How Smart Are German Shepherds? (German Shepherd IQ)

Photo of a German Shepherd looking forward with an idea light bulb above his head. How Smart Are German Shepherds?

German Shepherds are fascinating dogs with many things going for them. Is high intelligence one of those things? How smart are German Shepherds? Let’s take a look and find out!

German Shepherds are very smart compared to the other dog types out there. Specialists consider these dogs to be the 3rd smartest in the world. They have high marks in obedience and work intelligence, specifically, leading them to be the logical choice for police officers and other professions that need dogs that will respond as needed.

Are German Shepherds smart?

As you’ve already read, yes. What makes these dogs so smart, however, is that they have a lot of ways that their brain helps them be smart. After all, intelligence isn’t just about being smart in one way, but rather being smart in many ways for an overall notable intelligence level that can’t be argued with!

What makes German Shepherds so intelligent?

So, let’s take a look at just how smart German Shepherds are by having a dedicated look at just what makes them that way in their individual categories:

  • Information retention
  • Instinctive intelligence
  • Adaptive intelligence 

Information retention

This is as classic as it gets for dogs. If a dog can remember things easily, they score higher on information retention tests. For example, a dog that can learn a new command with fewer repetitions and complete the new command without mistakes has a high information retention score!

The fewer the repetitions and the more accurate the behavior, the higher the dog will score. As you can guess, German Shepherds score high in this category.

Instinctive intelligence

This kind of intelligence focuses on a dog’s ability to access their actual instincts as a dog breeds. Since all dogs were bred for a specific purpose, that purpose (and the things used for it) is somewhere in your dog’s brain. Are they able to determine where to go to access it?

German Shepherds have a lot of instinctive intelligence, including herding, acting as sheepdogs, guard dogs, and more. These instincts to herd people or watch over their handler will come through easily in this dog. 

Also, all herding dogs have a stronger problem-solving ability than other dogs. German Shepherds use this enhanced problem-solving ability regularly to help push their own natural intelligence further.

Adaptive intelligence

The last type of intelligence is adaptable intelligence. This is their intelligence and ability to adapt to an action that is somehow connected with human interaction. A dog instructed to do something, for example, will understand what to do and then do it — even if the behavior seems strange to them.

All of these types of testing go into understanding just how intelligent a German Shepherd is. While some dogs are only smart in some of these categories, German Shepherds are wise in all of them!

How do I tell if my German Shepherd is smart?

Of course, not all dogs will be as bright as their breed description! If you are curious to see how smart your dog is, you can give your dog an IQ test (more on that later), or you can look at just how much your dog shows signs of intelligence in daily life. For example, obedience, natural tendencies, and responding to life with you.

What is the IQ of a German Shepherd?

Intelligent dogs are going to score 100 and higher. Most experts agree that these dogs will score 100 at least and often can end up somewhere closer to 120 (considered the maximum intelligence for dogs). 

How intelligent are German Shepherds compared to humans?

While they rank high in intelligence, German Shepherds are still only about as smart as a human child that is 2.5-3 years oldSo, that thing you’ve heard about dogs being smarter than humans has no basis when you actually get into the science of it.

Photo of a German Shepherd carrying wooden stick in his mouth.

How to calculate a German Shepherd’s intelligence

So, now that you’re curious about an IQ test, let’s look at how you can give your dog an IQ test right at home to get a sense of how your dog scores. This can be generally fun but also doubles as an exercise for your dog and even a bonding exercise. The main areas that you’ll focus on include:

  • Escape
  • Paying attention
  • Problem-solving/Adapting


The first thing you can do is see just how your dog does when trying to escape from a blanket you put over their head. The goal is to see how good they are at reasoning themselves out of a new and frightening situation. If he does it within 15 seconds, give him 6 points. If he does it in 30 seconds, give him 3 points. If he does it in 30 or more seconds, give him 1 point.

Paying attention

The next test will be one that tests his ability to pay attention to shifting things. Take 3 cups and put a treat under one of them. Make sure he sees you put the treat under. Move the cups around and get them to indicate where the treat is. Like the one above, give him 6 points if he guesses the cup right on the first try, 3 points if he gets it right on the second try, and 1 point if he gets it right on the third try.


