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Are Boston Terriers Smart?

Boston Terriers are small, charming dogs known for their distinctive tuxedo-like markings, expressive faces, and friendly personalities. 

They may be cute…

But are they smart?

In this article, we delve into the intelligence of Boston Terriers, examine their various types of intelligence, and compare them with other breeds. 

We’ll also discuss ways to maximize your Boston Terrier’s intelligence through proper training and mental stimulation.

Background and History of Boston Terriers

Boston Terriers, affectionately known as “American Gentlemen” due to their unique appearance, originated in the United States around the late 19th century. 

The breed was created by crossing English Bulldogs with English White Terriers (a now-extinct breed) and was later refined with additional crosses to other breeds like the French Bulldog. 

A Boston Terrier standing next to a skateboard

Do you expect me to ride this thing?!

They’ve become incredibly popular

Initially bred for pit-fighting and rat hunting, Boston Terriers have since evolved into loving and playful companion animals that is highly popular all around the world.

Just how popular?

Well, in 2022, the Boston Terrier ranked #24 on Most Popular Dog Breeds in America by the American Kennel Club.

Ranked at 24 out of 199 dogs? 

Sounds like the Boston Terrier is pretty popular to me!

Loved for their personality & intelligence

The intelligence of Boston Terriers played a significant role in their development as a breed. 

Their ancestors had to be smart and adaptable to excel in their original tasks, which required a combination of strength, agility, and problem-solving skills. 

Over time, as the breed’s purpose shifted toward companionship, the Boston Terrier’s intelligence became increasingly important for its ability to bond with and learn from its human family.

Defining Intelligence in Dogs

When we’re talking about intelligence for humans, we can perform an IQ test.

But dogs?

They can’t really take a test like us humans…

Besides, what makes us intelligent isn’t exactly what we’re looking for in canine intelligence.

It can’t be measured by a single number — there are three main types of canine intelligence:

The three types of canine intelligence

  • Instinctive intelligence: This type of intelligence is related to a dog’s natural abilities and breed-specific traits, such as herding, hunting, or guarding.
  • Adaptive intelligence: Adaptive intelligence refers to a dog’s problem-solving abilities and its capacity to learn from experience.
  • Working and obedience intelligence: This type of intelligence is associated with a dog’s trainability and its ability to understand and respond to commands.

There are other factors at play

In addition to these three types of intelligence, various factors contribute to a dog’s overall intelligence, including its breed, training, and socialization.

Dr. Stanley Coren stated that 

“51% of a dog’s intelligence stems from its genes while 49% is based on environmental circumstances.”

Assessing Boston Terriers’ Intelligence

To better understand the intelligence of Boston Terriers, we’ll examine each type of canine intelligence and how it manifests in this breed.

Instinctive intelligence

Instinctive intelligence encompasses a dog’s natural abilities and breed-specific traits. 

In the case of Boston Terriers, their original roles as rat hunters and pit-fighters have left a lasting imprint on their genetic makeup. 

Today’s Boston Terriers retain some of these instincts, such as a strong prey drive and a tenacious spirit, which can be seen when they play or interact with other animals.

Adaptive intelligence

Adaptive intelligence refers to a dog’s ability to solve problems and learn from experience. 

Boston Terriers are known to be adaptable dogs that can quickly acclimate to new environments and situations. 

They have a keen sense of their surroundings and can often anticipate their owner’s needs or emotions, making them excellent companions for people of all ages and lifestyles.

A Black & White Boston Terrier being held by its owner

Boston Terriers make wonderful companions

Working and obedience intelligence

Working and obedience intelligence is directly related to a dog’s trainability and its ability to understand and respond to commands. 

Boston Terriers are generally easy to train, thanks to their eagerness to please and their capacity to form strong bonds with their human family members. 

They excel in various dog sports and activities, such as obedience trials, agility, and even therapy work.

So Just How Smart is the Boston Terrier?

Boston Terriers ranked 54th out of 138 breeds, placing them in the “average” intelligence category. 

