Pugs are possibly the most easily recognizable dog in the world.
Part of Chinese households for thousands of years, these compact, charming, cute, and cuddly dogs can fit in any size home and live happily with almost any family.
Pugs love to be the center of attention. They can make almost anyone laugh. They don’t bark a lot, and they’re great with kids.
They’re so friendly and affectionate that integrating them into your home almost couldn’t be easier.
But Pugs aren’t very smart.
Pug intelligence according to the experts
Canine intelligence expert Dr. Stanley Coren’s team of canine intelligence testers put 100 individual dogs of 138 different breeds.
Of the 138 breeds of dogs tested for their intelligence, Pugs ranked 108th.
That doesn’t mean that Pugs are stupid. It just means that Pugs don’t do the things at professional dog show judges consider intelligent.
Ranking behind Boston Terriers and Akitas but ahead of Basset Hounds and Shih Tzus, Pugs only respond to a command “correctly” 30 percent of the time.
It takes 40 to 80 training sessions for them to learn a new command, like “stay,” or “stop,” or “come.”
If Pugs were rated for their EIs, their emotional intelligence, instead of their IQs, their intelligence quotients, they might be geniuses.
But the fact is, training your Pug to behave in the ways you need your dog to behave around the house can be a challenge.
The easiest way to train Pugs isn’t one you can use very long
Pugs love to eat.
One way to get them to learn commands is to reward them with food.
The problem with this approach is that by the time you have had 500 training sessions to teach your Pug six basic commands, your dog may become a round ball of fat instead of a collection of cuddly wrinkles.
Many Pug owners have pushed their dogs into obesity by rewarding learning with food.
Pugs can be smart enough to figure out that if they take their time learning how to obey a command you will feed them more.
Fortunately, Pugs love attention almost as much as they love food, so you can move on from rewarding right behaviors with food to rewarding right behaviors with attention.
If you wait to stop rewarding obedience with food until your Pug looks something like a great big white meatball, your dog may have health issues that interfere with daily life.
Pugs would be content to spend their whole lives eating, snoring, and farting with occasional interruptions for snuggling up with their humans.
You can’t let that happen. So, where do you start training your Pug to use such intelligence as they have?
How to start training your Pug
Your first priority in training your Pug is making sure your pet doesn’t suffer from Small Dog Syndrome. What’s that?
Small Dog Syndrome is the tendency of smaller dogs to become cranky as they get older.
They may yap at your guests, or nip at your fingers, growl, bark, or jump up on low shelves and knock things off.
This is a problem that develops in Pugs that aren’t socialized as puppies. You have to start training your Pug at the age of four to seven weeks to prevent it.
Socializing your Pug
The age of four to seven weeks is a time in a Pug’s life when its brain starts making connections on how to deal with the outside world.
It has started cutting its teeth, so it could bite.
Pug puppies eagerly nip at anything and everything, until they bite their mother while they are nursing and their mother puts an end to that.
Socializing with the mother is an important part of a Pug’s mental development. They also learn not to bite their brothers and sisters in the same litter.
For a few weeks, they can learn to display a similar attitude toward people, cats, other dogs, machines, and experiences.
A Pug breeder, or at least a good Pug breeder, will make sure that puppies of this age are exposed to people of all races, people of all sizes, people with different accents, and people wearing different kinds of clothes.
The human Pug parent at this stage introduces Pugs to cats, chickens, turtles, and other kinds of dogs to teach the Pug to be tolerant.
This is the time in a dog’s life that it learns not to be afraid of Roombas, piano lessons, doorbells, the mail delivery person, veterinarians and you.
It’s a time for your Pug to go on play dates with puppies from other litters.
Ideally, your Pug should go through a variety of socialization experiences before you separate it from its mother to make it part of your family.
If it doesn’t, then Small Dog Syndrome is likely to set in at some point. Your Pug can start showing its Napoleonic complex as soon as age six months.
Every dog needs socialization experiences at the age of four to seven weeks, but Pugs have an additional need.
Pugs need to spend lots of time around their humans the first few weeks after they are brought to their forever homes. They need people to get over separation from their mothers.
Pugs who don’t get a lot of time with their humans during the eighth through sixteenth weeks of their lives tend to become clingy.
They will experience separation anxiety when you go to work, or when you leave the house to go shopping.
They need to get used to the idea of spending time on their own gradually. Don’t just throw them in a crate all day.
It’s not easy to guide a rescue Pug through this process if they don’t get it as puppies.
The complexity of training an adult Pug is one of the reasons Pug rescue organizations insist on written applications and carefully screen families who want to adopt an older Pug.
Pug Rescue groups can guide you through the training process for older dogs. But they can’t help you train your kids.
