How Smart are Collies? Collie Intelligence Explained

In the dog world, one breed stands head and shoulders above the rest when it comes to mental ability. Collies are widely recognized as the most intelligent breeds in the world, but just how smart are they exactly, and what does it mean in practice?

Collies’ intelligence is unmatched in the canine world. Collies are smarter than every other dog breed. Collies’ intelligence stems from their incredible memory, high levels of emotional intelligence, perception, and adaptive intelligence, allowing them to deal with complex changing situations much better than other breeds.

Coupled with their small frame, hardy coat, and their incredible speed and agility, it’s not surprising that these nimble navigators have been farmers’ number one choice for herding dogs over the centuries.

In this article, I’ll look at how smart collies really are and what that means in practical terms in the real world, and look at how collies compare to some other breeds.

Are Collies smart dogs?

Collies are extremely smart and have great problem solving skills. What really sets collies apart from other breeds is their high levels of emotional intelligence, perception, and adaptive intelligence which lets them deal with complex situations and think on the fly.

Most herding dogs share these traits, but collies are the most adept of the herding breeds due to their extensive training and selective breeding.

what is the IQ of a collie?

In a recent study by researchers at the London School of Economics, 68 working border collies were put through their paces in a prototype IQ test for dogs.

Collies can not realistically be compared to humans using the IQ metric, which is designed to compare humans and not dogs. In spite of this, it’s usually said that highly intelligent breeds such as collies are about as intelligent as a human toddler when it comes to problem solving abilities and emotional intelligence.

Why are collies so smart?

Collies are smart because they have been selectively bred over centuries for their intelligence, which they needed to carry out their role as working sheep dogs.

Although sheep tend to flock together as one, the flock is still a living organism and trying to control a dynamic, variable situation like a flock of sheep requires a high level of problem solving and adaptability.

When collies were chosen to breed, the pups from the smartest, most effective sheep herders were highly prized and went on to further cement high intelligence as a core facet of the collie breed.

What makes collies so smart?

Everyone knows collies are super smart, but what is it specifically about collies’ intelligence that sets them apart from other breeds?

Collies are not just good at memory or learning commands, they are exceptional at adapting to new situations and have a very high emotional intelligence, owing to their ancestors working closely with farmers for hundreds of years.

There are four aspects of collie intelligence which set them apart from other breeds:

  • Memory & Episodic Memory
  • Perception
  • Emotional Intelligence
  • Adaptive Intelligence

Let’s take a look at each of these in detail and figure out what it means for collies.

Memory and Episodic Memory

Most dogs have fairly good memories, and collies are no exception.

Take the example of Chaser, a Border Collie from South Carolina who had accurately memorized and could retrieve over 1,000 different toys.

What really sets collies apart from other breeds though is their Episodic Memory.

Episodic memory is the ability to recall specific situations long after the event, and to learn from them.

Episodic memory allows collies to learn how to act in different situations, calling on their past experiences to form a valuable intuition. Collies gain a huge level of intuition from their memories and this manifests as a deep understanding of the world around them.

Perception

Perception is the ability of your collie to use their existing knowledge and understanding of the world to interpret the information they gather with their senses.

For example, if your collie sees you putting on your walking boots, they will be able to understand that you’re probably going outside.

Collies’ excellent perception also means that they can pick up on small cues and figure out if you’re taking them out for a walk or if you’re heading out by yourself and leaving them home.

Emotional Intelligence

Emotional intelligence is the ability of your collie to understand how you’re feeling, and for them to feel deep emotions.

Dogs have the capacity to feel love, joy, grief, and loneliness, and collies’ intelligence means their emotions are more on display than some other breeds.

This level of emotional understanding comes from collies’ breeding history, where they have been bred to work with humans for two centuries and so developed an intuition around human emotion.

Collies’ emotional intelligence means they make very loyal and loving dogs, but it also means they can be quite sensitive. Be nice to your collie.

Adaptive Intelligence

Adaptive intelligence in collies is the ability to deal with complex changing situations, to think on the fly and to adapt their behaviors accordingly.

Collies derive their adaptive intelligence from their herding backgrounds. Herding is the ultimate challenge for adaptive intelligence, since sheep dogs need to be watching and controlling an entire flock of sheep at once.

Luna still has instinctual herding behaviors even though she’s not a working dog.

