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Are Pitbulls Smart? – Measuring the Dog Intelligence of a Pit Bull

Pit Bulls are a collective of dog breeds that have come a long way since their early days. Once a fighter, they’re some of the most loving dog breeds today. But if you’re considering bringing home a Pit Bull, you may be wondering just how intelligent they are.

The Pit Bull, namely the Staffordshire Bull Terrier and American Staffordshire Terrier, are average to above average intelligent dogs. For obedience & working intelligence, they’re the 94th and 48th smartest dog breeds, respectively. While this may not impress owners, Pit Bulls tend to have high adaptive IQ, which is the ability to learn for themselves and through past experiences.

Despite their relatively low rankings on the dog intelligence list, Pit Bulls are much smarter than you think. Despite popular belief, dog intelligence isn’t all about obedience. Let’s examine what really makes these dogs so intelligent and why they rank low according to the “experts.”

RECOMMENDED: 100 Most Intelligent Dog Breeds

What’s Considered a “Pit Bull?”

The most distinctive physical feature of the Blue Nose Pit Bull is the color of the nose.

Before we continue, we must first clarify what the “pit bull breed” is. There’s a lot of confusion in the canine world. But the reality is that the Pit Bull is not a single dog breed. Rather, they’re a collection of four dog breeds and direct relatives to those pedigree breeds.

That being said, there are four types of Pit Bulls: the American Pit Bull Terrier, American Staffordshire Terrier, Staffordshire Bull Terrier and the American Bulldog.

And despite the confusion, these four breeds are the only dog breeds in the pit bull category. In fact, many dogs in animal shelters have been classified as Pit Bulls just because “they look like one.”

So in this article, when we refer to the intelligence of Pit Bulls, we will be talking about just those four specific Pit Bull dog breeds. Two of which, are dogs actually recognized by the American Kennel Club.

How We Measure a Pit Bull’s Intelligence

Measuring the intelligence of a dog is, without question, a difficult task. After all, it’s not like we can have them take a written IQ test. The truth is, there is no way to quantify intelligence in dogs. And although obedience & working IQ may be the closest, it still have its flaws.

This dimension of canine intelligence (obedience and working) was developed by Stanley Coren, a renowned pHD and canine psychologist. In essence, it measures how quickly a dog can learn a command – in addition to how well a dog retains their training.

So with the help of 199 obedience trial judges from North America, Coren was able to infamously develop the dog intelligence ranking list that we’re able to critique today.

Coren’s Dog Intelligence Criteria

Based on Stanley Coren’s trial criteria, each obedience judge tested as many dog breeds as possible. And with that data, he formed his final rankings.

His criteria was based on the following:

  1. The number of repetitions it took for a dog to learn a new command. Dogs that needed fewer repetitions ranked higher on the list.
  2. The success rate at which a dog will obey a known command on the first try. Those that had a higher success rate were considered smarter and more obedient.

Unfortunately, not all dog breeds took part in Coren’s trials – it’s why not all four Pit Bull breeds tested for dog intelligence in the trials. Only those recognized by the American or Canadian Kennel Club participated. In addition, dog breeds needed at least 100 responses to qualify.

Because only the American Staffordshire Terrier and Staffordshire Bull Terrier are recognized breeds, they were the only Pitbull-type breeds that participated in the trials. Thus, we only have data on those two dogs for obedience and working intelligence.

How the Pit Bulls Performed

Overall, the two representatives of the Pit Bull dogs did fairly well. While the Staffordshire Bull Terrier ranked 94th out of 138 breeds, the American Staffordshire came in at 48th place.

These results placed the Staffordshire Bull Terrier in the “average intelligent” class. On the other hand, American Staffordshire Terriers scored in the “above average intelligent” class. That’s great – but what does this actually mean for these dogs?

This meant that the American Staffordshire Terrier is able to learn a new command with just 15 to 25 repetitions. Furthermore, these Pit dogs will also obey a known command (on the first attempt) with a 70% or better success rate. They’re obedient and quick learners!

Performing slightly worse, the Staffordshire Bull Terrier is capable of learning a new command with only 25 to 50 repetitions. In addition, they have a 50% or better success rate with obeying commands on the first try. Not too bad at all!

Overall, these Pit Bulls didn’t do too bad. There’s nothing wrong with being average, and in the American’s case, they did better than average.

