Are Pitbulls Smart?

“Are Pitbulls Smart? It seems like such a simple question, but it’s far more complicated to answer than it may seem on the surface.

While we can give a generalized answer to the How smart are Pitbulls question, there are a lot of factors that should be taken into account.

Are Pitbulls Smart

However, we can reassure you on one point: the stereotype of the “dumb pitbull” is completely wrong! 

Resist the temptation to just give this a skim through looking for an easy answer.  There isn’t one, and reading this article will show you just why we say that. We have a lot of ground to cover! Let’s get started.

“Are Pitbulls Smart? How We’ll Approach Your Question

We’ll kick off this piece with the simplest answer to your question.

That means starting by defining just what a Pitbull is since we can’t attribute a quality to an animal if there are any misconceptions about what animal it actually is. 

Then, we’ll look at how the most common opinion on Pitbull intelligence was formed, and why we don’t necessarily agree with it! After that, we’ll investigate different types of intelligence and how the average pitbull fares. 

But what about those “extra smart” or “extra dumb” exceptions? We’ll look into that too!

What Is A Pitbull? Several Breeds Under One Banner

Contrary to the belief that Pitbulls are a single breed, the term “Pitbull” refers to almost any dog with terrier and bulldog ancestry.

Several breeds have sprung from these bloodlines and they include the American Pitbull Terrier, American Bullies, the Stafforshire Bull Terrier, the American Staffordshire Terrier and so on. 

Is Pitbull Smart

So, before we begin answering “How smart are Pitbulls?” be aware that we’re talking about an entire category of medium to large dogs with short coats and big heads.

Needless to say, that means there are also plenty of crossbreeds that also fall into the Pitbull category. 

As you can see, the sheer diversity of dogs under consideration complicates the issue, but we’ll answer it as best we can anyway. 

How Dog Intelligence Is Measured

The most widely accepted way of determining how clever a dog is was developed by Dr. Stanley Coren, an academic who specialized in canine psychology. 

Since there were no measurements of canine intelligence at the time, he decided that the best way to determine how smart a dog is would be to look at their ability to learn and remember commands. 

Having chosen a method, Dr. Coren got some help from obedience trial judges and developed a dog intelligence ranking by breed.

To arrive at an intelligence rating, they recorded how many times a new command had to be repeated in order for a dog to learn it. 

Once the command was learned, participants would give the new command and see whether the dog was able to obey it immediately after hearing it.

So, according to this method, fewer repetitions to learn, and a better chance of acting on a command the first time it was heard again, form the basis of canine intelligence. 

Although it only looks at trainability, this ranking has gained wide acceptance, so next, we’ll see how Pitbulls performed on this score before looking at components of intelligence other than trainability and how Pitbulls fare there. 

Are Pitbulls Smart? How They Ranked In Coren’s Test

The trials Coren conducted only included two breeds that fall under the Pitbull banner: the American Staffordshire Terrier (ranked 48th) and the Staffordshire Bull Terrier (ranked 94th). 

The results for each breed were measured across 100 dogs and they mean that the Staffordshire Bull Terrier has average intelligence while the American Staffordshire Terrier is classed as having above-average intelligence. 

Since these are only two of the Pitbull category of dogs, the picture isn’t quite complete, but at least it debunks the “dumb pitbull” myth. Neither breed was anywhere near the bottom of the ranking! 

Pitbulls And Other Types Of Intelligence 

Trainability is certainly a useful characteristic that helps dogs and people to work together, but there are other types of intelligence that may be important to you. Consider these: 

Emotional Intelligence Of Pitbull

Emotional Intelligence

The ability to “read” emotions and respond could be a good measurement of emotional intelligence in dogs.

Unfortunately, no work as sweeping as Coren’s has been done on dog breeds and their EQ. 

However, Pitbull owners often note that their dogs develop a very close bond with their families and seem to be able to understand their feelings. Given the right home, a Pitbull really comes into its own in this sense. 

Apart from having very expressive faces themselves, Pitbulls can read your facial expressions and tone of voice rather well.

