The French Bulldog, also known as the “Frenchie,” has made headlines in 2023 for being America’s most popular dog. They’re affectionate, playful, adaptable and overall, a well-tempered dog. However, owners may wonder if they’re actually intelligent.
French Bulldogs are the 109th smartest dog breed for “obedience & working intelligence.” The low ranking is likely due to their stubborn nature. But what actually makes them intelligent is their ability to read, understand, and communicate emotions. So while Frenchies may not be great at learning commands, they have some of the highest adaptive intelligence in dogs.
Frenchies aren’t the type to blindly do your bidding for the sake of doing it. In reality, they’re smarter than people make them out to be. Continue reading to learn why they’re ranked low for dog intelligence and what actually makes them smart dogs.
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Measuring a French Bulldog’s Intelligence
Nearly all owners that learn the Frenchie’s low canine intelligence ranking are initially shocked. I’ll admit, the method used to measure a dog’s intelligence is flawed. However, we must first understand how they came up with this ranking of smart dogs.
The term “obedience and working intelligence” was coined by canine psychologist, Stanley Coren. This aspect of dog intelligence is a measurement of how quickly a dog learns commands, in addition to their ability to retain their training.
Critics point out that this is essentially an obedience test. And, it is. Though not the best measurement of dog intelligence, it’s a good starting point.
Coren’s Dog Intelligence Criteria
The trials conducted to find the smartest breeds was organized by Coren. He had the help of about 199 obedience trial judges across North America. Using Coren’s criteria, they were crucial in helping him collect obedience trial results/data of several breeds.
This is Coren’s intelligence criteria:
- The number of repetitions necessary for a dog to learn a new command. Smarter dog breeds needed fewer repetitions to learn something new.
- The success rate that a dog will obey a known command on the first attempt. Breeds with a higher success rate were deemed more intelligent and obedient.
Not every dog breed in the world was tested. In fact, oly dog breeds that were recognized by the AKC or Canadian Kennel club participated in the trials. As a result, this cut out mixed breeds and the more exotic breeds from around the world.
In addition, only dog breeds with at least 100 responses qualified for the smartest dog breeds list. Fewer responses meant the data wasn’t reliable. Fortunately, French Bulldogs were both popular and recognized dogs – so they easily made the cut.
How French Bulldogs Performed
Though Frenchies were included in the trials, they didn’t perform as well as most owners would think. Rather, they were ranked the 109th smartest dog breed out of 138 qualifying breeds in obedience and working intelligence.
This puts them in the “fair working” intelligent category among all the dog participants. And while Frenchies are not among the lowest intelligence class, they are below what is considered average. But what does this translate to?
Dog breeds in the French Bulldog’s intelligence class are able to learn a new command with 40 to 80 repetitions. In addition, they’re only able to obey a known command (on the first try) with a 30% or better success rate.
They’re far from the smartest dogs. Nonetheless, there’s nothing wrong with being “below average.” In fact, some of the most popular dog breeds are in the same class, such as Pugs, Chihuahuas, Malteses and the Great Pyrenees.
Frenchies vs. The Smartest Dogs
The world’s smartest dog breeds are in a league of their own. With just 10 dog breeds in the top class, they’re able to learn a new command with fewer than 5 repetitions! This means they’re at least 8 times faster at learning than Frenchies.
The top 10 are also some of the most obedient dog breeds in the world. As such, they’ll obey a known command on the first attempt with a 95% or better success rate. Their success rate is roughly triple that of the Frenchie’s.
Coincidentally, these smartest dogs are also the household names of the canine kingdom. For instance, this ultra-exclusive list includes the Golden Retriever, Labrador, Rottweiler, Poodle, Doberman, German Shepherd and more.
Why Frenchies Rank Low For Dog Intelligence
French Bulldogs are smart and so many owners will agree. But why is it that they performed so poorly on Stanley Coren’s dog intelligence test? In short – the test is flawed and not suited for the success of the French Bulldogs.
If you think about it, Coren’s test is basically an obedience test. So it’s not surprising that some of the worst performers also happen to be some of the most stubborn and strong-willed dogs – such as the French Bulldog.
Yes, Frenchies are infamously stubborn dogs. Though playful and bright, these dogs will surely go on their stubborn streaks. And according to the AKC, Frenchies are hard-headed and require a plenty of patience and positive reinforcement.
