Skip to Content

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

If you’ve ever met a Pug, you already know it’s extremely difficult resisting their charm. They’re affectionate dogs with a humorous yet eccentric personality. But given their happy-go-lucky personalities, you may be wondering if Pugs are smarter than they seem.

So, are Pugs smart? Pugs are the 108th smartest dog breed when considering obedience & working IQ. This places them in the “below average” class for dog intelligence. However, there are other reasons that make this breed are smart. For example, Pugs tend to have high adaptive intelligence, which explains why they are great communicators and thus, excellent companion dogs.

To understand why Pugs ranked so low in these intelligence trials, we must first understand how we measure dog intelligence in Pugs. We’ll discuss the misconception of the “dumb Pug” and the real reasons why this dog breed is more intelligent than they seem.

RECOMMENDED: 100 Most Intelligent Dog Breeds

Measuring the Intelligence of Pugs

So how do we know which breeds are the smartest? Stanley Coren, a canine psychologist, organized a series of obedience trials to determine the “intelligence” of various purebred dogs. In this trial, he measured what’s called “obedience and working intelligence.”

Essentially, obedience and working intelligence measures how quickly a dog can learn a new command. In addition, it measures how well the dog can retain their obedience training – or really, how “obedient” they are.

Of course, this is just one dimension of dog intelligence. And while it probably isn’t the best representation of true dog IQ, it’s certainly the easiest to objectively measure. So with the help of 199 obedience trial judges from North America, he developed a criteria for this study.

Coren’s Dog Intelligence Criteria

In his request, Coren asked the obedience judges to assess and rank dog breeds by performance – based off his criteria. And with the collected data, he was able to finalize a list of the smartest dog breeds. Here’s the criteria that he used: 

  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!).

There were a lot of limitations to this test, though. First of all, only dog breeds that were recognized by the AKC or Canadian Kennel Club participated. This meant that highly intelligent mixed breeds, such as the Goldendoodle, was not part of the trials.

In addition, the tested breeds needed at least 100 assessments to qualify for the final smartest dog breeds list. The breed needed enough data to quality for the final rankings. Of course, Pugs were both popular and recognized at the time, so they easily made the cut.

How the Pug Performed

Pugs were placed into the below average or “fair” intelligence class. This meant that Pugs were ranked the 108th smartest dog breed out of the 138 dog breeds that participated. Not that bad, but not great either (for reasons we’ll explain later).

So what does this mean for the Pug? Dog breeds in the below average category required 40 to 80 repetitions to learn a new command. Depending on the complexity of the command, it may take your Pug an entire day to learn a new command.

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

There’s nothing wrong with being in this “low” intelligence class. In fact, some of the world’s most popular dogs are considered “fair intelligent,” including the Maltese, French Bulldog, Saint Bernard and the Chihuahua.

Pugs vs The Smartest Dogs

Being in the “below average” intelligence class, Pugs (obviously) performed worse than the average dog. But how did they actually compare to the world’s smartest breeds?

These smart dogs are able to understand and learn new commands with fewer than 5 repetitions. This meant that some dogs from the smartest class are at least 8 times faster at learning than Pugs.

Furthermore, the smartest dogs will obey a known command on the first attempt 95% of the time (or better). This meant that these dogs are three times more likely to obey a known command on the first try.

These smart dogs are in a class of their own. And coincidentally, they’re some of the most popular dog breeds in the world. These are the Golden Retrievers, German Shepherd, Poodle, Rottweiler, Doberman, Labrador, Sheltie and of course, the Border Collie (the smartest dog).

Why Pugs Ranked Low For Dog Intelligence

Pugs didn’t perform well. But how is it be that so many owners believe their Pug is smart despite how they coming in at 108th place in Stanley Coren’s intelligence trials? Let’s examine why they scored so low on the test.

Stanley Coren’s dog intelligence trial is really a measurement of obedience. After all, there’s a reason why he had the help of obedience trial judges. And although there’s some correlation to how fast a dog learns a new command to intelligence, it does not tell the full story.