They’ll know when you’re happy, angry, tired, or sad – and they’re probably more in touch with your feelings than you are with theirs. 

You’ll know that your Pitbull is reading your emotions because he’ll adjust his behavior accordingly. Sounding happy?

He’ll be happy to share it, or he’ll take advantage of the moment to see if you’re willing to play.

Angry? You get the apologetic look, the submissive  “sorry boss” body language, and the nervous tail thumping. 

And if he’s done something he just knows is naughty, he won’t even wait for your reaction. You’ll get that guilty dog look before you even know what he did wrong. 

Then, of course, there are those moments that are pure gold for every dog owner: the melting look of love or the tilted to the side head as he tries to understand what you’re saying to him. 

There’s no formal conclusion to draw from this time, but we can say without reservation that Pitbulls have above-average emotional intelligence when they’re raised right!

Instinctive Intelligence Of Pitbull

Instinctive Intelligence

Every living creature is born with instincts that are there for its survival.

During domestication, dogs were bred to have instincts that would serve a purpose for their human masters. For example, sheepdogs have a strong herding instinct. 

Despite their bloody history as fighting dogs, the focus in Pitbull breeding has changed a lot. It’s been a long time since aggression was seen as a desirable trait in dogs.

Your Pitbull’s strongest instinct is loyalty to the “pack” and its leader – and that means you and your family. 

Even the gentlest Pitbull becomes a formidable beast if he thinks that his family is under threat and most Pitbulls can instinctively recognize whether a threat is real or not. 

All dogs have a prey drive to a greater or lesser extent, and it’s quite strong in the Pitbull breeds. 

This can make them great fun when playing active games like “fetch” in which the ball is the “prey,” but it does mean he needs to be trained that other animals aren’t prey and even then, it’s best to be vigilant. 

Adaptive Intelligence

Adaptive intelligence refers to how well dogs learn things for themselves. It’s a type of learning they use to adapt to the situations in which they find themselves.

With the natural curiosity and alertness of terriers in their bloodlines, you might find yourself surprised by what a Pitbull can learn all by himself. 

Adaptive intelligence is used in problem-solving, and your Pitbull may be rather too good at this when it comes to solving “problems” you’d rather he didn’t!

For example, Pitbulls have something of a reputation as “escape artists” who can figure out ways to get out of the yard. Dr. Coren notes that a dog’s ability to learn what you’d rather they didn’t is also an indicator of intelligence albeit a challenging one!

In fact, Coren observes that a smart dog will learn to do “everything he can get away with” and if that sound like your Pitbull, you aren’t alone! 

While you might admire your Pitbull’s independent streak and ability to learn from his environment, keeping him out of trouble will mean providing him with a positive outlet.

For him, nothing beats an opportunity to be close to you, but when you can’t be there, be sure he has something to keep him occupied. Puzzle toys are a great example. 

How Smart Are Pitbulls? Individual Dogs And Intelligence

Intelligence Of Pitbull

When we ask a question about a dog breed, we shouldn’t overlook the variations that can occur within that breed. You’re always going to get the “Einsteins” and the “doofus” dogs. 

If you’ve ever nurtured a litter of pups, you’ll have seen their personalities developing, and you’re bound to have noticed that there’s the smart pup, the goofy pup, and the sweet but rather dim one. 

Individual differences can be very marked – even worlds away, and all in the same litter of pups! Let’s look at some of the reasons why this might occur. 

Genetics And Genetic Variability

The most obvious place to see genetic differences, even between siblings, is to look at physical appearance.

But intelligence is also influenced by genes, and Pitbulls are a group of breeds that contains massive genetic diversity. 

Using humans as an example, a single pair of parents can give rise to over eight million different combinations of chromosomes.

So, if you had over eight million children, each one of them would be different provided you didn’t have identical twins! 

Returning to dogs, a smart dad dog and an equally smart momma dog are quite capable of producing a pup that isn’t among the smartest of their breed.

That’s just how genetics work! Now consider all the Pitbulls in the world and all the pups they produce. The different levels of intelligence in all those pups is almost unimaginable. 

