English Bulldogs are friendly dogs with a calm demeanor yet a courageous personality. However, it may be their goofy smiles and carefree attitude that give them the appearance of an unintelligent dog. But are they smarter than we give them credit for?
English Bulldogs are not very smart dogs, according to canine psychologist, Stanley Coren. In fact, they’re ranked the 136th smartest breed for “obedience & working intelligence.” But obedience isn’t everything. Bulldogs are great at learning for themselves – without depending on their owners. In reality, they’re unfairly labeled as “dumb dogs.”
There’s more to dog IQ than just obedience training and work ethic. Bulldogs are a great example of how intelligent dogs are often misunderstood and branded as low IQ dogs. With that said, let’s dive into what actually makes Bulldogs smart.
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How We Measure a Bulldog’s Intelligence
Bulldogs are some of the least intelligent dog breeds according to the “experts.” And although we don’t really agree with their research methods, it’s important to understand how they came to their conclusion, and learn the criteria they used for measuring intelligence.
The infamous smartest dog breeds list is largely credited to pHD, canine psychologist and researcher, Dr. Stanley Coren. In his intelligence trials, he measured just one aspect of dog intelligence, which he called “obedience and working intelligence.”
This type of intelligence essentially measures how fast a dog learns commands and how well they are able to retain their training. And while it’s not the best measure of dog intelligence, it’s the easiest to objectively measure.
Coren’s Dog Intelligence Criteria
It’s worth noting that Coren had help. He reached out to 199 obedience trial judges from North America to not only evaluate, but also rank dog breeds based on his developed criteria. With this data, Coren had published his infamous book and list of the most intelligent dogs.
His criteria was as follows:
- The number of repetitions needed for a dog breed to learn a new command. Dogs that required fewer repetitions were considered more intelligent.
- The success rate that a dog will obey a known command on the first attempt. Those with a higher success rate ranked higher on Coren’s list.
There are a few inherent flaws to point out. First of all, not every dog breed participated in Coren’s trials. Only dog breeds recognized by the American Kennel Club and/or CKC participated. But of course, the English Bulldog is recognized by both.
Among the participants, only dog breeds that received at least 100 evaluations qualified for Coren’s list of smartest dog breed rankings. This meant that rarer dog breeds that didn’t reach 100 evaluations were left out of the final rankings. However, this wasn’t a problem for the popular Bulldog.
How the Bulldog Performed
As you may already know, the Bulldog performed extremely poor during Coren’s intelligence trials. In fact, only two dog breeds performed worse – the Afghan Hound and Basenji. This meant that Bulldogs came in as the 136th most intelligent breed out of 138 breeds.
Consequently, Bulldogs were put in the lowest degree of intelligence group with 10 other dog breeds. For reference, the Mastiff, Beagle, Shih Tzu, Pekingese, Chow Chow and Bloodhound are also in this group. In reality, it’s not a bad group of company to be with.
But what exactly does this mean for the Bulldog? Dog breeds in this intelligence group need at least 80 repetitions to learn a new unknown command. Typically, a Bulldog may require between 80 and 100 repetitions. This means that it could take an entire day to teach a Bulldog a command.
However, Bulldogs may not be the most obedient dogs either. According to Coren’s trials, Bulldogs are able to obey a known command on the first try with a 25% or lower success rate. This may seem low, but it could be for a few reasons which we’ll explain later.
Bulldogs vs. The Smartest Dogs
Bulldogs aren’t the brightest when measuring obedience and working intelligence. Now that we know Bulldogs are some of the “least intelligent,” how do they compare to some of the smartest dog breeds in the world?
On the other side of the spectrum, you have not only the smartest, but also the most popular breeds. For example, these dogs are the German Shepherds, Golden Retrievers, Rottweilers, Labradors, Poodles and Doberman Pinschers.
So how well did these smart dogs do? These dog breeds needed fewer than 5 repetitions to learn a new command! That makes them at least 16 times faster at learning commands than the Bulldog. It may only them a few minutes to learn a basic command.
What’s arguably more impressive is their obedience. These dogs will obey a known command on the first try with a 95% or better success rate! They’re undeniably smart and highly obedient, at least according to Stanley Coren’s standards.
