Boston Terriers are the first breed to have originated in the United States of America. They are short, compact, and tend to weigh no more than 25 pounds.
Their coats come in many colors and they have flatter faces with large, expressive eyes that seem to communicate well with their people. As a Boston owner myself, I attribute that to how intelligent they are, but how smart are Boston Terriers?
Boston Terriers are indeed intelligent, although their ranking in Stanley Coren’s intelligence test places them at “average intelligence” among dog breeds. However, this test may not fully capture a dog’s intelligence, as Boston Terriers show a high degree of intelligence through their problem-solving abilities, trainability, and eagerness to please their owners.
Let’s take a closer look.
Where do Boston Terriers Rank in IQ?
Stanley Coren is Professor Emeritus in the Department of Psychology at the University of British Columbia. His undergraduate degree is from the University of Pennsylvania and his doctorate in Psychology is from Stanford University.
Within the scientific world, he is a highly respected scientist having done research in a wide range of psychological areas including sensory processes (vision and hearing), neuropsychology (handedness, sleep, birth stress effects and behavior genetics) and cognition (information processing and intelligence).
Late in his career, Dr. Coren changed his focus to canine behavior and the relationship people have with their dogs, leading to the 1994 publication of “The Intelligence of Dogs.”
To prepare for this research, he sent evaluation requests to American Kennel Club and Canadian Kennel Club obedience trial judges, asking them to rank breeds by performance. He received 199 responses which represented about 50 percent of obedience judges working in North America at the time.
In 2006, Dr. Coren republished his book, ranking over 100 breeds according to their intelligence.
What Dr. Coren found is that 51% of a dog’s intelligence can be attributed to its genes, while 49% is based on environmental circumstances. He defines three types of intelligence: instinctive, adaptive, and working and obedience. The three together evaluate the dog’s problem-solving capabilities, obedience, memory, social training, and powers of observation.
The working and obedience category is the main discussion point when considering canine intelligence because it is the one that most relates to a dog’s ability to learn from its human.
Dr. Coren’s method of evaluation puts the Boston Terrier at 100 out of 136. This means they are considered to be of “average intelligence.”
Boston Terriers are able to learn a brand new command with 25 to 40 repetitions and are capable of obeying a known command on the first attempt 50% of the time.
While it is a good starting point, there are a couple of problems with Dr. Coren’s research. First, he only looked at 136 breeds, while there are 200 recognized by the American Kennel Club. Second, he didn’t define the differences between “intelligent” and “obedient” or “trainable.”
Just because a dog is easily trainable does not necessarily mean he is above average intelligence. For example, cats are highly intelligent, yet they are extremely untrainable. And many terrier breeds are known to be stubborn.
Are Boston Terriers Easy to Train?
I am currently living with my third Boston. Oona is three and came to live with me as a puppy after I’d lost my other two to old age and disease. The three of them have had quite different personalities and temperaments, while all exhibiting the main characteristics of Boston Terriers.
Potty training aside, they’ve all been fairly easy to train. I attribute their willingness to train to their extreme food motivation. They’ve all done nearly anything for a treat.
Aside from food, Boston Terriers are very much into pleasing their people and this has been true for all of mine. One of my most important commands for their own safety is “stay.”
Oona learned very quickly that doing what I say means she gets food so she’ll put up with me walking around a corner, ordering her to “stay” until I release her for the smallest morsel of food.
As I mentioned, all of my Bostons have had different temperaments and personalities, and this can affect training methods.
I have found it’s best to practice training before meals and before their little bellies are full.
Oona is easily distracted to what is going on around her so we start working on behaviors inside the house before venturing out to practice in the real world.
We also make sure we’re having fun and that training feels like a fun bonding experience instead of work and I’m very mindful of the temperature. If a dog is overheated and only thinking about a drink of cool water, she’s not going to be amenable to learning a new command.
Tips for Training Boston Terriers
Based on my experience training 3 Bostons, here are some tips for training Boston Terriers:
- Consistency: Dogs are creatures of habit, which can be a plus for training as long as you are consistent. If you want your Boston to sit still and wait at the door before going out, then you must ask him to do so every time. Training requires a disciplined trainer.
- Positive reinforcement: Like I mentioned, all my dogs have been motivated by food, so it makes training fairly easy. The treat is the reinforcement and positive reinforcement is crucial to getting results. As natural pleasers, dogs want to know that you are happy with their behavior. If I don’t have a treat nearby, but Oona completes a task I ask of her anyway, I cheer for her and give her an enthusiastic verbal reward. She’s happy knowing she did something that I really liked.
- Patience: Training takes time. And patience. We all have bad days or bad moods and our Boston babies aren’t immune to falling into a funk. One day your buddy might get every command repeatedly and the next he seems to have forgotten all of your hard work. Keep up with it and you will see results.
- Short and engaging training sessions: Remember that training should be fun and lots of times fun things don’t last very long. There is a reason holidays only come once a year, birthday parties have an end time, and movies aren’t 12 hours long. At some point we all lose interest and your little Boston is the same. Shorter sessions are fun, longer sessions are tiring and nobody learns well when they’re too tired.
Overall, it is my belief that Boston Terriers are very intelligent animals. Dr. Coren undoubtedly had some good points in his research and his ideas are an excellent starting point, but they aren’t as thorough as they could be. Further research could tell us a lot more.
While Boston Terriers are very smart and it’s definitely an attractive quality in a dog, it might not be the most important. Bostons offer companionship, friendship, comfort, and comic relief. They’re fun to be with and they cherish their relationships with their families.
Intelligence is really just one factor in choosing the breed of dog you want to live with. If you’re looking for smart but you also want a best friend who loves to be around you, then a Boston Terrier might be just what you’re looking for.