French Bulldogs are very stubborn dogs. I’m dealing with the shark phase and a biting problem too. Otherwise, she’s a total sweetheart most of the time.– MunasG (Frenchie owner)
It’s not that Frenchies are too “dumb” to quickly learn and obey a command, they just don’t want to at times. If they don’t feel like it, their stubbornness will kick in. But just because they don’t listen or follow a command, doesn’t mean they don’t understand what you want.
Keep in mind, this is not to say Frenchies aren’t loyal dogs. As a matter of fact, it’s quite the opposite. A Frenchie is so loyal to their human companions that they may come off as overprotective or at times, slightly territorial of the pack.
There’s just more to these dogs than blindly following the commands of their owners. That is, a Frenchie has an independent mind and will often “think on their own.” It’s one of the main reasons why they have such high adaptive intelligence.
2 Reasons Why Frenchies Are Actually Smart
As mentioned, Stanley Coren’s dog intelligence rankings only measured O&W intelligence. But according to the canine researcher, there are two other dimensions of dog intelligence that may be even more important in measuring dog IQ.
The others are adaptive and instinctive intelligence. It’s just that these components of dog IQ are much more subjective, thus, harder to measure. On the other hand, obedience and working intelligence can be objectively measured to an extent.
1. French Bulldogs are smart companion dogs
According to Coren, instinctive intelligence refers to the ability or special skill that the dog breed was born with. It’s their innate talent, or rather, what they were bred to do. Back then, all dogs had a purpose in society, including Frenchies.
For example, the Australian Shepherd’s instinctive intelligence is without question, herding. The fact that they’re able to push livestock into formations with little to no training requires this special type of dog intelligence.
This component of intelligence can be retrieving, herding, hunting and even companionship. And in the French Bulldog’s case, it’s companionship. That’s what they were originally bred for and what they continue to provide today.
They are wonderful pets and companions – just be ready for plenty of funny noises, farts, burps, and a wiggly nub of a tail that will melt all your problems away.– Tesignedingold (Chrono of Horse)
While the larger bulldog breeds were bred for bull-baiting (the now-illegal blood sport), French Bulldogs were specifically bred down in size with a calmer temperament for companionship. You could even call them the “toy” versions of bulldogs.
Frenchies were popular during the 1800’s, when lace workers immigrated to France in search of new job opportunities in the booming industry. They were primarily used to keep the owners company in a country where immigrants knew few faces.
This is why Frenchies are mild-tempered, cheerful and affectionate dogs. They know how to bring a smile to their owners’ faces because they were bred for the job. And perhaps, it’s why they’re such popular dogs today!
2. The Frenchie is superb at reading human emotions and communicating
The final dimension of canine intelligence is adaptive intelligence. In contrast, this type of IQ refers to the dog’s ability to solve problems and learn for him or herself. This is where the French Bulldog truly shines among the rest.
Unlike instinctive intelligence, adaptive intelligence can vary greatly in French Bulldogs. It may depend on your individual dog. However, more often than not, the French Bulldog will have high adaptive IQ, we many owners will tell you.
Take for example, this Frenchie with an amazing understanding of human emotions. Her owner tells us why she’s such an adaptable dog, saying:
Isabel, our Frenchie, has a great understanding of emotions. She’s usually hyperactive and a hand full, but on days that I don’t feel well, she’ll instantly calm down.– Stephanie T. (French Bulldog owner)
Through plenty of experience with her owner, Isabel was able to interpret what her owner feels. As such, she changes her behavior and attitude based off the owner’s – a clear sign of adaptive intelligence in this French Bulldog.
Another French Bulldog owner explains how his “super smart” bilingual Frenchie is able to learn multiple languages. Or rather, multiple ways to saying “treat.” He tells us:
My Frenchie knows the word for ‘treat’ in 3 languages because each time I have to ask, ‘should we give her a X,’ she picks up on context clues. Low intelligence is just a front.– Surfcrush (Reddit User)
We can relate to this owner. Our Pembroke Corgi is bilingual, but only with words that involves food or treats. Even after spelling out the name of the treat, she’s caught on to that too. Now, we have to make sign languages.
These are just a few stories of high adaptive intelligence in French Bulldogs. In reality, there are so many other stories just like these. If you asked any Frenchie owner, you’d hear the same types of anecdotes and amazing incidents!
Is Your Frenchie Smart?
It’s fairly hard to gauge a Frenchie’s intelligence purely based on a trial measuring obedience tricks and commands. Rather, i’d say the best way is to ask real French Bulldog owners themselves.