Why Bulldogs Rank Low for Dog Intelligence
The current smartest dog breeds list is not perfect. Rather, it’s based on flawed logic and tests. It’s very difficult to standardize a dog intelligence test. So while obedience and working intelligence is a great place to start, it doesn’t tell the full story of true dog intelligence.
But because it’s the easiest type of canine intelligence to objectively measure, Stanley Coren went with that. In the end, Coren’s dog intelligence ranking is essentially based on an obedience test. Even so, why did Bulldogs perform so poorly during Coren’s trials?
Stubbornness is Not Low Intelligence
Make no mistake, English Bulldogs are very stubborn dogs. In fact, I Heart Dogs ranked them the 2nd most stubborn dog breeds. Most Bully owners will tell you the same thing. But how did stubbornness lead to poor results in Coren’s intelligence trials?
I mean – wouldn’t it make sense that a stubborn dog performed poorly on an obedience test? Stubborn dogs tend to do whatever they want. If they’re simply not feeling like doing obedience training, they’ll just do their own thing.
In fact, other low-performing dog breeds are notoriously stubborn too. It’s no coincidence that the worst performing dogs happen to be the most stubborn. And just because your Bulldog does not obey you, does not mean the dog did not understand you. Keep that in mind.
One Bulldog owner describes her stubborn dog, saying:
Bulldogs are the most stubborn dogs. I was actually worried my bully was deaf because he doesn’t even look at me while yelling his name. Open a wrapper across the house and he’ll come running.
Bulldogs know what you want and what you’re asking. It’s just that they won’t always do your bidding for the sake of it. Other Bulldog owners have suggested using treats. “With a treat, they’ll do anything,” said one owner. It’s all about finding your Bulldog’s motivator.
Strong-willed & Independent Bulldogs
English Bulldogs are known for being strong-willed and independent-minded dogs. They aren’t a dog that’ll easily bend over backwards for the owner. Hence, why they probably failed the obedience part of the test.
However, that doesn’t mean they aren’t affectionate and loving dogs. They just know what they want and are determined to stick with their plan no matter what you (the owner) may say.
If a Bulldog didn’t want to do obedience training in that very moment, you can expect them to show little interest despite the judges’ best effort. And given the fact that a stranger gave the commands during the trials, I would actually be surprised if the Bulldog did obey.
Plus, it’s unlikely the judges bribed these dogs with treats during Coren’s trials. With that said, it’s not at all surprising that a Bulldog would perform so poorly.
2 Reasons Why Bulldogs Are Actually Smart
There are a number of reasons why English Bulldogs are smarter than most people give them credit for. Where they lack in obedience & working intelligence, they excel in other areas and dimensions of dog intelligence.
According to Coren, there are three dimensions of canine intelligence. The other two being instinctive and adaptive intelligence. Both of which, are just as important (if not more).
There is a problem with these two other types of intelligence. Both components of dog IQ are much more difficult to objectively measure. However, we have plenty of anecdotal evidence that suggest Bulldogs tend to score high in these two areas of intelligence.
1. The “bull-baiting intelligence” in Bulldogs
Instinctive intelligence is the dog’s innate ability or natural skill. It’s what the dog was developed to do. Nearly all dog breeds, including Bulldogs, were initially bred for a specific task, job or role. There are the retrievers, herders, guard dogs, and so much more.
For example, the Australian Shepherd was bred to herd livestock. The fact that they’re able of rounding up and driving livestock is an incredible skill. Understanding where to position themself to force flocks to move in a direction is not easy.
What’s even more amazing is that they guide sheep with little to no human training! This in itself, is a special type of smarts: instinctive intelligence.
Similarly, Bulldogs were bred for the bloodsport that is, bull-baiting. In the past, it was truly a terrible sport in which Bulldogs would taunt the bulls until they became too tired. In addition, spectators would bet on the bully that could last the longest in the pit.
Despite the dark history of the sport, Bulldogs were some of the best bull-baiting dogs in the world. No matter how sad and unfortunate, this is their instinctive intelligence.