Are Collies too smart?

While intelligence is a fantastic trait for a working dog to have, it’s a double edged sword when it comes to family pets, whose minds can become addled with boredom if they don’t get enough mental stimulation to keep their brains sharp.

Boredom can make collies deeply unhappy and this can lead to unwanted destructive or compulsive behaviors. This is one of the reasons that collies are so often sent to animal shelters for adoption.

How smart are collies compared to other dogs?

There’s no humble way to say this. Collies are the smartest dogs on the planet, they are smarter than every other type of dog.

While there are many intelligent and hard working breeds, collies and other herding breeds take the top spot when it comes to doggy intelligence every time.

German Shepherds

Although German Shepherds are herding dogs just like collies, German Shepherds have a much different herding style.

German Shepherds are more aggressive than collies, making them great for guard dogs and police dogs, but less good when it comes to herding livestock.

Where German Shepherds control the flock well with fear and aggression, collies are perfectly calm and rarely need to be aggressive to control the sheep.

Collies stalk the sheep slowly and methodically to guide them to where they need to go, using brains over brawn to complete their task more effectively.

Collies are smarter than German Shepherds due to their adaptive intelligence. This means collies are better at dealing with new and changing situations, and are quicker to pick up new skills and tasks, however German Shepherds are better at aggressive tasks like guarding and police work.

Golden Retrievers

Golden Retrievers are sometimes described as the friendliest dogs in the world.

This definitely makes sense, since Goldens have been around for hundreds of years, firstly as loyal companions for hunting parties and later as beloved family pets.

Golden retrievers look goofy and cute, but underneath they are extremely intelligent.

Golden Retrievers are often crossed with other breeds, for example in the Golden Doodle breed.

The characteristics of a golden doodle include the intelligence of a retriever and the hypoallergenic qualities of a poodle.

Collies are smarter than Golden Retrievers overall when it comes to unknown situations and picking up new tasks, however Golden Retrievers are still much better for tasks that involve working directly with people due to their friendly and calm demeanor.

As an example, Golden Retrievers make excellent therapy or service dogs, whereas collies would be far too energetic and unpredictable to be trusted with such a role.

Labradors

Both Labradors and Collies are incredibly intelligent breeds. Labradors were originally hunting retriever dogs, which means they have been bred to work with humans and have a fantastic sense of smell.

Labradors are very good natured dogs and make excellent pets because they work so well with humans.

Collies are typically smarter than labradors because collies are better at working in changing, dynamic situations and are quicker at picking up new skills than labs, however labs are still a better than collies at some specific tasks, especially where the dog needs to be calm.

Luna loves Willow, her little Labrador friend!

What is the smartest type of collie

Border Collies are the most intelligent type of collie, however the difference between specific collie breeds is negligible and all types of collie excel in their own areas.

How smart are border collies?

In the canine world, collies stand head and shoulders above the rest when it comes to intelligence, and Border Collies are the intelligence champs even within the collie group.

Border Collies are incredibly intelligent, having been bred to deal with dynamic herding situations and respond to various commands from humans over hundreds of years. It’s often said that Border Collies are the most intelligent breed in the world.

How smart are Welsh Collies?

Welsh Collies and Border Collies are closely related, being a hybrid breed between Welsh Sheepdogs and Border Collies.

Much like their Border Collie cousins, Welsh Collies are extremely smart. Their intelligence was bred in to them, to help them think on the fly when dealing with extremely challenging herding situations in the Welsh Valleys.

how smart are bearded collies?

Bearded Collies are deceptively intelligent. In spite of their cute, fuzzy exterior there is a highly adaptable, intelligent herding dog hiding under all that hair. Bearded collies are extremely smart and need lots of mental stimulation to keep their minds healthy.

how smart are rough collies?

Rough Collies are incredibly intelligent dogs, combining the adaptive intelligence of Border Collies and other herding breeds with a cooperative nature around humans.

If I ever fall down a well, I pray that there will be a Rough Collie nearby to rescue me.

About the author:

About the author:

Hollie and Border Collie

 Stuart MacPherson

Colliepedia Editor

 Stuart MacPherson

Colliepedia Editor

I'm an experienced collie owner from Scotland. I started Colliepedia to share everything I know about collies. All the pictures you see on colliepedia are of my beloved collie Luna

Learn More about me and Luna's story on the about page!