Pit Bulls vs The Smartest Dogs

Now that we know how smart the two recognized Pit Bulls are, how do they compare to the brightest? The most intelligent dog breeds in the world are in a class of their own. In fact, they’re the top 10 smartest breeds!

These dogs are capable of learning a new command with fewer than 5 repetitions. In addition, they’re likely to obey a known command on the first try with a 95% or higher success rate!

This means they’re at least 3 times faster at learning new commands than the Pit Bulls. In fact, you’d probably be able to teach these dogs a basic command in just a few minutes! Plus, they’re much more “obedient” too.

So who are these ultra-smart dogs? They include some of the most popular American breeds, such as the German Shepherd, Poodle, Golden Retriever, Labrador, Rottweiler and the Doberman.

The Stigma of the “Dumb” Pit Bull

With all these Pitbull owners claiming their dogs to be highly intelligent, in addition to the decent obedience & work IQ, why do some people believe that Pit Bulls are low intelligent dogs?

It all comes down to the temperament of these dogs. Not all dog breeds will “work” for the sake of working, such as the Border Collie. Similarly, not all dogs will do your bidding “just because.”

According to Rover, Pit Bulls have a lot of energy and determination, which can come off as stubbornness and willfulness. Owners will tell you that these dogs can certainly go on their “stubborn streaks” from time to time.

I feel horrible but I’m at my wits end trying to find a way to get Buddha to behave himself. I know he knows his commands and can be a good dog (he shows me that on his “good” days). He’s just being super stubborn.

– Buddhasmommy (Pit Bull owner)

Because Coren’s dog intelligence trials were based on obedience & working intelligence, stubbornness could be the detrimental quality that led them to rank lower than they should.

Though we think how fast a dog learns is correlated with intelligence, Coren’s trial is essentially an obedience test. As such, the more stubborn dogs don’t usually do well with this type of test.

But just because your Pit Bull doesn’t obey you doesn’t mean your dog doesn’t understand what you’re asking. As Buddhasmommy described, her pit knows his command but doesn’t always follow. That is, the stubbornness of the Pit Bull.

2 Reasons Why Pit Bulls Are Actually Smart

Obedience and working intelligence is a great starting point when measuring a dog’s IQ. However, it doesn’t tell the full story. Not even close.

And according to Stanley Coren, there are two other dimensions of dog intelligence: Instinctive and adaptive intelligence. These two areas are where Pit Bulls really shine in intelligence.

Versatility is Dog Intelligence

Instinctive intelligence refers to the ability or skill that the dog was bred for. In the past, all dog breeds, including the Pit Bulls, were bred for a specific purpose in society. Most of the time, their roles benefited humans one way or another. For example, herding dogs were bred for, well, herding.

The natural ability to push livestock (cattle, sheep) toward directions and formations require a special type of IQ, that is, instinctive intelligence. Knowing where to position themselves to guide flocks is intelligence. Keep in mind, they’re able to do this with little to no human training.

And although these Pit Bull dogs were originally bred for bull-baiting, ratting and other “dark” jobs, they were later reinvented and bred to be multi-purpose dogs.

Not only were they fantastic companions, but also capable guardians, vigilant watchdogs and tireless workers. They were some of the most versatile breeds back in the day (and probably still are!).

All these jobs and roles that Pit Bulls once had (and still serve) doesn’t mean they’re just versatile, but that they also have high instinctive intelligence. Think of them as the jack-of-all-trades in the canine kingdom.

The Pit Bull’s Adaptive Intelligence

Stanley Coren believes that the final dimension of dog intelligence is adaptive intelligence. It is perhaps the most important, as it refers to the ability of the dog to learn for itself. Dogs with low adaptive intelligence rely a lot on guidance from their owners.

But what exactly is adaptive intelligence? You may ask yourself: is my Pit Bull able to learn from past mistakes and previous experiences? Can the dog communicate with humans in a feasible way? These are all questions regarding adaptive intelligence in dogs.

And while instinctive intelligence is roughly the same for all Pit Bulls, adaptive intelligence can vary from dog to dog. Some dogs will be more adaptable than others.

Fortunately, most Pit Bulls are known to show high adaptive intelligence. For instance, one Pit owner tells us:

My Tanner and Zoe are too smart. I went inside to get my car keys and Tanner was laying on the floor eating his cookies. In the short amount of time I was outside, he figured out how to open the cabinet to get to his cookies.

