Dog Training Smartest Dogs

Are Boston Terriers Smart? Here’s Why They’re Actually Intelligent Dogs

Are Boston Terriers smart dogs? How smart are these dogs?
Written by Richard Jeng

The Boston Terrier is not your typical terrier. In fact, they’re not even in the terrier group. What makes them different is their friendly and cheerful personalities. But as a potential owner, you may wonder: are Boston Terriers smart? How smart are Boston Terriers?

Boston Terriers are tied for the 100th smartest dog (out of 138 qualifying breeds) when it comes to obedience/working intelligence. According to canine psychologist Stanley Coren, this places them in the “average intelligent” category. However, Boston Terriers excel in adaptive dog intelligence.

Despite their relatively low intelligence ranking, Boston Terriers are by no means dumb dogs. We’ll examine why they ranked so low and reasons why they’re actually smart terriers.

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Measuring a Boston Terrier’s Intelligence

We measure a Boston Terriers intelligence by their obedience.

So, how did experts conclude that Boston Terriers have average intelligence? The research and trials that ultimately led to the list of smartest dogs can be credited to Stanley Coren, a pHD and canine psychologist from the University of British Columbia.

With the help of 199 obedience trial judges from the American and Canadian Kennel Club, Coren was able to collect enough data to rank dog breeds by working/obedience intelligence.

Coren’s Dog Intelligence Criteria

Based on the criteria that Coren had formulated, the obedience trial judges evaluated and ranked as many dog breeds as they could find. The criteria that the judges followed was the following:

  1. The number of repetitions needed for the dog breed to learn a new command. The less repetitions needed to learn a command, the “smarter” the dog was.
  2. The rate at which a dog breed will obey a known command on the first try. The higher the success rate, the smarter and more obedient the dog breed was.

Coren received a huge response – much larger than he had expected. Still, he wasn’t able to include every dog in his final rankings. Only dog breeds that received at least 100 responses were qualified for his list. Fortunately, the Boston Terrier made the cut.

Additionally, only dog breeds recognized by the AKC and CKC participated in the trials. Some popular breeds, such as the American Pit Bull Terrier, didn’t participate.

How the Boston Terrier Performed

The Boston Terrier didn’t perform terrible – just “average.” There’s nothing wrong with average, as some of the most popular dog breeds are in the same intelligence class.

For reference: Australian Shepherds, Siberian Huskies, Great Danes, Greyhounds, Dachshunds and the Shiba Inu are all average intelligent dogs.

Being average meant that the Boston Terrier was able to learn a brand new command with 25 to 40 repetitions. It may take a day to learn a new command. Even less, if it’s a simple command.

On the other hand, Boston Terriers were capable of obeying a known command on the first attempt 50% (or more) of the time. Not too bad considering the success rate is for the first try.

Boston Terriers vs. “Smartest Dogs”

According to Stanley Coren, the smartest dogs are the top 10. They’re in a dog intelligence class of their own. Impressive, but how do they compare to Boston Terriers?

The most intelligent breeds are able to learn a new command with 5 repetitions or less! For simple commands, you’d be able to teach your dog in a few minutes.

What’s even more impressive is that these breeds are capable of obeying a known command (on the first try) with a 95% or better success rate. They’re some of the most obedient pets/animals in the world.

Just for reference, the top 10 smartest dogs are your Rottweilers, German Shepherds, Poodles, Labradors, Golden Retrievers and Dobermans. Coincidentally, they’re some of the most popular dog breeds too.

Owners: Is Your Boston Terrier Smart?

Is your Boston Terrier smart? We asked real owners.

We believe the best way to answer this question is by asking the owners of Boston Terriers themselves. As a result, we surveyed the popular Boston Terrier Subreddit for responses to this question. Here’s what they had to say:

1. Biddleswife says YES: “They are great dogs, they require time and patience just as any dog would as far as training goes. They are very very smart, they are just sometimes a bit stubborn with potty training.”

2. Lancasterman2 says YES: “Boston Terriers are some of the smartest dogs i’ve owned….they’re just not as obedient as other breeds. If you’re looking for biddable dog, look elsewhere.”

3. Evilangel217 says YES: “We had a Boston who unfortunately passed a few years back of old age. He was very intelligent and learned really quickly.”

4. Inclusivefitness says YES: “They are very sensitive and very smart. I have a Boston and a bulldog mix. The Boston is clever and will get into things, but you can’t use a loud voice with him, the bulldog is dumb as a brick and you need to be firm with her.”

5. Instntnoodlez88 says NO: “My Boston Terrier is not smart at all. He’s adorable, entertaining and affectionate but is not the brightest when it comes to canine problem solving.”

6. Ninjashira says MIXED: “I swear, Bostons are always either the smartest dogs I’ve ever met, or dumber than a box of rocks. But they are always super sweet and cuddly and goofy!”