So, if you’re feeling a little offended that Coren’s obedience tests rated your Pitbull variant as “average” when you just know that your dog’s a genius, you might be right and your dog’s genetic makeup could be part of the explanation for it. 

Health And Intelligence

There is a provable link between health and intelligence. In humans, it’s thought to account for many IQ differences within groups.

So, why not dogs? Apart from real injuries like a difficult birth that could cause mild brain damage, there are much more subtle links between health and your Pitbull’s smarts. 

Were you careful to choose high-quality puppy food to max out your pup’s nutrition?

You may have helped his brain to develop too, and even in adult dogs, poor nutrition isn’t going to leave them feeling at their best and, you guessed it, brightest.

Do remember that getting the best out of your Pitbull, whatever his age, involves giving him a healthy diet that takes his life stage into consideration. 

And, if your dog is suffering from some form of chronic illness, you can be sure that it will impact his intelligence too. How clearly do you think when you’re unwell? 

Formative Experiences And Intelligence

There’s another reason why your Pitbull might be smarter or dumber than average, and that’s the experiences he’s had throughout his life.

Trauma of any kind actually causes physical changes to the brain, and in human studies, it was found that children who suffered trauma often suffered from developmental issues. 

Spare a thought for your rescue Pitbull! If he isn’t the sharpest tool in the shed, it might not even be his genes that are to blame. 

Throughout your Pitbull’s life, providing him with a rich variety of positive experiences might actually boost his brain power.

Since it will also help him to be more adaptable and less likely to get overexcited and disobedient, you’ll be doing yourself and your dog a whole bunch of favors if you help him to expand his horizons somewhat. 

How Smart Are Pitbulls? Why You Should Take Those Rankings With A Pinch of Salt

Are_Pitbull Puppies_Smart

 We’ve certainly covered a lot of ground since we first expanded on the question of how smart Pitbulls might (or might not) be.

We’ve uncovered a lot of different types of intelligence as well as genetic and environmental factors that could help or harm your dog’s intelligence. 

Of all the things we’ve discussed, Coren’s obedience test-based intelligence ranking is interesting but somewhat controversial. Does obedience really equate to intelligence? 

All the same, the results aren’t bad news for Pitbulls and their owners.

Based on this test, average to above average intelligence indicates a trainable dog, and that’s important to the degree of satisfaction you and your Pitbull will get out of your relationship. 

However, we’d like to propose that Pitbulls are actually much smarter than the obedience test seems to indicate thanks to their emotional, instinctive, and adaptive intelligence. 

Pitbulls’ lineage and temperament has a lot of the terrier in it, and terriers are known for an inclination toward stubbornness.

When you’re training a dog with this kind of temperament, there’s almost always a moment when you can see your dog deciding whether he really feels like doing what you asked him to.

That’s definitely not an indication of a lack of intelligence. Independence, maybe. A stubborn streak, to a certain extent. Neither of these things means your dog is less intelligent.

What it does mean is that you’ll have to keep that training super-positive. It’s as if your dog is constantly asking himself “What’s in this for me?”

And, because your Pitbull has an independent mind and is easily distracted, you’ll have to keep on repeating and practicing the things he’s learned so that he doesn’t “forget” them when it seems convenient to do so. 

Thank goodness, you have your Pitbull’s loyalty, affection, and bond with you on your side.

We always say that Pitbulls are highly trainable, and the average Pitbull’s eagerness to please, while not slavish, is also a bonus.

Are Pitbulls smart? They certainly can be – and we think they deserve more recognition for it!


Hi there, my name is Blake and I have an American Bully named Rocky. I fell in love with the breed around ten years ago after seeing some of my friends adopt a Bully. I love the combination of the muscular physique and calm, loyal companionship that the American Bully breed has to offer. My enthusiasm for the breed has led me to train as a dog behavioralist and trainer. Over the last ten years, I have supported many households in raising their American Bully and maximizing the potential of the breed. I’m delighted to share my knowledge and expertise on this site.

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