Dog Training Smartest Dogs

Are Pugs Smart Dogs? – Here’s How Intelligent Pugs Really Are

On paper, Pugs are not smart dogs. However, we examine the others ways that make these dogs intelligent.
Written by Richard Jeng

If you’re looking to bring home a Pug, there are certain things you should be researching. Everything from puppy shots, to health issues and diet regimen is essential for a healthy Pug. But as potential owners, you may be wondering: are Pugs smart? How smart are Pugs?

According to Stanley Coren’s dog intelligence rankings, Pugs are below average in dog intelligence. In fact, they’re ranked the 108th smartest dog breed. Despite this, there are other factors that make these dogs smarter than you think. 

To understand why Pugs ranked so low in Coren’s intelligence trials, we must first understand how we measure dog intelligence in these tests.

RECOMMENDED: 100 Most Intelligent Dog Breeds

How We Measure Intelligence in Pugs

Famed researcher and professor of Canine Psychology, Stanley Coren, organized obedience trials to determine the intelligence of various pure dog breeds.

He did this by contacting all the North American obedience trial judges from the American and Canadian Kennel Club. In his request, Coren asked the judges to rank dog breeds by obedience performance. He received 199 responses!

Coren’s Criteria for Dog Intelligence: 

  1. The number of repetitions it took for a dog breed to learn a new command. Fewer repetitions meant a smarter dog breed.
  2. The success rate of a dog breed obeying a known command on the first try. The higher the success rate, the more intelligent the dog (and obedient!).

Using his criteria and the responses from the obedience trial judges, Coren was able to form a list of the smartest dog breeds in the world. Although we don’t think this is a great method of measuring dog intelligence, it’s a good place to start.

How the Pug Performed

With at least 100 Pugs participating, they were placed into the below average or “fair” intelligence category. Though they’re at the top of the list in the category, Pugs were ranked the 108th smartest dog breed out of 138 dog breeds that participated.

Dog breeds in the below average category require 40 to 80 repetitions to learn a new command. This may seem like a lot, but it’s because of reasons we’ll discuss later in the article.

On the other hand, Pugs did not perform much better with obedience. The Pugs were able to successfully obey a known command on the first try with a 30% success rate.

Pugs vs. “Average Intelligent Dogs”

Being in the “below average” intelligence category, Pugs (obviously) performed worse than the average dog. But how did they actually compare to the average dog breed?

For reference, the average dog category contains popular dog breeds such as the Australian Shepherd, Siberian Husky, Great Dane and Boxer.

These average dogs are able to understand and learn new commands with 25 to 40 repetitions. Furthermore, they will obey a known command on the first attempt 50% of the time (or better).

This doesn’t seem too far off from how the Pug performed. And because Pugs performed at the top of their category, they’re probably very close to dogs in the average category.

Owners: How Smart is Your Pug?

We asked real Pug owners, how smart is your Pug actually?

In order to truly understand how smart Pugs are, we asked real Pug owners. From the popular Pug sub Reddit forum, we were able to survey and collect responses from owners.

Here’s what they had to say to the question:

1. Mommycazken says [YES]: “My pug is extremely smart, but in a very sneaky and mischievous way. That said, they are so funny and live to love their humans. If you want a true companion dog, there is no love like pug love!”

2. Droppedwhat says [YES]: “Smart but a bit cat-like in the attitude. As in, if they don’t feel like doing something, they probably won’t.”

3. Stump2003 says [YES]: “Pugs can be smart…Tank found out we’d chase him if he got a shoe from the hallway, so if got in there he would hide one shoe for later and then taunt you with the first shoe. After you’d chase him down and gotten the first shoe back, he would magically appear with the second shoe ready for more fun.”

4. 9ermtb2014 says [YES]: “They’re stubborn as hell, but quite smart. Some of them can be pretty damn sneaky and quiet too when getting in trouble.”

5. Unclebottom says [MIXED]: “I don’t think they’re dumb at all. They may not solve problems the way a Border Collie would, but they do solve them.”

