your Border Collie, you should seek professional help. Obedience classes will provide training sessions that will teach your dog to obey and respond to commands.

The gist is not to skimp out on training—either you do it or send them to school! Because of how headstrong they are, it is essential they are consistently trained. They are quick learners. Therefore, they will pick up the correct training cues in a short time.

Shower Them with Attention

Border Collies are smart and affectionate. They love having their owner’s attention focused on them. Some dogs even suffer from separation anxiety if their human parent is not around them often.

Reward this need for attention by spending an adequate amount of time with them. Incorporate snuggles into your playtime. They crave your affection and attention. Whenever they get a task right, reward them with praise and pats.

Not only will you get their tail wagging, but you will also create a beautiful bond with them. They will make them more susceptible to following commands, and training sessions will be a breeze.

Toy Challenges

Another way to mentally stimulate your Border Collie is to give them challenging toys. Introduce toys that keep them engaged while challenging them mentally. Toys that arouse their instinctive drive are great for providing necessary stimulation.

If you are away from home, get them toys they can play with without needing your presence there. Treat puzzles are a good mental challenge and also work well for dogs with separation anxiety.

Border Collies are so smart they can easily outsmart you. Therefore, it is necessary to rotate toys to prevent them from getting bored. Provide them with a variety of indoor and outdoor challenges to keep them learning and entertained.

Also Read: Do Border Collies Bark Much?

The Takeaway

To sum it up—yes, Border Collies are the smartest canine breed. They exhibit exceptional working intelligence, setting them apart from all other breeds. Border Collies love learning and use their quick wit to pick up new skills and fit into new situations rather quickly.

These intelligent dogs are very lovable. They accomplish tasks with intense dedication. As long as you keep them physically and mentally stimulated, they will thrive and fill your days with joy.