7. Woot26 says YES: “I love our Boston because the shedding is at a minimum, the size/energy level is great for city living and she is very smart.”

Why Boston Terriers Rank Low For Intelligence

It requires patience and consistency to teach a Boston Terrier to be quiet.

As mentioned, Boston Terriers are barely in the top 100 for most intelligent dogs. Why then, do so many owners claim to have a smart Boston Terrier?

The problem with Coren’s dog intelligence rankings is that it’s based on just one dimension of dog IQ, that is obedience / working intelligence.

Although we think there’s certainly a correlation between how quickly dogs learn commands and intelligence, it doesn’t tell the full story. Just because your Boston Terrier doesn’t obey you doesn’t mean he doesn’t understand you.

With that said, Boston Terriers are very stubborn dogs. They’ll go on their stubborn streaks and require a lot of patience with obedience training.

One owner tells us, “Frankie (my Boston) will pick and choose when to obey my commands. I know he fully understands what I’m saying because he’s done it plenty of times. Now when I have treats, it’s a different story.

Because of the stubborn nature of the Boston Terrier, is it really that surprising that they ranked so low for obedience and working intelligence?

Stubborn Potty Puppies

Boston Terriers are notoriously difficult to housebreak. Nearly any owner you ask will tell you the same thing. It’s all part of their stubborn personalities.

One owner says, “They are incredibly loving and cuddly and smart. But they’re also notoriously hard to potty train.”

Another owner tells us, “Piper (Boston Terrier) is VERY stubborn and refuses to go potty outside when she does not want to. We even got her coats and sweaters for when it is colder outside.” 

She adds, “My fiancé will spend the good part of 30 minutes outside with her to make her poop.

However, there are ways you can help your Boston Terrier with potty training. For example, i’d highly recommend getting a dog crate for crate training.

By nature, dogs will not soil where they sleep. By keeping them in a crate for periods throughout the day, you’ll be able to give them “bathroom breaks” on the potty pads or outside. It’s the best way to housebreak your Boston Terrier.

There’s no doubt, the Midwest Homes iCrate is the best dog crate you can get. 

Get the 24 inch with double doors for your Boston Terrier. It comes with the best features like: divider panels, removable tray, double doors, collapsible design and more. Check it out at Amazon.

Why Boston Terriers Are Smart Dogs

Because of high adaptive intelligence, we believe that Boston Terriers are much smarter than everyone thinks.

Boston Terriers are actually much more intelligent that people think. As discussed, the rankings covered just obedience and working intelligence. However, the other two dimensions of dog IQ are adaptive and instinctive intelligence.

Boston Terrier’s Instinctive Intelligence

Instinctive intelligence refers to the innate ability or skill that was bred into the dog. For example, Australian Shepherds were bred to be herding dogs.

Australian Shepherds are born with the instincts to herd without further human intervention and/or training. The ability to round up livestock, organize them and direct them towards a direction requires instinctive intelligence.

Boston Terriers aren’t your typical terriers. As a matter of fact, they aren’t like many dog breeds that were bred for a specific job or skill in mind.

Boston Terriers were originally bred to be scrappy fighters. However, they’re mainly bred to be companions and show dogs today.

Though these dogs may not have great instinctive intelligence, they excel in adaptive intelligence.

Boston Terrier’s Adaptive Intelligence

The final dimension of canine intelligence is adaptive intelligence. This refers to the ability of the dog to learn for itself – through past experiences and the environment.

Generally, dogs that are great at problem solving and have a good understanding of the situation / environment have high adaptive intelligence.

It’s worth noting that individual dogs of a breed can vary quite a bit in adaptive intelligence depending on genes and other factors. On the flip side, individual dogs of a breed have roughly the same instinctive intelligence.

However, it’s been well documented that Boston Terriers have high adaptive intelligence.

For example, one owner tells us, “my Boston is so incredibly smart! I feel like she knows exactly where were going when we head out the door.

She continues by saying, “depending on what I bring out with me, she knows if were going to go for a walk. Even if I just put on some sun screen or sunglasses.”

This is just one example of adaptive intelligence in Boston Terriers. There are so many examples and, if you asked an owner, you’d probably hear similar stories too!

It’s important that you don’t bring home a Boston Terrier or any dog based on how intelligent they are (according to the experts). Instead, find a dog breed that matches you and your personality! Fortunately, Boston Terriers are great in nearly any situation!

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About the author

Richard Jeng

Richard has been raising dogs his whole life, including a Poodle, Pomeranian, Corgi and Australian Shepherd. He's always working with animal shelters and dog rescues because of his passion for all dogs. Fun fact: his all time favorite breed is the German Shepherd. Read More.

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