Mr. Peabody: I must point out, Ms. Grunion, that I won the right to adopt Sherman in a court of law!
When you make a work about a boy and his dog, should you:
A. Go with the original route by making the boy smarter than the dog or,
B. Add an unconventional twist by making the dog smarter than the boy?
If you chose B, then you have this trope.
This trope is flexible and therefore this does not mean the less intelligent one has to be an actual human. There are duos where both the hero and the sidekick are animals (e.g. SpongeBob and Gary), and some duos where the "human" isn't the animal's owner. (e.g. Bernie is Corneil's "dog-sitter".)
The human does not always necessarily have to be "dumb", but the animal must be smarter in comparison to the human. The animal will often be a Hyper-Competent Sidekick to the human.
Important note: "Smart Animal" does not mean "Talking Animal", because an animal can still be smart without talking, and talking animals can also be silly and incompetent.
- Sabrina the Teenage Witch features Sabrina, an average witch girl who is perky and well-meaning and her snarky but wise cat Salem.
- Calvin and Hobbes: Calvin is a reckless six-year-old boy, while his stuffed toy tiger Hobbes is more mature and has more common sense.
- Garfield the cat and his owner Jon Arbuckle. Garfield is a snarky and clever cat while Jon is a bumbling average human.
- Peanuts features the unlucky boy Charlie Brown and his intelligent pet beagle Snoopy.
- In Bolt, we have Penny, the average child actress, and her intelligent (if misguided) dog Bolt who traveled from New York to Hollywood to get back to her.
- Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius and his robotic dog, Goddard in both the series and movie. Played With because although Jimmy is a genius and built Goddard, Jimmy is only a kid and can make foolish decisions sometimes. Goddard is wise and is usually the voice of reason to Jimmy by giving him suggestions on what he should do and feels ashamed when Jimmy makes bad decisions.
- In Ratatouille, we have the clumsy and incompetent human Linguini and his intelligent and professional chef rat Rémy who controls Linguini's movements.
- In Tangled, we have Flynn Rider, a human thief and his (unwilling) partner Maximus, who is an intelligent and extremely competent horse.
- Dragon and Slipper has the Idiot Hero Lancelot paired up with his smart, Deadpan Snarker Sapient Steed Oliver.
- Inverted in an old joke about a man playing poker with his dog. A passerby is amazed at the dog's intelligence, but the owner tells him the dog isn't that smart; he always wags his tail when he's got good cards.
- A similar joke has the owner and dog playing chess. The owner tells the passerby that the dog hardly ever wins.
- Dave Barry repeatedly mentions that the smartest character on Lassie is the dog, as the family is forever getting themselves stuck in deadly situations that Lassie needs to fetch the rest of the family to get out of. And even then, Lassie needs to bark for ten minutes before they finally get the message despite this happening every week. He believes Lassie has to do their income taxes as well.
- Hudson and Rex: Hudson is no mental slouch, but it's clear that Rex is much smarter.
- The Paper Mario games usually have one wise and all-knowing creature that teams up with the human Mario.
- Pokémon practically feeds off of this trope where average humans train their pets, or "Pokémon", to become stronger and smarter with each battle. Their intelligence could even surpass that of humans.
- Wild ARMs 1 has this dynamic with Jack and Hanpan, his Wind Mouse companion. This is established in Jack's very first dungeon when Hanpan is shown to be the voice of reason, takes a detour to escape a rolling boulder while Jack keeps running. At the end of the level, Jack even admits Hanpan is the brains of the two.
- Seth MacFarlane pitched the concept cartoon "Larry and Steve," which centers on the human Larry, a hopeless moron, paired with Steve, a highly intelligent dog, whose barking only Larry can understand. These two would evolve into Peter Griffin and Brian of Family Guy.
- Family Guy features Brian Griffin, the Deadpan Snarker and Only Sane Man who happens to be the family pet dog of the Griffin family. He is far more intelligent than the others in the family and the only one who competes with his intelligence is Stewie, the youngest boy in the family. But, Brian and Stewie leave this trope Zig-Zagged. While Brian and Stewie are very intelligent for their age (and species for that matter), there are some differences between when they are paired up. Stewie is highly intellectual and can build many scientific inventions like time machines while Brian is a cynical but wise atheist who just loves to talk about what is wrong with the world to anybody. However, because Stewie is only a baby, he has a lot to learn about the world around him while Brian has lived much longer and has much more experience with the world than Stewie does and helps Stewie grow. In layman's terms, Stewie is smarter but more naive than Brian, however, Brian is dumber but wiser than Stewie. At best, their duo is "Wise Animal, Smart Human".
- In Inspector Gadget, the bumbling and reckless Gadget is kept out of trouble/accidentally solves cases thanks to the help of his niece, Penny, and super-intelligent dog, Brain.
- Krypto the Superdog is a super-powered and intelligent dog from the planet Krypton who befriends a young boy named Kevin. Same goes for Kevin's neighbor, Andrea, and her super-powered cat, (but not as intelligent as Krypto), Streaky.
- Llan-ar-goll-en has Prys ar Frys, and his much more smart dog, Ceri.
- Mr. Peabody, the Trope Codifier, is a brilliant time-travelling dog who travels with his loyal pet boy Sherman from the Peabody's Improbable History segments from Rocky and Bullwinkle.
- Oscar's Oasis: Manolo, the one human character in the series, is nearly always asleep at the wheel while his dog Roco drives his truck with an elaborate system of pulleys.
- Rugrats, features Tommy Pickles and his pet dog, Spike. While Spike may be an average dog, in Rugrats Go Wild!, Eliza is able to speak to him and he can talk back to her and it is revealed that he is quite a smart but reckless dog. Justified because Tommy is only a baby but even by All Grown Up!, Spike is still quite clever.
- SpongeBob SquarePants and his pet snail Gary. While not human, sea creatures that walk upright are considered the "humans" of the show while feral creatures like clams, worms, and snails are considered "animals" that can be domesticated into pets. Gary is shown to be intelligent and wise compared to his goofy and eccentric owner, SpongeBob. Gary even has dreams where he owns an enormous library and has a tall, humanoid body, with his shell and face as his head.
- Teacher's Pet has Spot, the intelligent talking blue dog and his owner Leonard.
- Wallace & Gromit: Wallace is a Bungling Inventor whose inventions often go awry, and it's up to his dog with common sense, Gromit, to clean up the mess. A poster for The Curse of the Were-Rabbit probably sums it up best; it has Wallace with the caption "master", while Gromit has the caption "mind".
- Wander over Yonder features Wander, a goofy and optimistic humanoid Cartoon Creature with his faithful and no-nonsense steed Slyvia.
- Watch My Chops features the intelligent talking dog Corneil and his Book Dumb but competent dog-sitter Bernie.