Every month, people ask Google, “Are Rough Collies smart?” and “How smart are Rough Collies?” The short answers are yes, both Rough Collies and Smooth Collies (short-haired Collies) are very smart, and they are capable of learning and doing just about anything. But here’s a word of caution: if a Collie doesn’t have a bond built on respect with a person, they may pointedly ignore every command issued. They would rather be scorned as stupid than lower themselves to obey someone they hold in contempt. As one trainer at the Guide Dog Foundation said, “You have to earn the respect of a Collie.”
The truth is, Collies are bright enough to be independent thinkers, and they may have a difference of opinion about what is important or necessary for them to learn – even if they like and respect you. Depending on time and place, “intelligent disobedience” can be a real asset. That’s not something I fault them for; it’s something I appreciate. Because after all – they’re smart when their people most need them to be.
Still, most people inquiring about a particular canine’s level of intelligence really want to know how many tricks that dog can do, and if a dog is “biddable.” According to the American Kennel Club, breeds from the herding group (like Collies) tend to be more trainable than certain other groups. Trainability is great! Yet one professor of canine psychology, Stanley Coren, defines at least 3 kinds of intelligence in dogs.
When I asked Rough Collie (RC) owners for examples of their dogs’ smarts, I noticed a couple of recurring themes. First, Rough Collies rank very high in emotional intelligence and the ability to read people. Second, many people had no idea how intelligent their dogs were until their RC’s surprised them by seeing a need and taking the lead. As you read through the little anecdotes below, I hope you will gain a better understanding of Collie intelligence – an intelligence that is often practical and instinctual, as it exists without the benefit of training. In dire situations, many a “Lassie dog” has literally made the difference between life and death for their people.
Another favorite Google question is, “Are Rough Collies as smart as Border Collies?” Border Collies are the workaholics and overachievers of the dog world. Most Rough Collies aren’t about that competitive rat race. While they may be just as smart as Border Collies, Rough Collies typically are not as motivated as their extremely high-drive cousins. One woman who owns both a Border Collie and a Rough Collie told me that her Border will consistently outperform her Rough, but her Rough definitely has the edge when it comes to understanding what is expected of her.
She also said that her Border Collie is better at figuring out problems. But here’s the thing: why would the Rough Collie bother solving a problem it doesn’t consider to be a real issue in the first place – especially if the eager Border Collie is already taking care of it? And that, my friends, is why I dearly love Rough Collies, because we’re basically on the same wavelength. Call it what you will – lack of motivation, drive, initiative, or ambition – but there are certain things I simply refuse to get fussed about, and so do my Collies.
Selective, Not Stupid
Amelia the Rough Collie guide dog illustrated this tendency perfectly by her obstinate disinterest in learning to offer a paw and shake hands. Did that make her stupid? Of course not! Amelia was 1 of only 2 dogs in her class to graduate from The Guide Dog Foundation. The rest dropped out. Yet Kolby, Amelia’s blind handler, was often asked by the general public if her dog did any tricks. She told me with some exasperation, “I think being a guide dog is a pretty good trick!“
You’ll see that some of the Rough Collies in the stories below have won their trick dog titles, among other accolades. But more importantly, you may realize that your dog is smarter than you think. And one day – they may show you just how smart they are.
One of our Collies is our school and church Comfort dog. He has an amazing sense of empathy. He has been to several funerals, and every time will immediately walk up to the family members in the crowd of people. He knows when to lay down with a child and when to walk around the playground with one. He “dragged” our school secretary out to the bus parking area and made her walk to where some kittens had been abandoned – a place he had never been before. He is the most gentle animal I have ever been around.
The first Christmas we had Cooper at school he would stay in the school office throughout the day until “needed.” The secretary noticed he would disappear for a few minutes, then come back in. She figured out that he was strolling to the teacher workroom, getting just one cookie off of the treat tray, taking it down to the end of the hall, eating it, then leisurely walking back to the office.