That being said, we surveyed owners on the popular Frenchie Subreddit and various other dog forums for answers to this question. Here’s what these owners had to say:
Real Owner Answers:
1. Soup4breakfast says Yes: “I didn’t know Frenchies had a reputation for being dumb. I mean compared to a working dog, maybe. Georgie is smart in a mischievous way. She uses all her powers for evil.”
2. Decorhearst1 says Yes: “Don’t listen to people saying frenchies aren’t smart. If you underestimate this intelligence of these dogs, you’ll get tricked and fooled!“
3. Surfcrush says Yes: “Mine is also very defiant. And that’s how I know she’s smart- she’s choosing to be a diva and disobedient. That is actually really endearing in a strange way.“
4. Givetakeabones says No: “I’m sorry but my frenchie is as intelligent as a brick. He’s still the most loving dog in the world and I wouldn’t trade him for any other dog.“
5. Carriethefrenchdog says No: “I’ve always wondered what goes through my frenchie’s head, because it feels like she’s always spacing out. At least it feels like she’s not a highly intelligent dog.”
6. Skeetledunk says Yes: “Our puppy is so incredibly smart and affectionate. He only wants to be around people, 24/7 (which causes it’s own problems). He’s also housebroken since about 11 weeks old.“
7. Lebran says Mixed: “My French Bulldog Huxley (only 5 months old) can seem smart as a whip one moment, then dumb as a post another. You never know what you’ll get.“
8. Anonymous says Yes: “My Frenchie was so difficult to housebreak. They are not labradors, that’s for sure. But I don’t think they’re dumb. They just work hard to make it seem like they are.”
9. Pitbullsonice says Yes: “I don’t know why so many owners think their frenchies are dumb. If they’re anything like mine, they’re super smart but stubborn.“
10. Gruntbuggly says No: “No, he’s not very smart. We still adore him, but he’s dumb as a post. He’s very lovable and we don’t really care.”
So how smart is your French Bulldog? What does your Frenchie do that make them seem smart? Let us know in the comments section below.
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Monday 17th of April 2023
Bentley the Frenchie is the “smartest frenchie that ever is and ever will be” he even herds our chickens back to their coop. Maybe the Bulldog herding abilities as the dominant gene. He is equally stubborn as well, his emotional support strength is top notch, very protective always placing himself facing a doorway, he understands more English words than I think we give credit too. He got very ill one time and hid his mess under the dog bed and mattress pad in his crate. Now tell me how would he know to do that. I could smell it but had a hard time locating it. He understands my ocd cleaning and had never chewed furniture, he even puts his toys back in the toy bin.
Friday 7th of October 2022
My Frenchie is smarter than I am. I got a cowbell for the back door so he can let me know when he needs to go out. It didn't take him long to realize that I would drop everything to take him out when he rang his potty bell. Within about a week, whenever I would tell him it was bedtime, he needed to get in his crate, or he needed a bath, he would run to the back door and ring the bell. Now, he mostly uses it to entice me to play with him.
He also has the ability to sense when I am about to get a migraine. I know when he pushes his smushy face into my arm or leg, that I need to take medication and retreat to my darkened room.
He's a freaking genius. He just doesn't need anybody's approval to be happy.
Sunday 12th of June 2022
My Frenchie is great at picking up what I’m feeling. She’s happy to be on the couch with me when I’m too tired or not feeling good. But as soon as I say “let’s go for a walk?” after a nap, she bounces up and is so happy. It’s an even trade I would say. A 3 hour nap for a 20-30 minute walk? She’s happy, I’m rested! It’s a great trade-off!!! Lol
Sunday 21st of November 2021
My French Bulldog was extremely adaptive when it came to walk up a flight of stairs when she had a cone after surgery. She also recognizes many words and names of people and other animals. I see her trying to process when spoken to.
Thursday 26th of November 2020
My family has had lots of dogs of the years, and a lot of French bulldogs. They are just absolutely adorable and so sweet! I wish everyone could share their love. But not for a second would I argue they have been as smart as some of the other breeds we’ve had, Germans, Pits, Rots, Collies (we live in the country if you’re wondering). It’s not that they don’t listen as well as others (they don’t), or that they take longer to train (they do), but they just aren’t nearly as clever. That said, it’s a companion breeds, it’s not breed for its intelligence, it’s breed for its love (and looks).
Sunday 12th of June 2022
@Hannah, and they are great as companions too. Frenchies are doing that job very well these days. *typing this while cuddling with my best friend frenchie companion*