Zoetanner (Pit Bull owners)

Tanner the Pit was able to learn how to open cabinets, likely by observing his owners (learning from his previous experiences). In addition, he knew the best time was when his owners were gone. All this points to a clear sign of adaptive intelligence in Tanner.

Another Pit Bull owner tells us a similar story, saying:

I have a smart pit bull. I’ve been treating Quinton for a hotspot. And every time he sees my supplies, he’ll walk over and lay down on his own. It must not feel good when I clean it so it’s saying a lot.

– Teasha (Reddit User)

Quinton knows what’s about to happen, so he happily complies. The cues in his example are the supplies. This Pit Bull learned that certain supplies result in a following consequence or action. Again, another spot-on sign of high adaptive intelligence in these dogs.

Though these are just two examples, there are plenty more on the web (we just couldn’t list them all). And, if you ask any Pit Bull owner, they’ll likely tell you similar stories.

What the Pit Bull lacks in obedience training (and not all of them), they more than make up for it with their natural ability to learn. Performing tricks and obeying commands is great, but adaptability is what makes the Pit Bull truly an intelligent dog breed.

Is Your Pit Bull Smart?

Like with humans, the true intelligence of your Pit Bull can vary from dog to dog. However, we believe the best way to gauge a breed’s intelligence is by asking the owners.

With that said, we surveyed the popular Pitbull Subreddit and other dog forums to ask real Pit Bull owners whether they believed their dog was intelligent. Here’s what these owners had to say to the question.

Real Owner Answers:

1. Throwawayhelp123456 says Yes: “We have had my pit bull for a week now, after she was in a shelter for 2 years. She is incredibly smart, and very much a confident and alpha dog.”

2. Turnipkid7 says Yes: “Chomper, our pit, is super smart. He’s a little stubborn at times but you know he’s intelligent from how he interacts with humans.”

3. Zoe says No: “Pit bulls are smart? You haven’t met my red nose pit bull, Tank (aka Big Dummy). We don’t call him ”dummy” for nothing!”

4. Cavscoutwife says Yes: “The Pit bulls intelligence level and ease of training is a huge bonus to many types of families. Above all else, those of us that love the breed, adore their huge smiling faces!”

5. Houstonsfinest says Yes: “Don’t underestimate the intelligence of the pitbull. We’ve raised many in our lives and we’re always so pleased with their capability and obedience.”

6. Toni H says Yes: “Pit bulls are extremely smart dogs and learn faster than lightning. Very good dogs to be around if you love them openly and often.”

7. Jon_jordan says No: “I hate to admit it, but they’re not the smartest dog around. They are, however, very loyal and very protective.”

8. Shermanf says Yes: “My red nose pit bull is sooo smart. They’re some of the smartest dogs i’ve ever seen…give them a chance!”

9. Williamssherwin says No: “My pit is a little goofy and silly most of the times, but in no world is he smart. But does it really matter? He’s the most loving dog I’ve ever owned.”

10. Surfserps says Yes: “After owning a German Shepherd, Doberman and American Pit Terrier, the Pit is the smartest. Not the most obedient, but feels like he just understood situations better.”

Is the Pit Bull For Me?

All four Pit Bull breeds are great dogs for everyone. And while obedience can be a little difficult, it’s not always the case. Yes, Pit Bulls are stubborn dogs. However, they’re both people-oriented and loyal dogs. As such, Pit Bulls will do their best to comply with training.

Don’t listen to the myth about Pits being “dangerous dogs.” They may have the most dog bite incidents, but it’s likely due to negligence and poor training from bad owners. After all, they were the “premiere” fighting dogs so it’s inevitable they’d sometimes attract a certain type of owner.

Overall, Pits are great dogs with high intelligence. Don’t let these “experts” tell you whether your dog is smart or not. And the truth is, all dogs are smart enough to give you what you need.

Bring home a Pit Bull today and you won’t regret it! They’re some of the most affectionate and kind dog breeds, despite what media portrays them to be.


Do you own a Pit Bull? Let us know how intelligent your dog is! Leave a comment in the section below!

