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Are Bull Terriers Smart? Breed Intelligence Revealed

Written by: Nicole Cosgrove

Last Updated on July 8, 2024 by Dogster Team

white puppy Bull Terrier looking up

Are Bull Terriers Smart? Breed Intelligence Revealed


Dr. Luqman Javed Photo


Dr. Luqman Javed

Veterinarian, DVM

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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If you own a Bull Terrier, you know that there’s never a dull moment with these dogs. They have a wicked sense of humor and can play with you or go into full self-entertainment mode. With this, plus their astounding ability to pick and choose the commands to obey, it’s normal to question their IQs. Are Bull Terriers smart? How intelligent are they?

Generally, Bull Terriers don’t meet the traditional standards of a brilliant dog. They rank low in obedience and working intelligence but reign supreme in the adaptive and instinctive intelligence departments. However, that’s not to say they aren’t smart – in fact, some argue that their tendency to pick and choose when they wish to respond to training means they possess enough intelligence to make their own decisions.

Although they need 40 to 80 repetitions to master a command, they need no training to do what they were bred to do: hunting.

Read on to learn more about a Bull Terrier’s intelligence. We will analyze areas where this dog breed struggles and where it shines.

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How Smart Are Bull Terriers?

The Bull Terrier is an excellent choice if you are looking for a dog that can test your patience to the maximum during training. The breed is not dumb but usually has no genuine interest in pleasing you. Even when they can understand a command, they may not appear keen to obey.

Fortunately, Bull Terriers respond well to training, eventually. The AKC ranks them as more likely trainable than self-willed and untrainable 1. The trick is to find what motivates your dog and use it to your advantage. You’ll also need to set yourself as the pack’s leader and earn your dog’s trust.

Let’s analyze a Bull Terrier’s brilliance based on the three main canine intelligence dimensions.

Obedience and Work Intelligence

Obedience and work intelligence is a dog’s capacity to master commands and obey them. One aspect considered when measuring this type of intelligence is how fast a dog can learn and how many times you must repeat a command before it “gets it”. Also, experts consider a dog’s ability to obey a command with just one attempt.

If you own a Bull Terrier, you probably have an idea that your pet scores low in this department. The breed ranks lower than most other dog breeds in obedience and work intelligence. That is why you’ve had to repeat a command many times for your furry friend to understand it.

Another aspect that makes Bull Terriers rank low in obedience and work intelligence is that they don’t always follow commands on the first attempt. They can refuse to engage you even when they understand what you are saying.

white bull terrier puppy standing outdoor
Image Credit: otsphoto, Shutterstock

Instinctive Intelligence

Bull Terriers have a strong prey drive. They were purpose-bred to be gun dogs or hunting dogs, a task they accomplish with pride. Because the breed excels at assisting hunters in finding and retrieving game, this generally implies that they have a high instinctive intelligence.

Hunting is ingrained in the Bull Terrier’s DNA. The dog will chase anything, including bunnies and squirrels that visit your yard. These dogs were also bred to be aggressive, athletic, and tough enough to excel in blood sports like rat-biting. Although the breed is loyal and devoted to their human companions, they have the potential to become aggressive if not properly trained and socialized.

A Bull Terrier’s instinctive intelligence means you cannot trust your pet to play nice with the resident cat or smaller dogs at the park. Unfortunately, your dog will not always take directions, and accidents can happen, especially during unsupervised play sessions.

Adaptive Intelligence

Bull Terriers may not learn a command you repeat twenty times, but they can learn through observation. They have high adaptive intelligence and an above-average ability to learn for themselves and from past experiences.

For instance, a Bull Terrier will know it’s time to shower if you hold a towel in one hand and call your dog’s name. When you head for the door holding a leash, your dog will know it’s time for a walk.

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Is a Bull Terrier Easy to Train?

Bull Terriers are not the most trainable dogs in the world. Teaching your dog just one basic command can take a whole afternoon. When teaching a complex trick, prepare to surrender your weekend before your pet gets it.

Unfortunately, these dogs are also not the most obedient. There are no guarantees that your furry companion will respond desirably to a command on the first attempt, even if they understand it.