But how is this a type of intelligence? In the bull baiting ring, there is very little room for error. One swipe or kick and the Bulldog could be in a lot of trouble. Knowing how to dodge fatal attacks and timing the pin-down of the bull is all a special intelligence found in Bulldogs.
2. The Bulldog’s high adaptive intelligence
On the other hand, adaptive intelligence refers to a dog’s ability to learn for itself. This can refer to a dog that’s great at problem solving or capable of learning from previous mistakes and experiences.
For instance, old Bulldogs that participated in bull-baiting needed to quickly learn how bulls attack and swing at the bulls. These Bulldogs had to adapt to the situation in the pit, as it was literally a matter of life and death.
In the end, Bulldogs became great at reading and anticipating the bulls’ actions. And again, the ability to learn from past mistakes and experiences is a clear sign of adaptive intelligence in dogs.
And while instinctive intelligence is about the same for all individual dogs, adaptive intelligence will vary quite a bit among dogs of the same breed. It may seem that most Bulldogs have high adaptive IQ, but it’s not a guarantee.
The good news is that Bulldogs are known to show high adaptive intelligence through their actions. No, there isn’t a “scientific” method of measuring this. We just have some great stories from real Bulldog owners that support our argument.
One Bulldog owner tells us a story:
So I put a piece of meat on a plate on the floor. Braddock (Bulldog) wanted it. I said, “We’re going out, but I don’t want you to touch that piece of meat, OK?” Braddock knew none of those words. Then we circled around the block and Braddock was sitting on the sofa and the meat was untouched.
Even though this Bulldog didn’t know any of the words his owner just said, he was still able to understand their intentions and “obey.” This could be from observing his owner and learning from past actions and consequences. Either way, it’s a clear example of high adaptive intelligence!
Another owner tells us,
When my Bully is having one of those lazy days, he never wants to move. But as soon as I open the cabinet that holds his treats, he starts sprinting towards me.
Very quickly, his Bulldog associated the sound produced from opening the cabinet door with the fact that there are delicious treats coming. Once again, learning from the past is a definite sign of high adaptive intelligence.
These are just a couple stories of high adaptability and intelligence with Bulldogs. If you ask any owner, I’m certain you’ll find a lot of great stories just like these!
Is Your Bulldog Smart?
In our opinion, the best way to gauge the Bulldog’s true intelligence is by asking the owners themselves. The people that spend the most time with these dogs will generally have the most insightful feedback.
With that said, we surveyed the popular Bulldog Subreddit and dog forums to ask real Bulldog owners this question. Here’s what they had to say about their Bulldogs.
Real Owner Answers:
1. P1ggy says Yes: “One misconception is that English Bulldogs rank near the bottom on the smarts chart. We found this to be completely untrue. In fact, we believe they are all just stubborn, and they are smart enough to choose what to be stubborn about.“
2. Bullys_man says Yes: “Thinking that Bulldogs are dumb dogs is a huge mistake. They are much starter than most dogs, they just choose to do what they want.“
3. Nastshabast says Yes: “My English Bulldog, Sumo, maybe doesn’t understand the words, but he gets the meaning. They’re quite smart dogs.“
4. Buddin3 says Yes: “Stubborn is an understatement. They are very smart and bullheaded, but one of the most loyal dogs and a lot of fun.“
5. Denzitymatter says Yes: “I’ve owned all kinds of dogs, even those that are allegedly the smartest. My Bulldog was the best at communicating and understood situations very well. Obedience is another thing.“
6. Chasmosaur says Yes: “Bulldogs definitely get a rep as being stupid dogs, but it’s just not true. As stubborn as a mule, sure, but not stupid.”
7. Twelvetwentyseven says No: “She isn’t the smartest dog, but she is so sweet. All she wants is pets and treats.“
8. Systemsrdown says Yes: “Bulldogs are great at understanding what you mean, but they are perceived as dumb because they don’t always do what you want. It’s unfair and wrong…Bulldogs are SMART!”
9. Chasmosaur says Yes: “Bulldogs are not stupid dogs. They are stubborn dogs. World of difference 🙂 And just a warning, the stubborn increases as they age.”
10. Ootagoo says Yes: “It really is amazing how smart Bulldogs can be. You just have to be patient and get them over the stubborn laziness.”