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Jennie

Monday 26th of September 2022

I just read this article, please excuse the very late comment. My boyfriend and I got our first pit about 7 months ago. That is, after owning an Alapaha Blue Blood Bulldog who was extremely intelligent. We swore a little human was in his brain controlling him , he was that smart!. Ill spare everyone the horrible sad tragic details of his passing but obviously we no longer have him on earth with us. Anyway, we said up n down , all day long, that we would never ever get another dog in our lives.until little 6 month old Chopper ended up in our driveway being held on leash by my boyfriends cousin. We were suckered into it.. she asked, we said yes!! Anyway he's super smart, sweet , loving, cuddley and protective (in rhe right way). He loves people (when we give the ok). He is very stubborn, and if we were able to, he would play all day and night 24/7 ... no joke! I just can't see a "killer" in that dogs eyes. It's just not there. All a Pit needs is love love and more love and you've got a best friend (literally) for life!!@

Angel Roach

Sunday 21st of August 2022

I have now owned 3 “pit bulls”. 2 red nosed, and one blue. My first red nosed was highly intelligent, confident, and adaptive- and very protective. My second I’m not sure was as intelligent, is less confident, more adaptive, and protective- just not as much as my first. My blue American Bully is highly intelligent (learns things once and retains them ie using door levers 😬), not as confident, extremely adaptive and affectionate, and protective in a manner that is more attentive but less “threatening” than my red nosed. Now- consider the environmental contributions to these qualities- because I think they have more to do with their personalities than anything. My first Red nosed was a stray. He found us when he was about 4 months old. Most likely he had never known much about humans. He was never raised around other dogs (except the occasional stray that wandered up). He was confident- but he most likely never felt threatened by another dog or human (or was so young when he was it most likely was forgotten). My 2nd Red nosed we adopted when he was between 3 and 5 years. The rescue said someone in a nearby town had called the police and reported a vicious dog. When the police officer arrived and loaded him up- he saw he was not vicious and not a threat. He contacted his wife, who had friends in rescue, who immediately scooped him up and kept him until I found him. His lower level of confidence could stem from a number of situations. Being owned by cruel or negligent humans, competing with dogs on the street, being treated poorly by citizens as a stray, etc. Possibly just a lack of ever feeling secure anywhere with anyone even. He had to learn to fit in where he landed in order to survive. I got my blue pitty at 4 days old along with his 9 siblings and his mama. I fostered them all to adoption. He was returned by his adopter through no fault of his own- but rather bc his foster thought he deserved a better life than he could provide. After a few days- I knew he was mine. He is the sweetest, most loving and affectionate one of them all. He is less confident (but he is the youngest of 4 dogs in our family) and never forgets a thing. Unfortunately he disappeared a week ago, and I am devastated because I’m the 8 months he was in my life he was the biggest joy. I pray he uses his intelligence and ability to reason and adapt to find his way back home to me.

Yacob

Wednesday 3rd of August 2022

I own 3. One is an American Bully, the other and apbt, and the baby a combination of the two. My apbt is absolutely the most intelligent, but the Bullies are more obedient. My apbts adaptive intelligence is sometimes beyond comprehension.

Blind Ryan

Sunday 8th of May 2022

We have, as it turns out, a full-blooded APBT according to embark. We got him from a shelter in January of 2021 at a year old. I've never had a dog remotely this smart. I've actually run out of commands to teach him because he learns them so fast. He won't speak or beg or respond to clicker training not because he doesn't understand but because he thinks the ideas are stupid. His adaptive intelligence in particular is off the charts. He understands cause and effect like no dog I've ever seen. If he gets into this or that, he gets sick so he doesn't get into this or that anymore. If he lets us brush his teeth, he doesn't have to get put under to get his teeth cleaned. If he gets a certain amount of dirty, he gets a bath so he endeavors to not dirty up too much (until he passes the threshold and then he's like "fuck it" and goes HAM with the other dogs at the park.)

His only weakness is when he gets over-excited but we're working on that.

Angel Roach

Sunday 21st of August 2022

@Blind Ryan, Thank you for adopting! Sounds like you hit the jackpot with this boi! ♥️

Natasha Smith

Saturday 5th of March 2022

My Xena is very smart. We knew from the day we got her she was going to be a smart one and with everything she has gone through she has become the best dog we have ever had well next to Jack Daniel's (JD)our bull mastiff who is now in doggie heaven we miss him a lot. Xena is very intelligent, very loving and always wanting to please. We love her so much don't get me wrong though she can be hard headed at times but over all she's great (and she thinks she's human not a dog but that's our fault lol)