If you’ve ever met a Pug, you already know how charming they are. They’re goofy yet affectionate, with a humorous and eccentric personality. But given their carefree temperaments, owners may be wondering if Pugs are smarter than they seem.
Pugs have “below average” intelligence, as they’re the 108th smartest dog breed for “obedience & working intelligence.” However, this doesn’t mean they’re dumb dogs. In fact, most Pugs have high adaptive intelligence. For example, Pugs are great at communicating with their owners and reading human emotions. Both of which, require this special type of dog intelligence.
To understand why Pugs ranked so low in these dog intelligence trials, we must first understand how we measure the intelligence of a Pug. We’ll discuss the misconception of the “dumb Pug” and explain the real reasons why this dog breed is more intelligent than they seem.
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How We Measure the Intelligence of Pugs
So how do we know which dog breeds are the smartest? Stanley Coren, a pHD and canine psychologist, is responsible for our most popular study on dog intelligence.
Coren 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.
Of course, this is just one dimension of dog intelligence. And while it isn’t the best representation of dog IQ, it’s certainly the easiest to objectively measure. So with the help of 199 obedience trial judges from North America, he developed the following criteria for his trials.
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:
- The number of repetitions it took for a dog breed to learn a new command. Fewer repetitions meant a smarter dog breed.
- 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 Pugs Performed
Pugs were placed into the “below average” or “fair intelligence” class. Out of 138 breeds that qualified in the trials, Pugs were ranked the 108th smartest dog breed. Not that bad, but certainly not good either (for reasons we’ll explain later).
So what does this mean for the Pug? Dog breeds in the below average intelligence class required 40 to 80 repetitions to learn a new command. Depending on the complexity of the command, it may take up to an entire day for a Pug to learn a new command.
Furthermore, Pugs didn’t perform all that much better with the obedience part of the trials. That said, the average Pug was able to successfully obey a known command on the first try with a 30% success rate (or better).
When it comes to our furry canine friends, there’s nothing wrong with being in this fair 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).
Here’s Why Pugs Ranked Low For Intelligence
Pugs didn’t perform well. But how is it that so many owners believe their Pug to be smart despite coming in at 108th place during Stanley Coren’s intelligence trials? Let’s examine why these dogs 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 doesn’t tell the full story.
The truth is: Pugs are some of the most stubborn dog breeds ever. There’s a reason why some of the lowest performers also happen to be the most stubborn dogs. 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. Just because a Pug doesn’t obey a command doesn’t mean they don’t understand!
They’ll certainly have their stubborn streaks and they can be very independent-minded dogs. If they don’t feel like doing obedience training at any given moment, 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)
Plus, not all Pugs are willing to obey a stranger. After all, these dogs tend to develop strong bonds with the owners. And often times, they’re loyal to just one person. If a random obedience judge is trying to give your Pug commands, I wouldn’t be surprised if they just didn’t care to listen.
2 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 will require different motivators to get them to listen.
The type of dog intelligence we’ve discussed is called obedience and working intelligence, as coined by Stanley Coren. However, even Coren admits 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.
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.– Kathy (Pug Owner)
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.
In addition, Pugs are superb at reading human emotions. If you’re feeling down or depressed, your Pug may “act differently” around you. On the other hand, if you’re celebrating and ecstatic, expect your Pug to be excited as well.
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!
How to Motivate 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.
Is Your Pug Smart?
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.
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Friday 26th of May 2023
Not smart. Sorry, I'm a proud owner of two Pugs. Training them has been a nightmare, at times impossible. I come from a family of dog breeders. Honestly the Pug is one of the dumbest dogs I've had experience with.
Saturday 14th of January 2023
My little female pug/chihuahua mix, I call Buddy, will actually drag her little butt along on the ground after she crapps. Just to clean herself. No, she doesn't have worms. I think her sense of smell simply tells her when she thinks she's clean enough for me to pick her up and settle into my lap. Or when it's bedtime, as we sleep together. Her backside usually pressed against the back of my head. Amazing animal, me thinks. If she's defined by "experts" as being low on intelligence, that's irrelevant to me. And probably to her? lol
Thursday 5th of May 2022
My girl Pug amazes me daily. She in one of the smartest self confident dogs I’ve ever met. From playing with her brother (a Pugzu) she out smarts him and is quicker at all tasks. She communicates with me in particular throughout the day, specially if she see’s bad birdies, and when I ask her if she likes them she clearly lets me know she doesn’t. She follows commands and learns new games and tricks daily, and I honestly believe she talks to me, today she came and was trying to tell me something whilst I was on the phone, where I didn’t take note she tapped my leg with her paw, which is please, so I followed her and she wanted the back door to open so she could toilet. I am amazed at how clear she projected herself. And that is one of many examples, she will tell me when she needs me to sit and cuddle if she’s tired. She will pat my computer or phone if she wants my attention, she will look for items and notify me when she has found and can’t get to it, and she has taught her brother endless mischief and tricks, that he now instigates it. They are our world and she is such a Mummies girl. Thank God for Pugs!
Sunday 15th of January 2023
@Emma, Thankyou for tearing me up. I don't often say that. But as I've posted here, these litle pug things are so specal, even in the dog world. They exude so much love, compassion and honesty, that many (most?) humans simply can't compete. Perhaps they never will?
It's sad (and surprising) that we can't post pictures of our little lovers here. Can we change that?
Ron & Buddy
Sunday 13th of March 2022
My pug is amazing! He told me when someone was having an epileptic fit, he constantly pawed her back till she started to come round, then licked her neck fervently, as soon as she sat up he just walked away, He also knew when my mums cancer came back, He has raised numerous kittens from birth, And is super loyal ❤️
Friday 11th of February 2022
My pug : "The complexity of the trick I do depends on the type of treat you give. Disclaimer-No trick will be performed without a treat."
I think the tests should be more complex to measure this kind of intelligence.