You’re probably wondering where this ranking comes from.

It’s from a book called “The Intelligence of Dogs” written by the famous psychology professor & neuropsychology researcher Dr. Stanley Coren. He’s done a whole bunch of work on dog intelligence but his dog intelligence ranking is what he’s most known for.

They are considered “average” intelligence

In Coren’s book, he classed dogs into 6 categories — brightest dogs, excellent working dogs, above-average working dogs, average working dogs, fair working dogs, and the lowest degree of working/obedience intelligence dogs.

Boston Terriers are in the “Average Working” category.

Average Working/Obedience Intelligence

  • Understanding of new commands: 25 to 40 repetitions.
  • Obey first command: 50% of the time or better.

This isn’t the whole story

While this ranking may seem underwhelming, it’s important to note that the evaluation was based solely on working and obedience intelligence, and it doesn’t take into account other types of canine intelligence, such as instinctive and adaptive intelligence.

Every breed has strengths and weaknesses

When comparing the intelligence of Boston Terriers with other breeds, it’s essential to consider their strengths and weaknesses. 

For example, a Border Collie, which ranks first in Coren’s list, may excel in working and obedience intelligence, but it may also require more physical and mental stimulation than a Boston Terrier. 

On the other hand, breeds like the Afghan Hound and the Basenji, which rank lower in working and obedience intelligence, may have higher instinctive intelligence, making them more independent and less trainable.

Comparing intelligence between breeds is not an exact science, and it’s crucial to remember that each dog is an individual with unique abilities and traits. 

Ultimately, what matters most is finding the right breed for your lifestyle and understanding how to maximize your dog’s potential.

A Boston Terrier sitting on its hind legs

Can your Boston Terrier do this??

Maximizing Your Boston Terrier’s Intelligence

Regardless of their ranking in working and obedience intelligence, Boston Terriers can be smart, adaptable companions if given the proper training, socialization, and mental stimulation. 

Here are some tips to help you maximize your Boston Terrier’s intelligence:

1. Proper training techniques

Positive reinforcement training methods, such as clicker training or reward-based training, are highly effective for Boston Terriers. 

These techniques encourage your dog to think and make decisions, strengthening their problem-solving abilities and adaptive intelligence. 

Be patient and consistent with your training, and always use rewards like treats, praise, or toys to motivate your dog.

Negative reinforcement is never recommended

You should always use positive reinforcement when training your dog.

This means that you reward them for behavior that you want them to repeat.

You don’t want to punish them for bad behavior — this can lead to fear and aggression.

2. Socialization and mental stimulation

Exposing your Boston Terrier to various environments, people, and animals from an early age is essential for their mental development. 

Proper socialization helps your dog learn appropriate behavior and enhances their ability to adapt to new situations. 

How to keep your Boston Terrier mentally stimulated

Additionally, providing mental stimulation through puzzle toys, interactive games, and regular playtime can help keep your dog’s mind sharp and engaged.

3. Encouraging your Boston Terrier’s natural abilities

While Boston Terriers may not have the same instinctive intelligence as some working breeds, they still possess natural abilities that can be nurtured and developed. 

How you can encourage their natural abilities

For example, their history as rat hunters makes them well-suited for activities like Barn Hunt, a sport that challenges dogs to locate rats (safely enclosed in tubes) hidden in a straw or hay bale course. 

Similarly, their agility and tenacity make them excellent candidates for dog sports like agility, flyball, or rally obedience.


In conclusion, Boston Terriers are intelligent dogs with a range of abilities that make them adaptable, loving companions. 

They may not be the smartest when it comes to their “working and obedience intelligence”, they make up for it with their adorable looks, adaptability, and being easy to train & eager to please.

Don’t forget!

49% of a dog’s intelligence is believed to be a result of their environment.

This means that you can help your Boston Terrier be smarter by providing them with proper training, socialization, and mental stimulation.

So do your part to help your Boston Terrier get straight-A’s and reach their full potential.

They’ll be the best companion you could ever ask for.