Lastly, you’ll want to test your dog’s problem-solving abilities. Put a treat under a piece of furniture they can’t get their head under. If your dog immediately uses their paw to draw it out so they can get it, give him 6 points. If he tries with this paw, but it takes him over 1 minute to do so, give him 3 points. If he gives up and just uses his head, give him 1 point.

Now, add all the points from each test type you did. Divide that number by the number of tests that you did. If your dog ranked between 5-6, he’s a genius! If he ranked 3-4, he’s average intelligence. If he was less than 3…you know where we’re going with this!

You can also measure their intelligence level on a classic IQ score with this number. Multiply the answer you just got by 33, which will give you a number somewhere around 100. This is considered the official IQ of your dog!

Are German Shepherds smarter than cats?

We feel that this will get some discussion going, but let’s go into it anyway! Technically, German Shepherds are considered to be smarter than cats. However, experts quickly add that it’s difficult to test cats compared to dogs (like comparing apples and oranges) because many of the criteria are different from one breed to the next, and it’s difficult to compare them directly!

Do German Shepherds have a good memory?

Yes, German Shepherds have a great memory. You can see this in things like learning new commands and remembering various people in their lives, even if they haven’t seen them in quite some time.

Are German Shepherds the smartest dog breed?

Technically, German Shepherds are not the most intelligent breed, but they are pretty close. Border Collies are considered the smartest dog breed, and Poodles take second place. This puts German Shepherds in third place. Some believe Poodles to be the smartest dog breed in the world, and most experts agree that they and Border Collies are essentially tied. It simply depends on the individual dog within each breed!

How to deal with the intelligence of a German Shepherd?

It’s pretty neat to know that you’ve got such an intelligent dog in your household. However, any expert will tell you that a smart dog will be a mischievous and high-attention dog. German Shepherds are great dogs to have in your home, but you will need to learn how to deal with their intelligence so that they are healthy! So here are some tips to help.

Firstly, give your dog a job to do! Yes, seriously. Maybe they can patrol the fence line every morning and evening. Or, go classic and have them grab the mail for you. If you want to work on something else, you can get as creative as possible and have fun! Remember, dogs live to do whatever you ask them to do. So, give them a job (or several jobs) to do, and they’ll be grateful and happy to do them!

You’ll also really want to focus on exercise for your German Shepherd. This is a natural way for them to move, process, and use their brain as they do so. It’s perfect when your dog is looking for a way to simultaneously work out their mind and body. Take them on varying walking routes, and remember the importance of getting their brain engaged!

If you want to ensure they are working out their brain, you can also add in some stimulating toys. Puzzle toys and mats are great examples, but you can also choose good-quality chew toys. These give your dog’s brain a workout and an outlet for their intelligence.

Lastly, you’ll really want to consider advanced obedience training. This will be beyond your classic commands and focus on specialized tricks and other commands. You can add agility training, obstacle courses, and anything else you would like to achieve. The focus will be on pushing into new challenges and testing their minds.

The importance of caring for your German Shepherd’s intelligence

We hinted above, but it’s an important thing to talk about in more detail here. As you’ve learned, German Shepherds are brilliant dogs. If you add one to your household and family, you’ll want to remember to really factor in that intelligence level. If you have an intelligent dog that doesn’t get the stimulation they need, they can end up with real, long-term issues. These include:

  • Separation anxiety
  • Restlessness
  • Acting out
  • Destructive behavior
  • Aggression
  • Depression

An understimulated dog is not a happy dog. You must take on your dog’s intelligence as a challenge and do what you can to keep them happy and healthy!


A German Shepherd’s intelligence is above that of many dogs out there. German Shepherds are the third smartest dog in the world, second only to Border Collies and Poodles. Their intelligence focuses on areas such as obedience, work, and adaptive intelligence.

Understanding and adjusting to your German Shepherd’s intelligence will help them enjoy a happier and healthier life that considers their needs.

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Dog Advisory Council

A team whose main goal is to serve knowledge about the canine world. Together since 2012, we thrive to transform and inform, so each dog can live a happy and fulfilling life. Read more about us.