My boy Duncan has titles in agility, obedience, rally, tricks, stunt dog, one leg in scent work, and almost 200 therapy dog visits. He’s very smart, although he can be quite stubborn. He lets me know if one of my girls had another UTI. Duncan is also an AKC (American Kennel Club) grand champion and a UKC (United Kennel Club) champion, and he was the 2018 Collie Club of America Shining Star Co-Ambassador. Can you tell I love my boy just a bit? 😊
My female Collie Summer also has obedience, rally, trick, and stunt dog titles, as well as being a therapy dog, a UKC champion, and major pointed toward an AKC championship. Collies can do it all.
Titus & Aeros
My two Collies are highly intelligent and have plenty of drive to compete successfully in agility, barn hunt, and herding. Amazing breed to work with. They are quite eager to please me and often compete to see who can perform a command faster.
When I came home from having surgery for a knee replacement, Titus knew when he entered the room that I was injured, even though I was sitting in the recliner with a blanket covering my knee. He very gently came up to greet me – not like his usual rowdy self. When the puppy came bouncing in to see me and looked like he was going to jump on my lap, Titus immediately disciplined him and pinned him down. After two corrections from his daddy, Aeros learned his lesson and – under the watchful eye of Titus – has been very cautious around me, making sure not to cause me pain. Here I was worried about how to interact with the dogs while recovering, but they figured out I needed to be treated gently on their own. Pretty smart if you ask me. 😉 Emotional intelligence can’t be taught and is worth its weight in gold – such a nice trait Collies are famous for. As a whole I have found the Collie breed to be quite intelligent.
My rough collie, Daisy kept coming into my bedroom barking at me. I kept ignoring her till finally she wouldn’t be quiet, so I asked her what was wrong. She ran into the living room and into the kitchen, stopping a couple times to make sure I was following her. When we got to the kitchen she stopped and looked at me. I had left the kitchen sink on and the kitchen was full of water and suds. She was so smart! Smarter than I was obviously!
This is the sweetest boy on Earth, doing his best! Teaching himself just like his big sis/mom, who did homework with him many, many times. Remington is her everything. He helps her work through her anxiety. She’s 23 and has 2 degrees already. He was the best homework buddy!
My boy Brodie was outside with my granddaughter. She only had one shoe on, so I told her to get it and we would go play. She was whining and complaining that she didn’t know where it was, just causing a fuss. Brodie walked in the house, grabbed her shoe, and dropped it beside her. 😂😂😂 You could see him thinking things through. LOL.
Kai only has to go to a place once to remember it and how to get there. Even on buses he knows what stop he usually gets off at. In the car he will start looking out the window and whining if we divert from a known route. He’s always been good at finding his way. Usually, I just follow him if I’m unsure, as he always brings us to where we know.
Kai loved my Nan and had visited her a few times with me. She lived in sheltered accommodation, which was 42 flats in one building… Anyway, after she passed away, it was over a year until we visited there with him. We went to the garden area, and I let Kai off [his leash]. He was fine for a bit – then suddenly bolted. He went through a shared room, along a corridor to an entrance, up one flight of stairs, then turned right at a three-way corridor – straight to my Nan’s front door. He wanted to see her and couldn’t understand why I wasn’t opening the door.
While he’s never been [formally] trained as an Assistance Dog, due to my panic attacks, we go to a lot of dog-friendly places so I can take him with me. He will press himself against me in cafes and other places if I’m starting to panic. Really, he’s just a great dog all round, and we’re lucky to have him.
We’re not competitors – because I don’t feel brave and talented enough to start in any – but I noticed that my puppy liked to do something and be an active doggy. I followed his needs. We used to play frisbee just for fun, also some tricks… In this picture “over” is captured; it’s a frisbee figure when the dog flies over the handler’s body. Ariel was 9 when he got an opportunity to have some fun on a professional agility course for the very first time. He’s the dog of my life.
