How Smart Are Rough Collies?

How Smart Are Rough Collies?

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.

Comparing Cousins

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.

Cooper

A sable and white Rough Collie lies on the ground wearing a vest that says "pet me" and being petted by a happy young boy
Submitted by: Debbie Eickstead - San Antonio, Texas USA

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.

Duncan

Headshot of a lovely sable merle (light gold and white) Rough Collie with tipped ears and a keen expression
Submitted by: MaryAnn Campbell - Brooksville, Florida USA

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

Smart Titus and Aeros
Submitted by: Denise Maher - Black Hills, South Dakota USA

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.

Daisy

Smart Daisy
Submitted by: Lori Scott - Fort Myers, Florida USA

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!

Remington

Smart Remington
Submitted by: Jennifer Basel - Romeo, Michigan USA

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!

Brodie

Smart Brodie
Submitted by: Francine Andersen - Vancouver, BC Canada

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

Smart Kai
Submitted by: Katie Bessant - Birmingham, UK

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.

Ariel

Sable and white Rough Collie leaping over the back of his handler, a woman crouched on the ground, smiling
Submitted by: Antalwen-Agnieszka Dec - Lubusz, Poland

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.

Bracken

Smart Bracken
Submitted by: Heather Potts - Tenerife, Canary Islands

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?

Juniper Sage

Smart Juniper Sage
Submitted by: Morgan Bauer-Descourouez - Jacksonville, FL USA

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

Smart Vega
Submitted by: Katie Johnson - Tennessee, USA PC: Joscelyn Uzlik

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.

Gustav

Smart Gustav
Submitted by: Emily Sowulewski - Jacksonville, Florida USA

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

Smart Farrah
Submitted by: Mike Zeinstra - North Carolina, USA

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.

Maggie

A sable and white Rough Collie sits beside a large fallen tree with a massive root system
Submitted by: KT Dunne - New Jersey, USA

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!

Tuppance

Smart Tuppance
Submitted by: Jenny Hopper - East Sussex, UK PC: The Soul of My Lens

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. 

Lad

A man in black with a bite sleeve on his arm trains his sable and white Rough Collie in protection work. The Collies is lunging for the man's arm
Submitted by: Will Sanders - Oregon, USA

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.

Timi

Smart Collie Timi
Submitted by: Tahlia Nitschke - South Australia

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.

Glinda

Smart Glinda
Submitted by: Cris Chiaromonte - Richmond Hill, Ontario Canada

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. 🙂😍

Shay

Smart Shay
Submitted by: Beth Weigel - Texas, USA

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.🤣

Simon

Smart Rough Collie Simon
Submitted by: Jessica New - Illinois, USA

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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Have a “Smart Collie” story you want to share? We’d love to read it! Post your Collie story in the comments below.

Emily Sowulewski

Emily is an avid writer, blogger, and Collie lover who collects and posts stories about Collies from around the world. Submit a story, ask a question, or just say hi; Emily would love to hear from you.
  • Thank you for including Maggie in this post. I loved reading all the other stories! Collies truly are some of the best dogs out there, especially for families with kids.

    You summed it up perfectly with this: “Collie intelligence – an intelligence that is often down-to-earth, practical, and exists without the aid of training. The truth is, Collies are independent thinkers, and they may have a very different idea than you do of what is important or necessary for them to learn. 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.”

    Colles can learn to do pretty much anything, but it’s the things they do that we haven’t tauht them that makes them so special!

    • Exactly! That natural ability of theirs is just incredible. Thank you for sharing Maggie with us. ♥️

  • Enjoyed the stories – especially the dog who brought tissues when she sneezed and then took them to the trash.

  • What a great read! I have had rough collies my entire adult life. As the t-shirt says, “Why do they even make other breeds?” 😂

  • My RC, Laddie, was named for Albert Payson Terhune’s Lad, and he was very deserving of the name. Terhune’s Lad was the subject of many stories of intelligence and bravery. My Lad was just as brave and intelligent, just not in such dramatic ways. He was my dog from the moment we picked him up from the airport. He was born in CA, but spent his life in MI. He loved the whole family, but was devoted to me. He could do many tricks, but insisted on getting “paid” in treats to do them when asked by others, but always obeyed my command with no treat needed. However, the things I talk about below were never taught to him. He just did them in his own empathetic way.

    He started life with us in a quad level house, which meant many steps up and down through 4 floors. I have rheumatoid arthritis. Lad and his Australian cattle dog brother, Tucker, would normally run up or down the steps before my husband and me, except for when I was having an arthritis flare. Then, he would stay right by my side, so that I could put my hand on his back to steady myself up or down the stairs. I don’t know how he knew I needed help, he just did!
    On numerous occasions, he would put his big, shaggy body between me and what he perceived as danger, and there would be no way around him. Whether it was a doberman pincher, a cow, or a furnace repairman, they would have had to go through him to get to me, all the while showing no aggression, unless the danger approached me. Then all bets were off!

    One time, we had put the trash out, the trashmen had come, and I went out to bring in the can, bringing Laddie with me. As I was walking back to the garage with the can, my foot twisted in a hole in the grass, and I fell down hard. Lad stood right over me, barking like crazy. Mama was down, and he wanted the world to know! I had to push him off of me so that I could get up, all the while laughing at my big, brave dog.

    We had a fireplace, and no children were allowed to go near it, even if it meant he brought them to the ground. They were not getting near the fireplace!

    After we had our own baby, he protected her as he would a little lamb. He made several people nervous when they came to the house to see the new baby, as his eyes never left them. He was not a jumper, but he jumped on one lady who approached the bassinet, then looked at me like, “Mom, how could you let this happen?” I used to prop up our daughter on the couch every week when she was little to take a photo of her. Laddie would always lay on the floor in front of her until I would pick her up again. If she was going to fall, he wanted it to be his soft body she would land on!

    I could tell so many more stories of the everyday things he did to make life easier for us. He was the collie I dreamed of all my life, and he did not disappoint.