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10 Smartest Small Dogs with Big Personalities

By Mawoo Pets · 9 Mar · 8 min read
10 Smartest Small Dogs with Big Personalities

The smartest small dogs may be tiny in stature but they’re big on intelligence. Coveted by trainers and breeders alike, these little dogs excel at obedience training and come in a manageable size that’s perfect for apartment dwellers, seniors and families with small children. 

Of course, judging a dog’s intelligence by breed isn’t foolproof, since every dog is an individual. Mixed breeds can be just as smart as purebreds and size isn’t generally a determining factor. It often comes down to how the individual dog is raised and trained.

That being said, some breeds are considered faster learners than others! Here are 10 of the smartest small dogs you’ll love for their cleverness and eagerness to please.

10 Smartest Small Dogs with Big Intelligence

When it comes to intelligence, large dogs often get all the credit. Here’s a look at the most intelligent small dog breeds with great personalities and the ability to master new skills quickly.

1. Shetland Sheepdog

Happy smiling Shetland Sheepdog on a bench.

Coming in at around 15 inches tall, the Shetland Sheepdog is a smart small dog breed known for its gentle, sweet disposition and eager-to-please personality. Shelties are playful and affectionate, with all the traits of a perfect family pet.

Due to their excellence in obedience and high intelligence, Shelties make great agility dogs. Shelties are a herding breed, so they require lots of exercise. This makes them a great choice for people who want a running or hiking companion.

With enough exercise, shelties do well in smaller homes or apartments. They enjoy the company of their family and do best if they aren’t left alone too much. They can be great watchdogs, but keep in mind that they’re prone to barking when excited. 

Proper socialization and training in puppyhood are a must for this excitable and somewhat timid breed. Shelties have a dense, wooly undercoat, so regular brushing is essential to avoid excessive matting and shedding.

2. Miniature Schnauzer

Cute Miniature Schnauzer puppy with its tongue out.

Miniature Schnauzers are known to be smart little dogs with feisty personalities. Schnauzers are obedient, fast learners and they’re very devoted to their human companions. When combined with their playful personalities, these traits make the Schnauzer an excellent family pet. 

This breed is very adaptable and enjoys city life just as much as a game of fetch in the yard or a hike in the woods. Most importantly, Schnauzers want to be with their humans, whether you’re taking a nap or going for a run.

Schnauzers are extremely watchful and alert, and may even get a bit scrappy around dogs that aren’t part of their household. Proper socialization is a must, starting in the first week with your new puppy. Schnauzers don’t shed, but regular grooming will keep them looking their absolute best.

3. Pembroke Welsh Corgi

Pembroke Welsh Corgi running on a field.

The Pembroke Welsh Corgi has the heart of a large dog in a small dog body. In fact, the word Corgi means “dwarf dog” in Celtic–and with the Corgi’s long back, upright ears and short bowed legs, it’s easy to see how they earned that name.

Corgis were bred to be working farm and herding dogs. They’re an active, hardy breed with big brains who enjoy any sort of outdoor activity, from hiking and agility to fetch in the backyard. They have big personalities and are quick to learn new games and tricks.

Corgis are much faster than you might expect and require plenty of exercise. They are very smart and determined, requiring training at a young age to make the most of their strong-willed personalities. Regular brushing will keep shedding under control.

4. Poodles and Poodle Mixes

Poodle pup smiling at the camera.

Perhaps the smartest small breed dog in the world, Toy Poodles, Miniature Poodles, and small poodle mixes are well known for their high intelligence and easy trainability. Their eagerness to please and ability to retain their training makes the Poodle an excellent companion and fun family dog. 

Don’t let their elegant attire fool you! Poodles were bred to be hunting dogs. Due to their quick learning of new commands, Poodles have been used as performing dogs throughout history. Although Poodles originated in Germany, the French aristocracyloves this breed for its incredible coat and biddable personality. That’s why they’re sometimes called “French Poodles.”

Poodles and poodle mixes do best in an active household where they can get plenty of exercise and mental stimulation. Keep in mind that this intelligent breed can be independent and headstrong, so training and socialization are a must. They also require regular grooming and haircuts.

5. Yorkshire Terrier

Two Yorkshire Terrier's with coats on.

The Yorkshire Terrier is not only one of the smartest dog breeds, it’s also one of the tiniest. Weighing in at under seven pounds, Yorkies are small in stature but big on personality. They are energetic, feisty, and affectionate–the perfect breed for someone who wants to dote on a dog.