Train your kids the same time you train your Pug
It isn’t just your Pug that needs extra attention the first few weeks your Pug is part of your life.
Your kids need instruction, too. Your kids will need to know:
- Pugs look like little powerhouses, but they are actually quite fragile. It’s important to always be gentle with your Pug.
- Chasing is an outdoor game. Playing chase games outside is fine, but parents should monitor younger children with their Pugs to make sure nobody gets hurt.
- Always leave Pugs alone when they are at their food bowl. The time you are mostly likely to get nipped or scratched is when you interrupt breakfast, lunch, dinner, or snacks.
- Pugs can’t be carried around. They have to have their feet firmly on the ground or on the floor. Being carried is very uncomfortable for a Pug and may cause them to wiggle out of the arms that hold them or to express their displeasure with a bite.
- All of your valuables, and all of your children’s valuables, need to be kept out of reach of your Pug. It’s not unusual to have to make a quick trip to the vet after a Pug swallows jewelry. It’s not unheard of for a Pug to swallow USB cables or ear buds. (If you ever see a “string” hanging from either end of a Pug’s digestive tract, don’t pull. You could cause dangerous knotting in the gastrointestinal tract. Let your vet remove the objects your Pug chooses to taste test.)
So far, this doesn’t sound too hard, does it? You know what to do to keep your Pug from developing common Pug psychological issues.
You know how to train your kids not to harm your Pug.
Now, let’s move on to the rules for making the most of your Pug’s intelligence — which is still more than many other small dogs — for canine training.
Pugs need a confined space and a consistent routine
Pugs need boundaries.
Pugs have been bred for nearly 2000 years to have a sense of humor.
They may not be the Einsteins of the dog world, but they can occasionally pull over a good one on their humans.
That’s why you need to be kind, firm, and consistent about house training, getting along with the cat, not nipping at fingers, and so on.
Don’t leave your Pug any doubt about your expectations. Don’t give a Pug too much room to explore. (See our reference to swallowed jewelry and phone buds, above.)
Expect performance of the same command every in your family gives with the same words for the same behaviors all the time.
Your Pug needs to learn that certain kinds of behavior are just required.
Pugs learn through positive reinforcement
Pugs are stubborn. They are also so cute and so affable that you can forget they need training. Don’t let your Pug become the boss.
You need to set up kind but clear rules from the very beginning. But you can’t teach a Pug by punishing it.
How does that work?
Suppose you want to teach your Pug to stay in a spot on the floor by your side (or by your child’s side). Give it treats when it is in its spot.
Don’t give it treats when it is not in its designated spot. Pet the nape of its neck when it is where it is supposed to be.
Don’t give it love and attention for, say, chasing the cat.
Remember, picking up your Pug, even if it is uncomfortable for your Pug, can be interpreted as attention and therefore as a reward for doing the wrong thing.
Be firm, and be consistent in the behaviors you reward. Never reward bad behaviors. But don’t punish bad behaviors, either.
Let positive interaction push bad behaviors out of your Pug’s behavior patterns.
Gain respect by giving attention
You want your Pug to respect your commands from the very beginning.
But to teach your dog to obey and respect you, you can’t be multitasking when you are training your dog.
If you aren’t paying your full attention to your dog during training, your dog will conclude you don’t really mean what you are telling it to do.
Spend 10 or 15 minutes training your Pug at the same time every day. If your schedule doesn’t allow this, maybe your children’s schedule will.
They will have to develop patience with their Pug. It can take lots of sessions to teach your Pug to stay, sit, lie down, fetch, or come.
You and your children will have to make sure you are all teaching the same commands the same way.
But the bottom line, Pugs need lots of undivided attention to use their intelligence to follow your commands.
Think in terms of Pavlov’s Pug
Are you familiar with the story of Pavlov’s dog?
The twentieth century Russian psychologist trained dogs to recognize that ringing a dinner bell meant it was time to eat.
With Pugs, it’s always time to eat. But you can use Pavlov’s principles of operant conditioning to train your Pug.
After your Pug has begun to start obeying a command consistently, keep on rewarding them, but not every time.
Use a clicker, a gesture, or petting to reward your dog every time, but let them wonder if this is the time that doing the right thing gets them a treat.
This is the way to greatly reduce the number of treats you feed your dog to reinforce learning.
Training Pugs takes time
You aren’t going to train your Pugs to go potty outside in just a week.
You may need months to teach them to “Stop!” when you need to keep them from running into the street.
With Pugs, learning is slow and incremental. Their obedience intelligence is, well, not the greatest.
But their emotional intelligence is what will help you persist with your training efforts.
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