My boy Ariel learned to use his squeaky toy intentionally – a single signal to catch my attention. One day I was washing my hands in the bathroom and the door was open. Ariel came close and something fell to the floor once. I ignored it. So another single tap sound, and one more a moment later. I turned back to see what’s going on. Ariel had taken a chewing treat from my dad’s dog (a bone-shaped biscuit) not for eating, but to use it in the same way as his squeaky toy.
My boy Bracken, (a.k.a. Astromelias Rainbow Blue) is my hero! The story starts on the morning of 30th September, 2019. Bracken literally saved my husband’s life! I was inside the house, puttering away, when I heard Bracken barking; but it was a weird barking which I had never heard him do before. He then came flying into the house, barked at me, then went flying outside again, still doing this weird barking. I went outside, and he was staring intently and yelping, facing toward the gated garden area that he can’t get into. At first I couldn’t see anything, then I saw my husband was lying face down almost hidden by a tree. When I reached him, I realised he had had an epileptic fit, but the earth around him was stopping his breathing. I managed to turn him over and cleaned as much earth out of his mouth as I could. He had some awful cuts and a head injury, so I called an ambulance. He came round at the hospital, they gave him a scan, and after 4 hours they allowed him to come home with me.
I hate to think what the outcome would have been if Bracken hadn’t alerted me, as my husband would have probably suffocated. Bracken is our hero. But then, what do you expect from a Collie?
My high-drive, Miss Independent pup (13 weeks) is already showing me just how smart she is, and I don’t appreciate being outwitted by a baby lol! We started teaching her not to bark at our cats, so when she barked, we would redirect her with a treat and make her lay down. Well this munchkin broke the system when she walked over to a cat, barked, and then plopped herself in front of me waiting for a treat 🤣 Yeah… no way, girl! She does this for other commands too, like recall training. She will walk ahead a few feet and look back expecting me to call her. No ma’am – that’s not how it works!
Vega is my service dog in training. She has been task trained for a few years at home, but hasn’t gone out in public with me much until recently despite already being 3 years old. She is trained to interrupt certain anxiety behaviors before I work myself into a panic attack, she grounds me when I disassociate, and she alerts to certain alarms if I’m having bad depression days. One thing she has not been taught yet is to alert to spikes in heart rate or dizzy spells, but man did she surprise me the other day!
She came with me to a mammogram appointment, because I was extremely anxious about it. (I’m only in my 20s but we had a concern, so a valid response). Because I was already anxious and a bit dehydrated, as soon as we stepped off the elevator I started to shake so hard I could barely sign in properly and was really dizzy. Vega kept bumping my knees and trying to pull me in the direction of a chair. This was the first time she had done public access in over a month, and only the second time she had ever been to a doctor’s office. So it was all weird and new to her; but she knew something wasn’t right and was trying to fix it the only way she could think to.
Once Sir Gustav used his water bowl as a toilet rather than peeing on the floor. (I was late getting back from work one day due to car trouble. Please don’t judge. 😏) I can only assume that in his dog brain, Gus must have concluded, “Humans pee in a bowl of water, so if I also pee in a bowl of water – Mom won’t mind?” I was speechless when I saw his very yellow bowl. Mind you, Gustav could have peed anywhere in the house, so aiming and eliminating into his bowl instead of against a wall somewhere was a very deliberate choice.
Jack & Farrah
Jack and Farrah are 5 months apart in age. We adopted them together to be each other’s playmates. On the way back from the adoption center, they figured out how to get the back window of the truck cab open and climbed into the front to be with us.
