11 Smartest Small Breed Dogs in 2021

Small dogs make some of the best companions. They’ll jump in your car, eager to co-pilot your next road trip. They’ll bound aboard your boat, ready to be the second mate on your sailing adventure. Then, at the end of a hectic day, your small dog is more than ready to curl up in the bed with you for a long, restful sleep.

If you’re searching for a small dog breed that’s smart, trainable, and eager to please, this guide is for you. Whether you want a dog to breed and show or simply seek a playful and faithful companion, take a look at this list of the 11 smartest small dog breeds for 2021.

Miniature Poodle


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The first of the 11 smartest small dog breeds for 2021 is the Miniature Poodle. You may know this breed as the “French Poodle,” but that’s a misnomer. There’s actually no such thing as a French Poodle; the breed earned that name because of its popularity in France.

Miniature Poodles are on the list of the smartest small dog breeds for a good reason. This dog is an excellent hunter, and its trainability is off the charts. These pups are known as “thinking” dogs, and they’re known for being super-attentive to their handlers.

Miniature Poodles are a sensitive breed, which means that these dogs may not be appropriate for your family if you have small children. While a mini poo may be responsive to your commands and even your emotions, your dog may feel overwhelmed when presented with the company of little ones. Supervise your dog and your young children until they’re familiar with each other.

Shetland Sheepdog

Shetland Sheepdogs, also known as Shelties, are another of the smartest breeds of dog for 2021. These dogs were originally bred in Scotland as a herder. Today, Shetland Sheepdogs remain a trainable breed, but they’ve held on to their herding roots too.  It’s not uncommon for your Sheltie to try to herd your children!

When you take your Sheltie to the dog park to socialize her, don’t be surprised if she’s mistaken for a Collie. Her markings are similar to Lassie’s, and they’re both descendants of border collies. But Shelties are smaller, and the dogs have a slightly longer lifespan.

Shetland Sheepdogs are highly affectionate and love human company. They’re gentle with children and are excellent watchdogs. They’re small, but their bark packs a punch when alerting you of intruders. If you’re looking for a vocal dog, the Sheltie is a great choice.

Although the Sheltie is happy as an indoor dog, your pup will need quite a bit of exercise. Before adopting a Shetland Sheepdog, ensure you and your family members have the energy and time to keep up!

Papillon

In some circles, the Papillon is named the “smartest of all dog breeds.” They’re a miniature breed; most dogs measure only eight to 11 inches tall. In fact, a 10-pound Papillon is considered heavy! These agile little dogs date back to the 16th century, and they’re arguably some of the cutest small dogs you can adopt.

When you adopt a Papillon, you’re bringing home a tiny, elegant, and energetic dog. While they do get along with children, little ones should exercise caution when playing with your Papillon. Your dog is playful and will engage anyone – or anything – in his antics, but at times he may think he’s larger than he is. Pay close attention if your dog is engaged with larger dogs.

The Papillon makes a great companion for seniors and less mobile dog lovers. The dogs don’t require much exercise, and they’re content to sit in your lap while you read a book or chat with a friend.

Pembroke Welsh Corgi

The Pembroke Welsh Corgi is the fourth on our list of the smartest small breed dogs for 2021. These pups are gaining in popularity thanks to celebrity endorsements from Stephen King, Betty White, and Queen Elizabeth II herself!

Another herding dog, the Pembroke Welsh Corgi, is a vocal little bundle of energy. Your Corgi will enjoy ample exercise, both for his body and his brain. You’d be well-advised to invest in a few good toys to keep your Corgi mentally challenged. Otherwise, your pup may seek out his own entertainment.

The Pembroke Welsh Corgi is often confused with the Cardigan Welsh Corgi. They’re similar in appearance, but differences do exist. For example, the Pembroke Welsh Corgi has a docked tail, while the Cardigan’s tail is long and foxlike.

Cocker Spaniel

The Cocker Spaniel is one of the smartest small breed dogs and is incredibly easy to train. They’re well-known for their loyalty and calm demeanors, and the breed is friendly and non-aggressive toward other animals.

Cocker Spaniels do shed a bit, but you can mitigate problems with regular brushing. Your Cocker Spaniel is patient and loves the attention she’ll receive during her grooming session. This breed is easygoing and affectionate, but they’re also a bit stubborn. Some Cocker Spaniel owners cite difficulty with housebreaking as a challenge to adopting these dogs.

The Cocker Spaniel was originally bred as a hunter, but today most are content with moderate exercise and a family to love! Their hunting background, however, means these dogs are attentive and alert.

Pomeranian

The Pomeranian is one of the smallest – and the smartest – on our list of the smartest small dog breeds. These pups weigh between three and seven pounds, making them the ultimate “pocketbook pup.” These dogs have more to offer than just a sweet face, though. They’re friendly, energetic, and very playful.

Pomeranian owners love that this breed is so low maintenance. They require little social interaction and only require a minimal amount of guided exercise each day. Your Pomeranian may be a picky eater; try organ meats, rice, and spinach to satisfy your pup’s taste buds.