Although Yorkies do need a lot of exercise, due to their small size, this can be accomplished in a small space. A daily walk through the neighborhood or a romp in the backyard will be sufficient. Yorkies make great apartment dogs, but they also love to play, so they’re a good family pet, too.

Yorkies can be stubborn and prone to excessive barking, but they are smart and trainable, especially if you start at a young age. Regular grooming is a must to keep their long coats in good shape. Keep in mind that they are sensitive to cold, so a sweater or coat is in order on chilly days.

6. Papillon

Papillon pup staring at the camera.

Papillons are smart little dogs with outgoing, happy personalities. Although they are lively and energetic, they also love to sit on laps and aren’t considered high-strung or excessive barkers. This breed is dainty and has distinctively large, flared ears that look like butterfly wings.

Their alertness, intense desire to please and high intelligence make them a popular choice for obedience competitions. This breed is extremely social, whether they are interacting with children or other pets. They’re often used as support and therapy dogs for the elderlydue to their sweet natures.

Papillons are smart small dogs that don’t shed and only require minimal grooming to keep their silky coats looking nice. They are also very adaptable and just as happy in the country or the city. They make fantastic travel companions and easily fit in carriers for airplane or car travel.

7. Cocker Spaniel

Black Cocker Spaniel in a field of flowers during sunset.

Cocker Spaniels and Cocker Spaniel mixes are known for their smart, gentle and easy-going personalities. They tend to be sociable around people and other animals and are usually considered to be good with children.

When it comes to obedience training and housebreaking, Cocker Spaniels are intelligent and obedient. With consistent training, they make fantastic family pets who aren’t prone to excessive barking. They love attention and exercise, so daily walks and other outdoor activities are a must.

Cocker Spaniels have a thick coat that requires regular grooming and trimming to prevent mats and tangles. Their long feathered fur can be kept short to minimize grooming and prevent them from collecting mud and burrs when playing outdoors.

8. Fox Terrier

Wire Fox Terrier posing for the camera.

The Fox Terrier is an intelligent little dog with an energetic, affectionate, and outgoing personality. This breed makes a terrific companion for children and those with an active lifestyle as it never gets tired of playing. It has a strong aptitude for learning new things, including tricks and agility.

Fox Terriers come in smooth-coated and wire-coated versions with compact muscular builds. They have a keen sense of smell and a strong prey drive that carries over into family life, whether they’re chasing squirrels in the yard or playing a vigorous game of fetch.

Fox Terriers are easy to care for. A quick daily brushing will keep the coat clean and prevent excessive shedding. Wire Fox Terriers will require haircuts every few months to keep the coat looking tidy.

9. Boston Terrier

Boston Terrier pup looking at the camera.

The Boston Terrier is a good-natured, playful, and smart little dog who gets along well with children and other pets–even cats–especially if they’ve been raised together. This breed loves a good romp in the yard and fetch is its favorite activity.

Boston Terriers can range from under 15 pounds up to about 25 pounds. They are compact, with a broad chest and a short muzzle. Their sturdy build makes them a good choice for older children who want a dog they can play with.

Bostons are smart small dogs that are easy to train, but they can be stubborn. Consistent training from an early age is key. They are also extremely fast, so a securely fenced-in yard and leash training are essential. Their smooth coats require minimal grooming.

10. Havanese

Playfull Havanese carrying a ball in its mouth.

The Havanese is one of the best-behaved small dogs, with an affectionate and social personality. They love to learn new tricks and games to play with their owners, and their energetic personalities makes them an ideal choice for anyone who wants an intelligent, active dog that doesn’t require a lot of space.

This breed excels at obedience training, however, Havanese can become excessive barkers without proper training in the first six months. Socialization is also essential to prevent them from becoming timid and fearful in new situations.

The Havanese has a long, silky, wavy coat that is prone to mats and tangles. Regular brushing and trimming is necessary to keep the coat neat and matt-free. This breed doesn’t like to be left alone for long periods, so be sure to have a plan for when you can’t be at home.

Wrapping Up

This round-up of the smartest small breed dogs is a great place to start your search for a fun and intelligent companion. To narrow down your search even further, be sure to take our Puppy Match Quizto see which breeds are the perfect match for your lifestyle.

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