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How Smart Are Pugs? Understanding Dog Breed Intelligence

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By Nicole Cosgrove

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Dr. Luqman Javed

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Pugs are beloved dogs for their delightful, human-like expressions, adorable wrinkly faces, and big personalities. But how smart are Pugs? Though they rank around average in dog intelligence, it’s not quite that simple.

Learn more about Pug intelligence and what to expect if you bring one of these pups home.

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Measuring Dog Intelligence

Note: Though the Pug is a popular breed, they unfortunately suffer from a plethora of health issues as a result of generations of selective breeding and therefore unfortunately have a lower quality of life when compared to other dog breeds. Veterinarians around the world are urging pet owners to not adopt the breed as their genetic shortcomings cannot be overcome by proper care and management alone. If you wish to adopt a Pug, please be mindful that they will most likely need extensive medical assistance throughout their life, which may include necessary reconstructive surgery.

Because Pugs are often fun and silly, many people believe they’re an unintelligent breed. While they may not be as intelligent and trainable as a Poodle or Border Collie, different breeds have different types of intelligence.

Generally, dog intelligence is measured in instinctive, adaptive, and working skills.

  • Instinctive intelligence includes the skills that a dog was bred for, such as herding abilities in a Collie or Cattle Dog, scenting in a Bloodhound, or retrieving game in a Labrador Retriever. How well a dog understands and reacts to these natural, bred instincts is a measure of their intelligence.
  • Adaptive intelligence measures how well a dog can solve problems on their own. This includes learning from past mistakes or experiences and changing behaviors to have more successful outcomes.
  • Working intelligence is understood as trainability. Dogs that demonstrate high working intelligence are easy to train in a variety of obedience commands, skills, and tricks.

Pug Intelligence

pug dog with the owner
Image Credit: Piqsels

So, where do Pugs fall on this scale? These dogs were not bred for any specific purpose beyond being a companion. They weren’t historically used for herding, hunting, retrieving, scent work, guarding, or any similar purposes, so none of these traits were selectively bred. As a result, they lack any practical skill set for instinctive intelligence.

Pugs do have high adaptive intelligence, however. They remember and learn from their mistakes and are generally adaptable in a variety of situations. This isn’t the easiest type of intelligence to observe, which is why some people believe Pugs aren’t that smart.

As far as working intelligence, Pugs are generally easy to train and willing to please, but they can be stubborn. According to the book The Intelligence of Dogs written by canine psychologist Stanley Coren,1 Pugs fall in the fifth tier, which includes fair working dogs who tend to learn a new trick in 40 to 80 repetitions and respond 40% of the time. They’re ranked 57th, according to this scale, putting them around average of all the breeds tested.

Keep in mind, however, that this intelligence test isn’t perfect. Coren himself acknowledged some inconsistencies in the results, and we’re still struggling to find a reliable way to assess animal intelligence. Generally, humans view the markers of intelligence based on human intelligence, which accounts only for the obvious markers of intellect.

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Different breeds show different types of intelligence. If we compare a companion dog like a Pug to highly trainable breeds that have a historical purpose, such as a German Shepherd or Border Collie, it’s understandable that the Pug may not measure up. Still, Pugs are loving, adaptable dogs that learn obedience and tricks well, all with the goal of pleasing their owner.

Featured Image Credit: kikkian, Shutterstock

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Authored by

Nicole is a lover of animals of all sizes but is especially fascinated with the feline variety. She’s the proud mom of Baby, a Burmese, and works every day so he can relax in the sunshine or by the fire. She’s always had a cat in her home and has spent countless days with others, observing behaviors and softening up even the grouchiest of the lot. Nicole wants to share her kitty expertise with you so you and your cat ...Read more

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