And if you don’t already know, Pugs are some of the most stubborn dog breeds. There’s a reason why some of the lowest performers also happen to be the most stubborn dogs. With that said, it seems reasonable that Pugs don’t always obey a known command on the first try.

Our Pug is a very smart dog. He definitely knows what I’m asking, he just REFUSES to listen!

– Whatabeautiful_mess (Reddit User)

Most Pug owners will tell you the same thing. They agree that Pugs are intelligent dogs, though not in the most obedient way. Sometimes, they want to do it on their own and/or have it their way.

They’ll certainly have their stubborn streaks and they can be very independent-minded dogs. If they don’t feel like doing obedience training, they’ll simply not do it. One Pug owner expands on this idea, saying:

My pug makes it very well known when she doesn’t want to do something, but she still listens very well. She just huffs and puffs the whole time because she’s not happy about it.

– Jason J. (Pug Owner)

Again, it’s not a coincidence that the lowest scoring dog breeds also happen to be some of the most stubborn dog breeds in the world. Just because your Pug doesn’t obey your command doesn’t mean they don’t understand!

Plus, not all Pugs are willing to obey a stranger. These dogs tend to develop strong bonds with their owners. Often times, they are only loyal to one person. If a random obedience judge is trying to give a Pug commands, I wouldn’t be surprised if they just didn’t care to listen.

Reasons Why Pugs Are Smart

Though they may not be the most obedient dogs, Pugs are smart in other ways. They’re not “obvious” smart dogs, such as the Border Collie who learn and obey because they love to work. Rather, Pugs require different motivators to get them to listen.

That type of dog intelligence is called obedience and working intelligence, as coined by Stanley Coren. However, Coren believes there are three components of dog intelligence, including adaptive and instinctive intelligence. The others are harder to objectively measure though.

The Companionship Intelligence in Pugs

Instinctive intelligence refers to the special ability or innate skill that a certain dog breed was bred for. All dogs were purpose-bred for specific roles and jobs in society. These “dog jobs” can be in retrieving, herding, guarding, hunting and so much more.

For example, Blue Heelers were bred to herd livestock. The fact that they’re born with instincts to nip at the cattle’s heels and push them in directions is their instinctive intelligence.

They don’t need human training for these instincts. In fact, very little training is often given. But at the same time, knowing how to make animals move in a direction by running at them at a certain angle or speed is a type of dog intelligence that’s difficult to measure.

Similarly, Pugs were bred to be companions. Companionship is an instinctive intelligence as well. And they were so good at their jobs that they were reserved primarily for Chinese Emperors and royal elites in ancient China.

Pugs are also fantastic at communicating with humans because the best companion dogs needed to have this! They primarily communicate with their emotions and it’s scary effective.

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 – thanks to their instinctive intelligence in companionship.

The Pug’s Adaptive Intelligence

The final component of dog intelligence is adaptive intelligence. Arguably the most important type of intelligence, it refers to the dog’s ability to learn for itself. It can mean solving problems and learning from mistakes.

Adaptive intelligence is not like instinctive intelligence. This dimension of IQ can vary among individual dogs within a breed. Naturally, some dogs have a “sharper sense” than others. But even so, many Pugs have shown evidence of high adaptive intelligence.

One Pug owner tells us a story about his Pug, saying:

My pug doesn’t look smart, but she’s one clever dog. She’s learned to give me puppy eyes to get me over to her. Once I get there, she’ll lead me to the food cabinet for treats. Sometimes I think she’s training me.

– Jason J. (Pug Owner)

Jason’s Pug learned what it took to get her owner off the couch and give her some attention. The fact that the dog had to learn what works and what doesn’t in effective communicating is a clear sign of adaptive intelligence.

Furthermore, the Pug would communicate to Jason what she needed. Good communication is what separates a good companion dog from a mediocre one.