Is the Bulldog For Me?
Bulldogs are great family dogs that’ll mesh with a wide variety of owners. They’re loving, courageous and enjoy having fun with their favorite humans. They will have their moments and you’ll instantly fall in love in no time!
But are Bulldogs for you? It’s important that you don’t pick a dog breed based on how intelligent they are. Instead, pick one based on their temperament and personality, especially if you’re just looking for a family dog and/or dog companion.
All dog breeds, including Bulldogs, are smart enough for what most people need. Different dogs just have different motivators. While some owners have great success with using food as a motivator, you still need to test it out with your dog.
If you can provide the basic necessities for a Bulldog, then you should absolutely bring one home! These lovable dogs are consistently in the top 5 most popular dogs list for a reason! You will never have a dull moment with an English Bulldog!
Do you have a Bulldog? Tell us whether you think your dog is intelligent or not? Let us know in the comments section below!
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Thursday 4th of May 2023
I've had various breeds of dogs, Boxers, Shih-Tzus, Bostons, Pomeranian, Basset Hound, French Bulldog, and without a doubt the smartest dog I have ever had was our first English Bulldog, he could learn a trick usually after one or two times/commands, he was almost human, we even got him to talk a little!! he wasn't stubborn at all. And a Boxer I had was very smart also. And I had a Shih-Tzu who was highly intelligent. the Pomeranian, and Basset Hound were both very hard to teach anything as was the French Bulldog which is supposed to be intelligent. My true feelings are you can't just categorize all of one breed as one way or another. the English Bulldog that we have now, is smart as well but it's usually on his terms and what kind of mood he's in at the time nothing like the first Bulldog. I've also had Boxers that were very hard to train, the complete opposite of the one I had that was so easy. In the end i think they are all individuals with separate personalities and traits and degrees of intelligence.
Wednesday 2nd of February 2022
We got our male English Bulldog about a month ago. I showed him the sit command once, and he understood. I even called the breeder to ask if he or his kids had been showing him that command. The answer was NO! He’s definitely motivated by food, as I imagine most are. That aside, he’s been demonstrating high intelligence, noted by not just myself, but also my husband. He is very sweet, a little bit dramatic, and somewhat of a wuss! His drama antics are the best!
Friday 4th of June 2021
I visited friends and my bulldog played with their dog for hours. A couple of weeks later when I visited them again, as soon as I turned off the highway, he started to get excited. He had never been down that road before then but knew where we were going.
Thursday 22nd of April 2021
I have a 6 year old tried color boy named Bruno. He is smart as a whip and this was apparent from the time I got him home. He was 12 weeks old and I had just gotten him and was having some family over to meet him. All of a sudden I hear a bark (which is rare) and I turn to see a defiant puppy staring at me next to his empty water dish. He has been trained and knows several commands. What's funny is that he hates laying down so I will have him sit and shake then I say lay down he goes down halfway completely ready to spring up and grab the treat. I say "down all the way and get starts to whimper and get frustrated but ultimately the lure of the treat is too much. I get the story of leaving the steak on the floor. My boy knows what I am saying most of the time. Bulldogs love playing psychological games and testing you. His weak spot besides food is his little sister a 3 year old Boston terrier. He loves her and it's fine when he plays and cuddles with her but if I am giving her attention and not him he doesn't like it. At first he would try to push himself between us so I would start petting him but then realized I did not fall for this. Then he changed his method. Now he will come over with a toy or start a wrestling match with her. He's so funny! Arrogant as a king and stubborn as a mule but with a great sense of humor. These awesome dogs are definitely NOT dumb
Saturday 6th of February 2021
My British Bulldog Piper is not typically food orientated and can be stubborn as well. As a pup, I didn't want her scratching the door to be let out. I attached a bell low on the door frame and instead of using treats, we simply rang the bell with our foot before opening the door. Same if I took her out to potty, I rang the bell first. She learned within days we will instantly respond to let her out. Not only that she worked out that by ringing the bell we will respond so she rings it if she is hungry, or feels ignored and even rings it hard to let us know she is mad at us. So..she was smart enough to train us instead!