Are Pugs Smart or Dumb? Breed Intelligence Comparison

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by Lily Ferreras


Pugs are a dog breed with a whole lot of personality, which is one thing all pug parents will likely agree with. A common thought alongside their temperament and behaviour(s), is intelligence:

Are pugs dumb, or are they smart dogs?

Pugs have average intelligence, holding the position 108 out of 136 in the Dog Intelligence List by Stanley Coren. Pugs need more repetitions to learn a brand new command and are capable of obeying a known command on the first attempt 50% of the time. 

Let’s have a look further at what this means and how they compare to other dogs.

Are Pugs Smart?

The AKC breed standards describe Pug’s temperament as playful, charming and loving. But there’s no mention about how smart Pugs are.

Pugs are not considered smart, or at least, it’s not a trait that is highlighted when describing this breed.

However, that doesn’t mean that Pugs are dumb, as some people say. Pugs are trainable and will follow your commands, although their stubbornness can be a challenge when training.

Let’s have a look at the aspects that are measured when discussing a dog’s intelligence and how pugs perform.

Types of Dog Intelligence

According to The Intelligence of Dogs book, written by Stanley Coren (source), there are three aspects of intelligence when it comes to dog breeds:

  • Instinctive intelligence: a dog’s ability to perform the tasks it was bred for e.g. herding or guarding.
  • Adaptive intelligence: refers to a dog’s ability to solve problems on their own, and their social awareness; for instance, recognizing frequent visitors or reading facial expressions. 
  • Working and obedience intelligence: measures a dog’s ability to learn from humans; service dogs are an example. Another being dogs that compete in dog sports and shows.

How Smart Are Pugs?

Haven gone through those three aspects of intelligence, how do pugs compare?

Pug’s Instinctive Intelligence

Pugs don’t have an instinctive intelligence, since they have been bred as companion dogs.

Here’s a bit of Pug history…

Did you know that the Pug is one of the oldest dog breeds?

The Pug breed can be traced back to 400 B.C. when they worked as companion dogs for Buddhist monks in Tibet.

The emperors of ancient China had a preference for brachycephalic toy dogs like Pekingese, Shih Tzu, and Pug. These dogs were bred as pets for the emperor, his family, and members of the imperial court.

So, from the origin of this breed, Pugs have been kept and cherished as companions, not as guarding or tracking dogs.

Pugs continued to be companion pets when they were brought into Europe by Dutch traders during the 1500s. For instance, when William and Mary of Orange arrived in England to rule as monarchs, their Pugs accompanied them.

However, your puppy at home may imprint on you when he’s between 3 and 12 weeks of age. As a result, he will view you as his mother or a person he can trust.

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Pug’s Adaptive Intelligence

Their adaptive intelligence is high in social awareness, due to their job as companion dogs. Pugs focus on their owners and are very affectionate towards them.

This characteristic makes Pugs friendly and loving towards babies, kids and other dogs. Making them a great choice as a family pet!

Also, how social they are can come across as needy and demanding. Pugs thrive on attention and love to be around people.

Pug’s Obedience Intelligence

A Pug’s obedience intelligence will highly depend on the owner and how they are being trained. Pugs can also be stubborn and just because they decide not to follow a command doesn’t mean that they don’t understand.

Every dog can be trained if you are deliberate and consistent with what you are doing to train them. However, breed traits and a dog’s individual personality will also dictate how they respond to training and following commands.

Don’t be surprised if your Pug chooses not to follow your command or direction. Honestly, sometimes it looks like they are thinking about it and decide that they cannot be bothered!

I still remember when my foster pug, Tootsie, decided she had enough of the walk and all she wanted was to await passers-by in order to get attention!

She would either stop in the middle of the walking path and not move until I picked her up, walk a few steps, put her down and try to walk again. Or, if she spotted kids or people, she’d head over to them enthusiastically (even though you’d have thought she was taking a break just seconds ago).

Pugs can get more compliant with the right motivation, usually food!

While some breeds like Golden Retrievers might enjoy problem-solving exercises (mental stimulation games) and that by itself is enough motivation, pugs seem to pay more attention when you hold a delicious treat in your hand!


Pugs vs The Smartest Dogs

Stanley Coren, a PhD and canine psychologist from the University of British Columbia, created the list of smartest dogs. Stanley Coren concluded that the smartest dogs are the top 10 (out of a list of 136).

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, Pugs hold position 108 out of 136 in the Dog Intelligence List. This ranking places Pugs on an “average intelligence” position, alongside Boston Terriers, Australian Shepherds, Siberian Huskies, Great Danes, Greyhounds, Dachshunds and Shiba Inus.

This means that Pugs 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. 

In contrast, 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.

According to Stanley Coren’s dog intelligence ranking, the 10 smartest dogs are:

  1. Border Collie (Herding group).
  2. Poodle (Non-sporting group).
  3. German Shepherd (Herding group).
  4. Golden Retriever (Sporting group).
  5. Doberman Pinscher (Working group).
  6. Shetland Sheepdog (Herding group).
  7. Labrador Retriever (Sporting group).
  8. Papillon (Toy group).
  9. Rottweiler (Working group).
  10. Australian Cattle Dog (Herding group).

As you can see, 80% of the 10 smartest dogs have been bred to perform a task or a job: hunting, guarding, herding, etc. and have developed certain intelligent traits over thousands of years.

Pugs are a companion breed (in the Toy group), not part of the working group. They provide great comfort and pleasure to their owners and are good play buddies for kids.

The Pug’s job is to keep you company and give you lots of cuddles. But this doesn’t mean that you cannot challenge your pug! 🙂


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