There are several different groups that rank or rate dogs based on intelligence, however specifically how these rankings or ratings are determined is not always clear. In some of the rankings it is done by owner survey, which isn't always all that accurate but it is a definite poll of the more popular breeds. Ranking by training and number of repetitions of a command for mastery is another option, however some breeds are not tested or perhaps there was a non-compliant dog used in the testing.
Generally intelligence rankings in dogs are interesting to look at but are not necessarily the most accurate measure of how smart or how well trained a dog can be. The amount of time an owner is prepared to spend with the dog is much more important, plus sometimes a very intelligent dog is a lot more work than a more average intelligence type of breed. A good example of that is the Bloodhound, which tends to rank close to the bottom on most of the major AKC breed rankings for intelligence. If you are looking only at how fast a dog learns to sit or heel, then the Bloodhound doesn't look that intelligent compared to the Golden Retriever. If, however, you wanted to train a dog to track a murderer from a crime scene across a city or through the countryside, then the Bloodhound is likely to be number one on your intelligence list.
With that being said, there are several breeds that consistently are ranked as the top ten most intelligent breeds. The following dogs, not in any particular order, are generally found in the top ten on any list, regardless of where it is compiled.
Border Collie - a medium sized dog, the Border Collie is very intelligent, a lightening fast learner but also a very determined and resourceful dog. They do need to be active and engaged in routine "work" for their owners on a daily basis to be happy. The Border Collie will typically display herding behavior from an early age an will herd almost anything that moves. They may be prone to nipping at heels in an attempt to herd people and this behavior has to be curbed very quickly.
Australian Cattle Dog - sometimes known as Australian Heelers, Queensland or Blue Heelers, this dog is similar to the Border Collie in temperament and behaviors. Like all herding breeds the Australian Cattle Dog does best with lots of room to run, although it prefers to be around people than on its own. The ACD often bonds very closely with its family and can be highly affectionate with people it knows but a fierce watchdog with people it doesn't. The ACD needs routine and regular socialization and some can be rather dog aggressive and territorial without proper training and work.
Papillon - a small sized dog with huge, fringed ears that resemble butterfly wings, this dog is ideal for families. They are naturally very friendly and engaging and love to be around their families. Although highly intelligent they are also a good dog for new dog owners as they are not dominant in personality and are easy to train and housetrain compared to most of the other small breeds. Their beautiful single coat of long to medium length fine hair is white with patches of any other color. Papillons are great apartment dogs but need routine longer walks and exercise times throughout the day.
Golden Retrievers - a very calm, noble and loyal dog the Golden Retriever is best known for its long, wavy gold colored coat and beautifully plumed tail. These dogs are very smart and often have an ability to respond to human emotion almost as another person would. They are very affectionate and have a very high level of patience with children and really enjoy being around kids. They are acceptable watch dogs although some are so friendly that they rarely bark. The Golden Retriever needs room to exercise in a fenced yard, but they can adjust to apartment life with lots of outdoor exercise time per day. Golden retrievers can be used as hunting dogs but also make outstanding guide dogs and assistance dogs.
Poodles - most people think of Poodles when they think of dogs that know how to perform tricks and commands. Poodles, especially the Standard Poodles, were historically used in circuses throughout Europe. Miniature and toy poodles have long been the dogs of choice for European royalty, especially in the last few centuries. Poodles are very attuned to humans and need a lot of human companionship and interaction to be happy. They are not a good breed for a family that is rarely home or people that cannot commit to spending a significant amount of time with their dog.
Rottweilers - although they do have a bad reputation, the Rottweiler breed is highly intelligent and not an aggressive dog by nature. Thankfully breeders have worked very diligently to put some bad press behind them and have reintroduced the well developed and well rounded Rottweiler as a good protector and all round obedience dog. Rottweilers are used as military and police dogs in Europe as well as in the United States, which only shows how intelligent and adaptable these dogs can be.
Shetland Sheepdog - another of the herding breeds, the Shetland Sheepdog looks like a miniature Scotch Collie. They are very elegant and refined dogs that still love a good romp and to be active and engaged with the humans in their life. These dogs, like many of the other dogs on this list, are reported to be very attuned to human emotions and seem to comprehend a great deal of conversation. They are ideal for obedience and agility work and while they do require more in the way of grooming than some of the short haired breeds they are a terrific family dog.
Labrador Retrievers - a large sporting type of dog the Lab is always one of the top most popular breeds in America. They are a good all purpose dog that can adapt to many different roles within the family. Although a big dog they are a house dog at heart and love to be indoors and around people, tolerating and enjoying time to run and romp outside as well. They do best with a large yard or open space and are not ideally suited for apartment living due to their energy levels, especially when they are young. As a family pet they love kids and seem to have endless patience when it comes to interacting with children of all ages.
Doberman Pinchers - like the Rottweiler, the Doberman has a history of being seen as an aggressive and unpredictable dog. Breeding in the last 30 years has corrected this problem that was largely due to breeding for a smaller skull, leading to neurological problems. The modern Doberman is a muscular and highly intelligent dog that possess great stamina and strength. They are loyal and loving family dogs and highly protective of their homes and their families. The short coat of the Doberman is a good match for many families that don't want to deal with long haired breeds but still want a great companion pet.
German Shepherd Dogs - Another favorite popular breed in the United States as well as Canada, the United Kingdom and Europe is the German Shepherd Dog. These dogs are intelligent, loyal, calm and almost regal in their demeanor, yet they love to romp and play and just have fun. They have natural abilities as agility dogs as well as herding and protection dogs. The GSD has been a staple as a search and rescue dog, police and military dog as well as an assistance and guide dog. They can be somewhat dog aggressive and territorial and require proper and early socialization and training.