This post, originally published in Oct. 2015, has been updated and is republished.
It is an accepted belief of some that certain dog breeds are not very smart. These breeds are generally listed on the dog intelligence list at about # 40 or higher – mostly higher. One of these breeds is the French Bulldog. This breed is at #58 on the list.
The French Bulldog is also listed as # 4 on the list of most popular breeds and has climbed the popular list ladder every year since 2013. Obviously, this dog is one that many people find appealing.
The idea that French Bulldogs are not very intelligent is simply a matter of:
1. the human not being proficient at training dogs and
2. actually, I’m not sure what #2 is.
As a way to sort of prove the point that dog intelligence in nonsense, I worked with a French Bulldog and recorded the sessions. Following is the information that I learned form the work we did.
Here’s what we did to teach/learn the agility tunnel.
Henry, my French Bulldog friend, learned to go through the tunnel in under three minutes on day one and during the second session the next day, I was sending him through without luring. So basically he had a good understanding of the behaviour in under five minutes total of training.
Henry is very food motivated. The issue I find with French Bulldogs is that they have difficulty in swallowing food quickly due to their face shape. But they ARE food motivated. Using food to train (or toys) is the key to training a dog breed that is considered “stubborn”.
Motivate the dog. It’s that simple.
To train Henry to go through the tunnel, I started shaping him to simply look at the tunnel.
I had originally not wanted to lure him through the tunnel. Luring is faster, but can produce a dog that relies on the human more for direction if done too often, especially if the dog is very food motivated. I also wanted to make sure that he was not worried about or scared of the tunnel, which some dogs are, so I tried to build a positive association with it by click/rewarding gradually. I did this first, for looking at the tunnel, and then for moving closer to it.
After about a minute of this, as he was standing on the open side of the tunnel opposite to me, I bent down and put my hand with the reward into the tunnel. He came flying through! No fear at all, and fairly enjoying it.
In our second session, I did no luring and by the end of the two minutes, I was simply sending him through the tunnel. Quite amazing for a difficult to train dog breed 😉
We kept the length of the training session short and the length of the tunnel was quite short as well it should be when the dog is new to the obstacle.
This method (shaping) can be used to teach “difficult to train” breeds to do any agility obstacle. You need to find what motivates the dog, then do several short, fun sessions for a particular behaviour. It is important to never over work the dog, such as in doing long training sessions or working until the dog does something the way you want it before you stop. It doesn’t really matter if you “stop on a good note” at the end of a session. The dog will still likely make progress no matter what the last rep is. However, make sure to always end a session in a good mood – always happy and having fun.
To sum things up, in training a French Bulldog, there is no reason why this breed should be considered less intelligent simply because it is less agile and can’t swallow food as fast, or even more importantly, can’t move as fast as other more “intelligent” breeds.
The French Bulldog can do anything that you want him to learn as long as he is healthy and the sport is appropriate to his physicality. Your dog should also enjoy the sport you choose for him. If he doesn’t, you can always try something else. There are plenty of dog sports to go around.
As for other breeds that are seen as LESS intelligent than even a French Bulldog, consider this:
Here is a bulldog in agility at Westminster Dog Show in 2019. The Bulldog is listed third from LAST, # 77, on the breed intelligence list. As you can see, dog intelligence is mostly affected by humans and their attitudes.
The commentator’s words at the end of the video: “nobody expected this out of a bulldog tonight”.
Let’s get over rating dog breeds on intelligence. It’s simply not true.