6. Showshoe says [MIXED]: “I would say it varies. My pug was only motivated by food and if she thought there was a chance for a treat she would only focus on the treat. She was extremely hard to train.”

7. Pickleyourpoison says [MIXED]: “I think you’d be surprised what they can learn. Both my pugs know sit, wait, stay, down, bed and leave it (with varying success due to distractions).”

8. Elisha411 says [YES]: “They are very smart but just like people you may stumble across some not so smart… my pug is sassy but very trainable.”

9. Shadowgli says [NO]: “Spend a day with them, between the Fawn one standing for extended periods of time facing a wall and the Black one just being spastic, you would love them, but have no doubt they would lose a game of memory to a goldfish.”

10. Lazynetflix says [YES]: “Are you sure they aren’t just stubborn? lol Most pugs I’ve known tend to be super smart but also super duper stubborn!”

11. Whatabeautiful_mess says [YES]: “He is a very smart dog, he knows what I’m asking, he just REFUSES to listen.”

Pug Owner Survey Recap

Collecting responses from 11 Pug owners is a small sample size. However, most Pug owners on the forum agree that their Pugs are indeed intelligent dogs. Out of the 11, seven owners (64%) believe their Pugs are smart.

Three owners said they have mixed results – they’re not dumb, but wouldn’t call them smart either. On the contrary, only one owner believed her Pug was not intelligent.

Though these dogs didn’t perform well in the rankings, the real Pug owners are saying otherwise.

Why Pugs Rank Low in Intelligence

Pugs didn't perform well in experts' intelligence tests, but owners say otherwise. Here's why.

How can it be that so many owners believe their Pug to be smart despite how they performed in Stanley Coren’s intelligence trials? Let’s examine why they scored so low on the test.

Coren’s dog intelligence tests is really a measurement of obedience. There’s a reason why he contacted obedience trial judges to help out. Though there’s some merit to how fast a dog learns a new command, it doesn’t tell the full story.

And if you don’t already know, Pugs are some of the most stubborn dog breeds. With that said, it seems reasonable that Pugs don’t always obey a known command on the first try.

Most Pug owners will tell you the same thing. They agree that Pugs are smart, but not in an “obedient way.”  They’ll certainly have their stubborn streaks and they can be very independent-minded dogs.

One Pug owner expands on this idea, saying “my pug makes it very well known when he doesn’t want to do something, but he still listens very well. He just huffs and puffs the whole time because he’s not happy about it.”

How Pugs Are Smart

Though they may not be the most obedient dogs, Pugs are smart in other ways. These dogs are smart in a mischievous and sneaky way. They’re not “obvious” smart dogs, such as the Border Collie who learns and obeys because they love to work.

Pugs are also fantastic at communicating with humans. They primarily do this with their emotions. Sure, they can learn all the basic dog commands, but being able to convey emotion is what makes them stand out. There are few dog breeds that are as emotionally transparent as the pug.

Motivating a Pug

As for tricks and commands, Pugs are generally difficult to deal with. But that doesn’t mean they’re not capable of learning them. They just need the right motivators.

Not all dog breeds or individual dogs have the same motivators. Some enjoy the mental stimulation of obedience training (such as the Australian Shepherd), while others need extra external motivation – such as treats and snacks!

Pugs tend to fall into the latter category. Depending on your dog, you’ll need to test different motivators to see what works best. Many owners claim that food is a great way to get their Pugs to obey, especially if they’re food-driven dogs.

One Pug owner agrees, saying “my pug was only motivated by food and if she thought there was a chance for a treat she would only focus on the treat.” She adds, “most pugs are very happy just getting pets and treats. I wouldn’t get a pug if I wanted a dog to train doing tricks.

It doesn’t really matter if you have a smart dog breed (according to the “experts”) or not. What you should be really considering is whether the Pugs temperament and personality matches yours.

Nearly all dogs can understand at least 150 different words. That’s more than enough to provide you with everything that you’ll need in a loving companion and canine friend.

So, do you own a Pug? And if you do, is your Pug smart? Let us know in the comments section below. 

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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.

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