Pit bulls often have kind, loving faces. Many of them seem to have a permanent smile plastered on their face at all times. And when they lay down to enjoy receiving a belly scratch, their faces can take on a funny expression that doesn’t exactly scream intelligence.

Are pitbulls smart? You may be wondering this if you’re considering adding a pit bull to your family.

But how do you even define doggie intelligence? What makes one dog “smarter” than another? Let’s find out and see how pit bulls fared when put to the test!

Are Pit Bulls Smart?

Yes and no. It’s hard to give a definitive answer here. Of course, individuals vary but also pit bulls are not just one breed — and there are differences from breed to breed.

The term pit bull refers to a group of four dog breeds and any dogs that are direct relatives to those breeds. These are:

  • American Staffordshire Terrier
  • Staffordshire Bull Terrier
  • American Bulldog
  • American Pit Bull Terrier

Adding to the confusion, some people will use the term for any dog that looks like a pit bull, though this is incorrect. The dog is only a pit bull if they are or are related to one of these four breeds.

As far as intelligence goes, when you ask pit bull owners, you’ll get varying answers. Some will tell you their dogs are quite intelligent, though others will say theirs seems dumber than a box of rocks.

So which is it? Are pit bulls smart or not? Let’s explore.

How We Measure a Pit Bull’s Intelligence

Measuring the intelligence of a dog is no easy task. After all, you can’t ask them to sit down and take an IQ test for you.

Plus, there are various factors of intelligence that have to be accounted for — which often aren’t when measuring a dog’s intelligence.

Additionally, some dogs were bred for a certain task and took to it instinctively even without training. For example, Border Collies and other breeds developed for herding livestock will often try to “herd” their families — even if the individual has never been trained or used for herding.

Pit bulls were originally bred for bull baiting, a brutal sport that has been outlawed for many years. However, the skills required for this job were not necessarily specific to bull baiting and can be used for other jobs. Plus, over the years pit bulls were selectively bred to reduce qualities like aggression that were originally prized.

Thus, modern pit bulls are actually more of a jack of all trades. They are great as guardians and watchdogs and some individuals can be used for herding. In general, their strength and endurance make them adequate for a variety of jobs.

pitbull looking smart

Coren’s Dog Intelligence Criteria

All right, let’s get a bit more specific. Anecdotal information about individual dogs doesn’t help much when classifying the intelligence of a whole breed. Plus, how do you measure a dog’s intelligence anyway?

Let’s take a look at Dr. Stanley Coren and his “IQ test for dogs.” This renowned canine psychologist created a trial that is heavily referenced when determining breed intelligence. However, it is important to understand the limitations of his trials to get an accurate picture.

Based on his trial, Dr. Coren developed a dog intelligence ranking list. He, along with 100 obedience trial judges, tested dogs to determine two things:

  • How many repetitions it took for them to learn a new command?
  • How often would the dog obey a known command on the first try?

Thus, he developed a scale of obedience and working intelligence.

However, this is not the complete picture. For example, a stubborn dog (a trait that sometimes appears in pit bulls) would score as a dumber dog on this test. He may know exactly what is being asked of him but simply doesn’t feel like performing the task when requested.

Furthermore, not all dog breeds took part in the trial. Only 138 breeds were tested and, of those, only breeds that registered at least 100 responses were included in the final list.

How did the pit bulls do on Coren’s test? Let’s find out!

How the Pit Bulls Performed

Only two of the four breeds we mentioned earlier are actually recognized by the AKC. Perhaps because of this, only these two breeds were included in the trials. They are the American Staffordshire Terrier and the Staffordshire Bull Terrier.

How did they measure up to the other pups? Well, the two breeds had quite different results!

The Staffordshire Bull Terrier came in 94th out of the 138 breeds. This breed was able to learn a command with 25 to 50 repetitions and had a 50% success rate of obeying known commands on the first try. This earned the breed a spot in the “average intelligence” class.

The American Staffordshire Terrier did better, coming in at 48th place. They were able to learn new commands with just 15 to 25 repetitions and had a 70% or better success rate when obeying. Thus, they were categorized as having “above average” intelligence.

Are Pitbulls Intelligent Emotionally?

But the ability to learn new commands and their willingness to obey them isn’t a complete picture of canine intelligence. For example, this test doesn’t measure emotional intelligence.

Though there are many concerns about aggression in pit bulls, well-cared-for pit bulls are known for being some of the sweetest dogs around.

Pit bulls can be highly affectionate and very gentle with children. Many pit bulls love snuggling with their owners and they are capable of picking up on and reacting to human emotions. Having a bad day? Your pit bull will likely notice and offer you a comforting doggie hug.

Though they can be stubborn at times, pit bulls are also known for being eager to please. Plus, they express interest when people are speaking and seem to be trying to understand. They show guilt when they have done something wrong, and make eye contact with humans.

All of these actions are signs of high emotional intelligence and are common to see among pit bulls.

pitbull outside

Measuring Pitbull Intelligence at Home

Coren’s trial is helpful in understanding dog intelligence. However, there are individual differences as well as other types of intelligence that remain unaccounted for.

Talk to a variety of pit bull owners and you’ll get a variety of answers about their intelligence. It’s the same with humans. We don’t all have the same level of intelligence and some are stronger in certain areas than others.

So how can you determine your pit bull's intelligence at home?

Simply keep an eye on his behaviors. How quickly does he learn new tricks? How likely is he to obey? Does he understand when he has done something wrong?

Of course, some of this has to do with how obedient the dog is, not necessarily their smarts.

For example, ingenious pit bulls have been known to figure out how to open cupboards or drawers to access their treat stash. But on top of that, they will wait for their owners’ absence so they have time to enjoy the spoils of their raid.

That takes an extra level of intelligence to plan and execute!

Are Pit Bulls Easy to Train?

If you start a pit bull young, they are generally quite easy to train. Their intelligence combined with their generally loving and eager-to-please attitude makes this task easier than it can be with other breeds.

However, some pit bulls have a stubborn streak that you may have to contend with. Plus, if they’ve been mistreated or handled harshly in the past, they will need extra love, patience, and a firm, but gentle, hand during the process.

What Is the Most Intelligent Pit Bull Breed?

Since only two pit bull breeds participated in Coren’s trial, we only have data for them. Of the two breeds, the American Staffordshire Terrier did considerably better.

However, this doesn’t necessarily state that across the board American Staffordshire Terriers are smarter than Staffordshire Bull Terriers. Within the parameters of the test, it might just mean they are more obedient.

Furthermore, there are a lot of differences between individuals. So while you can offer general characteristics of the breed, you can’t accurately predict an individual’s intelligence based on their breed alone.

Meet Zeus our newest member of the fam

Considering Adding a Pit Bull to Your Home?

What do you think? Have we convinced you that the stigma of the “dumb pit bull” might not be 100% accurate?

There are some individuals that don’t seem to shine in that area, but that doesn’t describe pit bulls as a whole. And regardless of a pit bull’s intelligence, these dogs are sure to bring something a whole lot more important into your life — love and affection.

If that sounds good to you, a pit bull could make a wonderful addition to your family!

For more helpful articles about pet-parenting tips, check out the Off Leash blog at TryFi.com.

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