So Your Dog Did Your Homework: Are Pitbulls Smart, “A” Students?

🦴 Updated on July 20th, 2023


By the time I adopted my first pitbull, I had owned several other dog breeds. I was well aware that some are simpler to train than others. 

I wanted to know what I was getting myself into when teaching my new furry friend tricks or even basic potty training. So, I started searching for answers to the question, “are pitbulls smart dogs?”

I learned that a pitbulls’ brain is as powerful as its body with proper patience. So, if you’ve found yourself wondering, “how smart are pit bulls,” read on to learn everything there is to know about pitbull intelligence.

How Smart Are Pitbulls Compared To Other Dogs?

Pit bulls are an intelligent breed. Their intelligence gets a bad rap, but they possess average to above-average intelligence for working and obedience. 

Stanley Coren, the writer of The Intelligence of Dogs, developed a definitive system for ranking a dog breed’s intelligence. The Staffordshire bull terrier ranks at 49, tying with the dachshund.

This ranking means they are likely to learn and obey commands quicker than the average dog breed. So, yes, pit bulls are clever compared to other dogs. They are actually on the more intelligent end of the spectrum. 

A pit bull’s above-average intelligence does not mean its owner can slack on patience. It takes time and practice for a pit bull to learn commands. Use the same patience you would use to train any other dog.

While pit bulls are generally more intelligent than other dogs, smarts vary between individuals. They have a genetic predisposition to learn quickly and follow instructions, but some dogs are goofier than others and find it difficult to pick up commands. 

Are Pit Bulls “Smart” or “Dumb?”

Pitbulls are victims of a few harmful stereotypes.

First, there is a stigma surrounding their aggression. Pit bulls can be very gentle, loyal, and family-oriented dogs. They are not genetically predisposed to aggressive behavior. 

Second, a stigma surrounding the breed pins them as “dumb” and unable to learn commands or tricks. 

Pitbulls are not inherently unintelligent dogs. They are, however, a very stubborn breed. Their inflexibility can frustrate owners, but it also gives the Staffordshire Terrier its goofy personality.

Some owners may believe their dog does not understand commands, but really, the dog does not want to comply.

If anything, their willfulness indicates a higher level of intelligence. They are aware enough to know their desires and to stand up against anything that opposes them. Their stubbornness also makes them more dominant in play, which can seem aggressive to other dog owners.

Next time a pit bull seems dumb, ask yourself if it is more headstrong than stupid. 

Pitbull Brain Size

A pitbull’s brain is roughly the size of a tangerine. Brain size will vary with the individual dog, but for the most part, they have a 1:125 brain-to-body-weight ratio.

Pit bulls are a large breed, so their brains are also larger. Studies show that bigger dogs are more likely to be intelligent because of their brain size. However, the brain-to-body weight ratio correlates significantly with the intelligence of “bigger” breeds.

For example, a Pit Bull and a Border Collie are more intelligent than a Chihuahua. However, even though the collie’s brain is the same size as the pit’s, its body weight is lower. Its brain-to-body weight ratio means it is more intelligent than a pit despite its smaller body size. 

Brain size and brain-to-body ratio are not enough evidence to measure a dog’s intelligence. Researchers have implemented other ways to determine a breed’s brain power through the scientific method. 

Pitbull Intelligence Ranking, According to Professionals

According to Stanley Corren, adaptive intelligence is crucial to understanding a dog’s brainpower. It references their ability to learn on their own. It differs from instinctive intelligence, which measures their innate survival instinct, and obedience intelligence, the ability to learn from humans.

The researcher worked with 199 judges to create the dog breed intelligence ranking. They counted the times they had to repeat a command for a dog to learn it. Then, they measured the success rate of the breed to understand it on the first try.

The fewer repetitions for a dog to understand the command, the higher they put it on the intelligence list. The higher the success rate of the breed on the first try, the higher they put it on the list.

