Are Boston Terriers Smart? Dog Intelligence vs Cognition

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by Lily Ferreras


Boston Terriers are known for their friendliness and entertaining personality. But how intelligent are they?

Are Boston Terriers smart? Boston Terriers are lively and highly intelligent. They are easy to train and do well in Obedience Competitions and Dog Sports like Agility.

However, traditional dog intelligence ranking is not enough to determine a dog’s abilities.

How about measuring your Boston Terrier’s cognition instead?

Are Boston Terriers Smart?

The AKC breed standards describe Boston Terriers as lively and highly intelligent. Also, their alert and kind expression indicates a high degree of intelligence.

But why are they smart? How did experts measure Boston Terriers’ intelligence?

How Smart Are Boston Terriers?

Stanley Coren, a PhD and canine psychologist from the University of British Columbia, created the list of smartest dogs. 

With the help of 199 obedience trial judges from the American and Canadian Kennel Club, Coren was able to collect data to rank dog breeds by intelligence. He developed criteria for ranking dog intelligence based on:

  • Instinctiveness.
  • Adaptiveness.
  • Working capability.
  • Obedience.

Professor Coren claims that 51% of a dog’s intelligence stems from its genes, while 49% is based on environmental factors.

He evaluated problem-solving capabilities, obedience, memory, social training, and observation.

According to his book “The Intelligence of Dogs,” written in 1994, Boston Terriers hold position 100 out of 136 in the Dog Intelligence List. This ranking places Bostons on an “average intelligence” position, alongside Australian Shepherds, Siberian Huskies, Great Danes, Greyhounds, Dachshunds and Shiba Inus.

This means that Boston Terriers are able to learn a brand new command with 25 to 40 repetitions. They are also capable of obeying a known command on the first attempt 50% of the time. 


So, what were the criteria for rating a dog’s intelligence? Coren’s dog intelligence criteria were the following:

  1. The number of repetitions needed for the dog breed to learn a new command. The fewer repetitions needed to learn a command, the “smarter” the dog was.
  2. The rate at which a dog breed will obey a known command on the first try. The higher the success rate, the smarter and more obedient the dog breed was.

Bear in mind that he didn’t include every dog breed. Only dog breeds that received at least 100 responses were qualified for his list.

Boston Terriers vs “The Smartest Dogs”

Stanley Coren concluded that the smartest dogs are the top 10.

The most intelligent breeds are able to learn a new command with 5 repetitions or less. Also, they are capable of obeying a known command (on the first try) with a 95% or better success rate.

Curious about the top three dog breeds? Well, here they are:

  1. Border Collies.
  2. Poodles.
  3. German Shepherds.

Why Boston Terriers Are Smart Dogs?

If Boston Terriers are barely in the top 100 for most intelligent dogs, why are they considered smart? Why does the AKC defend this statement?

That’s because Stanley Coren’s study is based on limited data.

Also, it refers to a dog’s intelligence as a dog breed’s capability to be obedient and perform a job.

However, this is not enough to asses a dog’s abilities. Plus, comparing dog breeds that were bred for different jobs or activities makes little sense when evaluating a dog’s capabilities.

Although how quickly dogs learn and their obedience matters, it doesn’t tell the full story.

Just because your Boston Terrier doesn’t obey you doesn’t mean he doesn’t understand you.

For instance, if you’re training your pooch and you can’t figure out why your dog isn’t listening to you… You may have a dog that is particularly cunning! Why? Because he’s using your eyes and your body posture to decide whether or not you can see him or not and whether he has to listen to you!

So, it seems that your Boston is actually paying attention to whether you are watching or not. He’s obviously using your presence or absence in a room.

Is there a more accurate way to measure a dog’s “intelligence”?


Dog Intelligence vs Dog Cognition

According to Brian Hare, there are five different types of intelligence: empathy, communication, cunning, memory and reasoning.

  • Empathy: A dog’s ability to connect with and pay attention to its owner.
  • Communication: A dog’s ability to read human gestures and signal their own intentions.
  • Cunning: A dog’s ability to monitor their owner’s attention for their own benefit.
  • Memory: A dog’s ability to recall information or situations.
  • Reasoning: A dog’s ability to infer the solution to a problem.

Hare reframes dog intelligence and proposes to asses a dog’s capabilities and performance on his cognitive levels.

Cognition is the mind flexibly solving problems. It allows for inferential reasoning leading to flexible problem-solving. So, a dog’s cognition profile scores how a dog performs in those 5 fields.

“So the challenge is no longer determining whether or not a species or an individual is smart or not, but rather it’s to understand the cognitive profile of an individual or species, and how is it that those profiles developed… evolved.”

Dr Brian Hare, Professor of Cognitive Neuroscience at Duke University and founder of the Duke Canine Cognition Center.

In his “The Genius of Dogs” book, he explains that a dog’s breed doesn’t really communicate that much. There are no big differences between the different breed groups, even if they were bred for very different activities.

Citizen science data from Dognition has revealed that pure breeds are more reliant on human gestures than mixed breeds. But mixed breeds are more reliant on their memory than pure breeds. Plus, there’s tremendous individual variability within a dog breed, in terms of temperament behaviour but especially cognition.

A dog’s breed says a lot about temperament, but it doesn’t seem to communicate much about cognitive ability.

For example, there are huge differences, cognitively speaking, between Labrador Retrievers that are being bred and trained to be assistance dogs and Labrador Retrievers that are being bred and trained to be dogs that detect explosives.

Boston Terriers were originally bred to be fighting dogs but gradually evolved to be companion dogs. They compete in dog shows, in obedience competitions and also excel in dog sports competitions like agility.

Depending on a Boston Terrier’s ancestry (what his ancestors were bred for) and his current training, his abilities will vary.

That’s why concluding that Boston Terriers are intelligent is not an accurate assessment. The only way to know your Boston’s cognitive profile (how he scores in empathy, communication, cunning, memory and reasoning) is to measure it.

By doing so, you will have a better understanding of your dog as an individual.

How can you evaluate your Boston Terrier’s cognitive profile?

Dognition offers a series of games to discover which skills an individual dog relies on to navigate their world. It doesn’t rank your dog’s IQ.

The Dognition Assessment is designed to evaluate a dog’s cognitive profile. This will allow you to know your dog’s strongest abilities and which are areas for improvement.


How To Increase Your Boston Terrier’s Abilities

If you are looking for a fun way to challenge your pooch, teach him new tricks and improve his abilities, I’ve got just the thing for that.

Use my favourite brain training method and discover how to take your dog’s current abilities to a whole new level! Brain games are great to keep your Boston mentally stimulated and a fun way to strengthen your bond with your furry friend!

You can try one of the games for FREE here.

Get The Airplane Game for FREE here.
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