We used mousetraps to discourage our dogs from counter surfing. It works great 99% of the time, but I found I have a Collie who simply thinks of it as a trick. Jack and Farrah would counter surf. We set mousetraps, and it worked for a month. Then Jack figured out that once the trap was activated, the stuff on the counter was available. So I intentionally didn’t set it, to fool him. It worked for three weeks. Then I noticed pillows in the kitchen, but I just figured the dogs were playing with them. One day, I came home for lunch. Jack was on the couch. He got up with a throw pillow, carried it over to the counter, dropped it on the mousetrap, and pulled it onto the ground! I wouldn’t have figured it out, until he did it in front of me. Farrah would wait until Jack dropped the food on the ground and get it before he could. Jack then figured out to eat on the counter. THEN Farrah figured out how to pull the zipper pulls on my wife’s flight bag to get at things in there.
My 2 dogs (RC Maggie, pictured, and our Sheltie mix Wilbur, not pictured) saved my husband from this tree. During Superstorm Sandy in October 2012 in NJ, my husband took the dogs out to go potty before we hunkered down. When he went near this 100-foot-tall (30.5 m high) birch tree, the dogs would not stop barking and blocked him from the tree. They chased him back to the house. As soon as he stepped foot inside, I heard the loudest sound. The tree fell in our yard, skimming the house. I know those dogs saved his life that night.
Another example was on the night I brought my first daughter home from the hospital. I was recovering from a c-section and feeding the baby in our living room. When the baby needed to get a change, I wasn’t able to get up on my own. I asked Maggie to get Daddy. She went right to my sleeping husband, poked him with her nose, and ran to the end of the hallway. She repeated this several times until my husband got out of bed to see what was wrong. He found me holding the baby, unable to get up to change her due to my surgery. We are so grateful for our girl’s smarts that day!
This is Tuppance, a 3 1/2 year old Collie. Last year she became a Trick Dog Champion. We started trick training when she was 9 months old and didn’t even know how to sit. Now if I sneeze, she goes and gets me a tissue, and when I am done she puts it in the bin for me! That is one of my favourite tricks.
I’ve had Collies since I was small child. If you have the right lines, they are as smart and capable as ANY dog. Lad does ALL the protection work and advanced commands, is good over guns, heels from both sides and between the legs, and has tons of drive (all of them, not just prey drive). He hits the bite sleeve as well as any German Shepherd – and I have had them.
Anyone who has a Collie and is interested in our Natural Protection Work can apply to join [our Facebook group] here.
I feel incredibly lucky to have my boy Timi, who has both looks and brains. ❤️ While I don’t have any particularly heroic stories to share, Timi is always impressing me with his intelligence and seeming ability to know what I want him to do without having to say it. It always seems like he tries to talk to us! And he’s so eager to please. He knew without having to be told that he’s not to run through the garden and trample all the plants. He’d always stay on the lawn, same with when my mum was concreting a path and couldn’t have him disrupting her work and stepping in it.
Despite loving his treats, he doesn’t like to take treats from strangers. He’s also come between us and a person whom he didn’t trust and thought was a threat. Timi’s a one in a million dog, and I just hope I can be lucky enough to have another like him again some day.
My Collie has the equivalent of what people call high emotional IQ. She is really aware of her environment, and she is the most balanced dog I know. She has good social intelligence with other canines and is especially sensitive with humans. She is perfect with children: it is a natural instinct. That is intelligence. Plus, she has beauty too. 🙂😍
On all of our windows, we have the pleated blinds that you lift from the bottom to raise. Shay has figured out how to lift them with her nose, and she raises the three we have in our bedroom every morning to wake us up. She was a rescue from a hoarder, and we love her so much. She’s very spoiled.🤣
One of my Collies, my tricolor Collie Simon, goes to the woods with me to check my deer cameras. He ALWAYS remembers where they are before I do. He lays down next to the tree until I get there. Simon always has to be with me. If a storm is coming, he doesn’t want me out of the yard. He will nudge me with his nose hard to get me back closer to home.
Too Many Stories, Too Little Time
The truth is, it was difficult to choose just 20 tales out of all the great Collie stories people submitted. As one reader commented, this might easily have turned into a 10 volume set! Space (and attention spans) are limited, while stories of Collie intelligence seem limitless.
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