Shetland Sheepdogs Intelligence: How Smart Are They?

Shetland Sheepdogs Intelligence: How Smart Are They

Each dog has a different IQ. Depending on the dog’s breed, its history, genetics, and upbringing are various factors that can silently play a part in shaping this brilliance. For a Shetland Sheepdog breed, however, their intelligence has stood firm throughout many years.

Shelties are highly intelligent. Dr. Stanley Coren, a well-known animal intelligence expert, ranks Shelties as the 6th brightest among 138 tested breeds.

But you may be thinking, “how smart are they? why are they so smart?” Those all of which are common questions, and one of the many topics we’ve covered throughout this article. Therefore, if you’d like to keep learning about the Shetland Sheepdogs intelligence, continue reading below!

How Do Shelties Rank in Intelligence?

The Belgian Malinois is ranked 6th out of 138 breeds in Stanley Coren’s ‘The Intelligence of Dogs’, a book that evaluates breed intelligence. Shelties understand a new command in fewer than 5 repetitions, and they obey commands on the first try 95% of the time.

Why Are Shetland Sheepdogs So Smart?

Although it’s unclear to know why the Shetland Sheepdog is so smart, various factors can determine their overall intelligence.

When you study the history of a Shetland Sheepdog, we understand that this dog had been cross-bred with Collie breeds and other now-extinct purebreds. The intention was solely to help with herding.

Herding or working dogs are exceptionally agile, exhibiting a natural authority to control herds of animals through their control of movement- barking, and nipping.

Overtime, herding dogs develop a swiftness approach- all through repetition, demands from humans, and occurrences with other animals. These practices can largely shape the history of a dog’s character and ability to perceive knowledge.

In conclusion, Shetland Sheepdogs continue to remain an intelligent breed thanks to their extensive history and human-like tendencies (adaptability, comprehension, grasp).

Instinctive Intelligence

Instinctive intelligence relates to a dog’s capability to pursue whatever they were initially bred to do. The Shetland Sheepdog shows to know such ability, as they’re naturally assisting animals with a desire to help their owners if possible.

Shelties were bred to help herd flocks of animals throughout the Shetland Islands of Scotland- combating the vicious terrain and frigid areas.

In this day in age, Shelties continue to demonstrate their instinctive intelligence- individually if owned and utilized by farmers.

Their instinctive intelligence may also make an appearance if around unfamiliar animals or other breeds of dogs.

Obedience Intelligence

Obedience intelligence refers to a dog’s ability to relate, empathize, and connect with humans.

The development of a Shetland Sheepdogs obedience intelligence comes through dedicated socialization and interaction with his owners/family.

Their unique obedience intelligence flourishes best when used by persons who are calm, patient, and softly spoken. All things which allow Shelties to form a compassionate and trustworthy connection with his owners, eventually building to the intuitive ability.


Shetland Sheepdogs are incredibly trainable, allowing prospective owners the luxury of feeling “at ease” when traveling the route of socialization or behavioral training. The Sheltie’s ability to comprehend actions or commands used by humans, allow trainability to be less stressful and anxiety-ridden (for all parties involved).

If you’re hoping to train a Shetland Sheepdog, rest assured- they’re very much easy-going and less complicated as opposed to other stubborn breeds.

Possible Negatives That Come with a Smart Dog

It’s a common misconception that “smarter dogs are better dogs,” and although this might be true to a certain degree- it isn’t always the truth. Surprisingly, there are a few negatives that come with owning a smart dog.

Easily Bored

Dogs who require plenty of physical and mental stimulation can become bored much easier than less intelligent dogs. They need constant stimulus, otherwise resorting to feeling extreme boredom.

Unfortunately, prolonged boredom can encourage bad dog-behavior and increase the chance of a decreased mental-state- resulting in issues like depression or anxiety.

Naughty Behavior

Smart dogs are fast and efficient at picking up the good behavior. However, they can be just as quick at picking up any naughty behavior too.

Naughty behavior such as tricking owners into receiving more food, playing outside, or skipping “bath time” is only some, to name a few.

Require More Attention

A common negative that comes with a smart dog is their increased desire to obtain regular attention.

Frequent physical and mental stimulation play a significant role in supporting and sustaining a smarter pooch. The demand for attention will increase depending on the dog’s internal and external factors.


Although most times vigilant dogs are preferred- deemed desirable and more protective for specific owners, sometimes their intelligent nature can turn into hypervigilance.

Smarter dogs may become over-hypervigilant- immediately responding to noises or visuals (despite its insignificance). Barking or howling can also increase in more intelligent breeds, due to this natural reaction.

Rebellion Likelihood

We can assume that less smart dogs are easier-going and don’t mind receiving orders from their owners. In contrast, more intelligent dogs can hold more rebellious tendencies and may become stubborn over time. Rebellious nature isn’t always common but often found in certain smarter breeds that have stronger preferences.

Can Shetland Sheepdog Intelligence be Improved?

A Shetland Sheepdog’s intelligence can undoubtedly be improved from the moment you bring your pooch home- however, it’s clear that the younger he is, the easier it’ll be for you. Also, it’s important to remember that the improvement of his intelligence will gradually appear.

The first thing you can do to improve your Shetland Sheepdog’s intelligence is to train your dog as young as possible. For prospective owners, puppies are the best for creating and enhancing knowledge. Simply because the older the pooch, the harder it is to deter bad behavior!

Another fact to remember is the debate between physical or a hands-off approach to training. In my opinion, the hands-off approach is a far better, long-lasting, and beneficial approach to take.

Socializing your dog as often as possible, can also aid in the improvement of your Shelties intelligence. Sozialisation not only helps them with other dogs but can benefit them in trusting strangers easier too.

Develop a trusted connection with your dog. For intelligence to be improved, your dog must both rely upon and respect you- in order to follow demands. This can make things much easier for the pair of you and find it less time-consuming.

Lastly, repetition, patience, and consistency are KEY to the improvement of your dog’s intelligence! If you fail to encourage ongoing training, allow yourself to follow a rigid routine with your Sheltie, and continue being patient (despite bad days)- your dog’s success will be minimal.

Note: Certain factors such as past trauma, past fights with other dogs, or previous neglect/abuse caused by humans can significantly impact your dog’s intelligence- and in this case, may not be possible to improve.

The Best Shetland Sheepdog Intelligence Features

The best features of a Shetland Sheepdog’s intelligence impact and assist humans incredibly. Whether they’re serving what they were bred to do or deemed as a household pet- a Shelties intelligence is certainly remarkable.

Features of a Shetland Sheepdogs Intelligence:

  • Easy to train
  • Incredible agility
  • Quick comprehension of commands/actions
  • Herding ability
  • Understanding social cues

Shetland Sheepdog Intelligence in Comparison With Shiba Inus, Akitas, Alaskan Malamutes, Golden Retrievers, and Samoyeds

If you compare a Shetland Sheepdogs intelligence with other dog breeds such as a Shiba-Inu, Akita, Alaskan Malamute, Golden Retriever, or even a Samoyed– they all share a common factor. The common factor is each breed learns quickly.

The difference between a Shetland Sheepdogs intelligence versus these other breeds might be their instinctual nature (Shelties wanting to herd whereas Akita’s wanting to hunt)- or their obedience intelligence (Shelties being able to empathize as opposed to a stubborn Shiba-Inu).

Overall- each dog has specific bits of intelligence that thrive more than others depending on their history and breeding purpose.

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