Of course, there are many examples just like this. This is just one account of adaptive intelligence. And while not all Pugs will be highly adaptable, a good amount of them are. Next time you run into a Pug owner, ask them for stories just like these!

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 delicious treats!

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 Pug 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.

In the end, it doesn’t really matter if you have a “smart” dog breed 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.

How Smart is Your Pug?

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.

It really depends on the individual dog. Some Pugs are just sharper than others. In addition, Pugs can be smart in different ways, as you’ll see from the responses. Here’s what Pug owners had to say to the question:

Real Owner Answers

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!


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

Posts you may like: 

Dachshunds are smart, but not according to Stanley Coren's obedience working intelligence rankings.
← Previous
Are Dachshunds Smart? - Here's Why They Rank Low For Dog Intelligence
Bulldogs are not smart when it comes to working and obedience.
Next →
Are English Bulldogs Smart Dogs? - Here's Why They Rank Low For Intelligence

Kathy

Thursday 23rd of September 2021

Pugs are definitely very smart. I have had 4. They are super stubborn and are only motivated by food not really praise. After all they are so smart they know how much they have wrapped you around their little paws. They know they are getting praise and cuddles regardless so they really dont try to please that way. I would say they are similar to a cat. It will depend on the prize whether or not they will do as you ask. But taught my girl to potty train in one day. That's better than any large breed I have had owned. They are super intuitive about your emotions or of you are feeling bad. They stick to you like glue and if you are sick they lay on top of you. Thy lick away your tears. They are definitely the most loving and expeessive dogs on the planet. My pugs train me what the need and want not the other way around. Most pug parents say this. Just because they aren't as trainable has nothing to so with intellect. I personally think they are too smart for their own good. My one girl always starts barking when I would place an order for take out. I finally realized what the heck.. she totally knew that when we got the menu.out thay meant someone was coming to the door soon. How smart is that! She didnt like delivery men..haha

Gabriela Gajdova

Wednesday 22nd of September 2021

Dusty the Pug is 1/3 dog 1/3 cat 1/3 human. That said he is intuitive; affectionate; super-funny; pleasureband; high-outdoor-walking stamina (13km not a problem); outgoing with humans and dogs (and any other animal that wont argue w him). What I found surprising is that when I hurt somewhere, he presses himself against my place of discomfort and in the morning I am much better! I had border collies before and yes they are smart but the PUG ROCKS! It came as a surprise to me / us and as that as very welcome one. If you want to get the BEST out of your pug, they trhrive on lots and lots of LOVE and attention. Pugs dislike beigng alone, which is a source of stress for them = best to avoid (stay working home or get a companion pug). Hugs to all your Pugs <3. Gabriela

Teri Fraser

Saturday 27th of March 2021

My pug Frank my daughter and grandson say he’s dumb. I don’t agree I agree with the article though. Frank is very stubborn, food driven and lovable. He is a great companion and I swear the best dog ever. When he is in trouble the head tilt and ignore you is so funny. He knows exactly what you want and if he wants to he will if he doesn’t he lets on he doesn’t hear or care.

Sara

Sunday 24th of May 2020

We got our pug last week and he’s only 3 months old. In just one week, he can now sit, shake, stay and jump. His ONLY motivator is a treat. He learned each command within 10-15 repetitions.

Jimmy

Sunday 11th of October 2020

Yup, I had the same experience as you Sara. So to say all pugs are slow learners are wrong. Treats and praises go a long way with them. Due to the pandemic, my girl has figured our i 'moved' into my phone and can now see me on video and kisses (the phone) on demand.

Karen

Friday 8th of May 2020

Our Pugs name is Pudge and it suits him very well. I fell in love with Pugs at a Pug-a-lug in Simcoe, Ontario, there were Pugs everywhere ! My husband let me pick out my little buddy for my birthday. If you want a true companion and a little buddy to love more than you've ever been loved before you will definitely find that in a Pug