Not every Pit Bull breed participated in the intelligence test. The American Staffordshire Terrier and Staffordshire Bull Terrier were the only two Pit Bulls among the participants.

Every dog is different, though, so while average intelligence may indicate whether a breed is smart, it has flaws. For a more individual approach, try testing your pit bull’s intelligence at home using one of the methods below.

Measuring Pitbull Intelligence at Home

Not everyone needs a fool-proof scientific method to test a dog’s intelligence. Some owners are curious whether their pup is a genius.

Try the following approaches to find out whether a pit bull is intelligent.

Smart pitties will learn new commands quickly, in line with Stanley Corren’s theory. A dog that picks up on new tricks after a few repetitions of the command is likely intelligent. However, commands are not the only way to measure intelligence.

Some enrichment toys are puzzles for dogs to solve. When they solve it, they get a treat. Put your pit bull’s favorite treat in a puzzle toy, then see how long it takes them to figure it out. Hide a treat under a cup and make your dog find it if you do not own one of these toys. 

The “counter test” can evaluate a dog’s intelligence. Some dogs will aggressively knock a treat off the counter to eat it, while more clever dogs will gently reach up and grab it with their mouth. 

There are more formal routes, too. Cognition tests are an option for owners who want to know whether their dog is a genius in its own right.

Dognition is a canine cognition test that is fun for dogs and useful for owners. It allows dogs to play games that test their cognitive abilities and returns a thorough report to the owners.

Above all, follow your gut instinct. Owners know their pups best, so if you think your pit bull needs extra time to learn new tricks, be patient and prepared with lots of treats. 

Are Pitbulls Intelligent Emotionally?

Pitbulls are some of the most emotionally intelligent dogs in the world. They love their family deeply and are extremely loyal to their owners.

They have the potential to be one of the most affectionate breeds, as well. Many pit bulls love to snuggle, and can even tune into their owner’s emotions to know when they need a hug.

Sometimes, a pit bull may throw a tantrum or exhibit unhappy behavior. Negative emotional behavior still indicates emotional intelligence, since it constitutes the ability to express emotions.

The breed is often enthusiastic about being with its humans, which is why so many families choose to adopt a pit bull. When humans make the breed feel loved, it will make them feel love right back. 


Here are the answers to some common questions about pit bull intelligence.

What is the most intelligent pit bull breed?

According to Stanley Corren’s work researching breed intelligence, the American Staffordshire Terrier is the most intelligent pit bull breed. Remember, though, not every pit breed participated in his ranking. Some believe the blue nose pit bull is the most intelligent of the bunch. 

Are pit bulls easy to train?

Generally, pit bulls are easy to train, especially if you start while they are young. They have average to above-average intelligence and pick up commands with relative ease. With enough patience, practice, and a bag of treats, you should be able to train pit bulls without any trouble.

Are pit bulls good family dogs?

In general, pit bulls are great family dogs. They are affectionate and loyal to their owners, and their big personalities mean they love to play and entertain. Of course, consult breeders and adoption agencies about specific dogs to ensure they are the right fit for your family. 

So, Are Pitbulls Smart Dogs?

Pit bulls have a poor reputation due to unfair stereotypes. Many believe they are not an intelligent breed. However, I found that pit bulls are very easy to train. After a few command repetitions, they understand what to do to make their owner happy. 

Intelligence varies between each dog, but overall, pit bulls are one of the more intelligent dog breeds. They may be stubborn, but that is only because their tangerine-sized brain is working hard to get them what they want.

Plus, their emotional intelligence is off the charts, so their owners can be sure they have a lifelong companion that loves them unconditionally. 

Best Dog Gear for Pitbulls

Jennifer Grucci | Dog Breeds Expert
Jennifer Grucci | Dog Breeds Expert
Our talented copy editor Jennifer ensures all doggie info published on our site is accurate, clear, and perfectly suited for pet parents of all experience levels. When not reading and writing about dogs, Jennifer enjoys playing with her own pets at home.