The easiest way to go about training is first to understand what motivates your furry friend. Does your dog love treats? Does your dog seem more focused when you promise to hand over their favorite toy? Positive reinforcement always works like a charm to give your training a better chance of success.

english bull terrier dog playing with a ball
Image Credit: otsphoto, Shutterstock

The 6 Tips to Make Training a Bull Terrier Easier

Training a Bull Terrier can be frustrating. The breed is an independent thinker that may obnoxiously ignore you even after munching the treats you offer. It’s easy to feel like your dog is testing your patience, especially if you are new to pet parenthood.

Here are a few tips that could make your Bull Terrier more submissive and open to learning new tricks and commands.

1. Be Consistent

Bull Terriers have trouble mastering even basic commands. The last thing you want to do is mix up the language you use during training. For instance, once your dog learns the cue “come,” don’t ask it to “get over here.” This will confuse your dog, and your dog may end up ignoring you altogether.

Also, reinforce the behaviors you want. If you are teaching your Bull Terrier not to beg for food at the table, it is counterproductive to offer your dog table scraps once your dog begins drooling. Doing so will only make your dog take longer to understand any point you try to put across.

2. Repeatedly Change the Learning Environment

Bull Terriers are notorious for disobeying commands. When you think they finally understand a cue during training, they will refuse to respond appropriately during walks. Training from different environments can help address this concern.

For instance, start by finding a quiet, distraction-free space in your yard and teach your pet how to “leave it.” The training should not end there.

Practice the same command from your kitchen and during walks. Slowly amp up the environment and practice the same cue at the park or when guests are around. The idea is to ensure your pet learns to respond appropriately, irrespective of the environment.

bullterrier-outdoor on beach
Image Credit- TC-TORRES, Pixabay

3. Maximize on What Motivates Your Dog

Training and learning new concepts are hard work for a Bull Terrier. It only makes sense to offer incentives to motivate your pet to respond well to your sessions.

Treat incentives are great, but you must understand the type of reward that can lure the attention of a headstrong dog. In this case, everyday kibbles will not do. Again, remember that your Bull Terrier may not have much of an interest in pleasing you or doing as you say.

Therefore, consider using irresistible treats like a piece of liver. Bull Terriers are hunters with an advanced sense of smell. Once your doggo gets a whiff of roasted chicken, it will likely respond to every command you give on a whim. This is not to say games and toys don’t make good motivators. Your dog’s caloric intake should be factored in when using food as an incentive for training; overfeeding without sufficient exercise can lead to an overweight pup.

4. Make Your Sessions Short and Fun

Another trick that will help revamp your classes and enhance their outcome is to keep your sessions short and fun. Bull Terriers are playful and likelier to listen to you if they think training is a game.

It is crucial to take frequent breaks and switch from serious to fun stuff. This will ensure your furry companion builds a positive association with your classes. Instead of yelling when your dog becomes stubborn, switch to something else like a game of Frisbee.

5. Repeat, Repeat, Repeat

It’s no secret that Bull Terriers take longer to grasp new concepts. They make more than their fair share of mistakes during training, and their headstrongness is not always to blame.

It is imperative to be patient and teach concepts repeatedly until your furry companion gets it. Your labor of love may reward you with the best-behaved dog you have ever owned.

Image Credit: otsphoto, Shutterstock

6. Hire a Professional

If you’re inexperienced with dogs, or feel that your Bull Terrier doesn’t seem to be learning basic commands quick enough, it might be time to seek the help of a professional dog trainer. This is important because having a dog obey basic commands is very important for their daily interactions with you. A trainer can also help you become a better instructor for your dog!

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Broadly speaking, Bull Terriers are not the most obedient of dogs. They are slow learners, but this doesn’t mean they are thick. They can grasp concepts, although it takes firm instructions and plenty of repetition to ensure your training sessions succeed.

On the bright side, these dogs have charming and clownish personalities that will pacify your negative emotions about their IQs. Their fun and affectionate natures make up for their inability to be a perfect student during training.

See also:

Featured Image Credit: 12804112, Pixabay

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