Pomeranians are bright, alert dogs that thrive on obedience training. You’ll enjoy watching your Pom learn new tricks, including some quite impressive acrobatics!

Yorkshire Terrier

Another tiny breed, the Yorkshire Terrier, weighs in at between four and six pounds. In fact, there is a Yorkshire Terrier called a Teacup Yorkie that, as you may have guessed, is bred to fit inside a teacup easily.

Despite their small size, Yorkshire Terriers have huge personalities. They often forget their own size, and even the most well-trained Yorkie is apt to look for trouble with animals larger than himself. Yorkies are gentle with children, but if your kids are prone to more rambunctious play, this breed may not be right for your family.

The Yorkshire Terrier is intuitive and sensitive. He will pick up on your feelings, but exercise caution: if you’re easily startled or stressed, your dog will notice and may become nervous. With that in mind, do understand that your Yorkie’s perceptive nature makes him a great watchdog.

Cairn Terrier

You may have never heard of the Cairn Terrier breed, but there’s a good chance you’d recognize this dog. Toto on the Wizard of Oz is, perhaps, the most famous Cairn Terrier in history. These terriers are alert, stubborn, and curious. That combination of characteristics makes the Cairn Terrier one of the smartest small breed dogs.

When you adopt a Cairn Terrier, you’re adopting a dog that will be a friend for life. Loyal and obedient, the Cairn is a highly trainable dog that is both patient and playful. Kids get along well with the Cairn Terrier, but if overly excited, your Cairn may nip at heels and fingers. Please be sure to supervise younger kids when they’re playing with your dog.

Some Cairn Terrier owners liken the breed’s temperament to that of a toddler. The pups are affectionate, and they love to help, but they’ll frequently test their boundaries. Be sure everyone in the family agrees to the rules for your pup. When your dog hears a “no” from Mom, she’ll go ask Dad instead.

Fox Terrier

The next breed on our list of the smartest small breed dogs is the Fox Terrier. These playful dogs weigh up to 20 pounds and are bundles of energy. The Fox Terrier was bred to drive foxes from their holes during fox hunts. The breed is still found in hunting circles today but has found its way into the hearts and homes of families worldwide.

The Fox Terrier is sleek yet sturdy. Your Fox Terrier will get along fine with your children, but please make sure you socialize your pup. This breed is often quite scrappy and, if not properly trained, may start fights with humans or other animals. He is also bred to hunt, so it will take patience and a firm voice to compel him to heel and stay.

As with many other terriers, the Fox Terrier may prove difficult to housetrain. Ask your veterinarian or do your own research on crate training; this is usually the most effective way to ensure an accident-free home.

Miniature Schnauzer

Make no bones about it: the Miniature Schnauzer is extremely smart. In fact, this breed usually understands and obeys new commands after just five to 15 repetitions! That’s remarkable! In addition to her desire to comply, your Miniature Schnauzer is a great guard dog.

She will alert you to intruders but is bred to be gentle and non-assertive. Your pup is also a pro at chasing away mice and rats, making her a great addition to your rural home.

Schnauzers make great family dogs, but the breed does require a bit more grooming than some others. The Miniature Schnauzer isn’t known for excessive shedding, but your pup’s coat can get tangled easily. Invest in a good brush and clippers before you adopt a Miniature Schnauzer.

In addition to intelligence, the Miniature Schnauzer possesses a deep sense of loyalty. If you’re not often home or can’t devote attention and playtime to your new pup, this breed may not be the right option for you. If you’re looking for a companion to spend time with, the Miniature Schnauzer is a perfect companion.

Should you seek a Miniature Schnauzer to show or breed, you should know that the AKC recognizes only certain colors. Solid black, black and silver, and salt and pepper are recognized as true Schnauzer colors. If you acquire a white Schnauzer, she will not be permitted to compete.

Schipperke

The Schipperke is a small breed dog you may not have heard of. These pups weigh between 12 and 16 pounds and were originally bred to be watchdogs on barges. In fact, the breed name itself means “little captain” in Flemish.

The Schipperke breed is energetic but requires little guided exercise. Plan to spend around 40 minutes each day, in total, walking and playing with your pup. As with many of the dog breeds on our list, the Schipperke demands attention. Keeping your dog in the spotlight will help prevent him from destructive behavior as he finds ways to entertain himself.

You don’t need to be a sea captain to enjoy your Schipperke. However, you do need to ensure you’re prepared to handle a high-energy dog that requires plenty of socialization. The Schipperke breed doesn’t always get along well with other dogs, and they’re stubborn; Schipperke owners often recommend obedience classes to assist in house training and even basic commands.

Final Thoughts

Whether you’re seeking to adopt a small dog to show or simply to have as a companion, you have plenty of options. There are hundreds of dog breeds you can choose to bring home, and there’s a pup out there for every personality.

Are you searching for a dog with a big personality? Would you prefer a low-key dog who will make a great playmate for your children? Whatever your preference, small dogs are a wise choice for a wide range of people.

Remember that adopting your dog is usually preferable to purchasing. If you’re not planning to show your new pup, the animal shelter is a great place to meet your new best friend!

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