One of the most important considerations when getting a dog is how you expect him to interact with you. In any family, your pup has a role. You may be looking for a working dog with whom to hunt. Maybe you want a dog to be your seven-year-old’s best friend. If you’re an experienced dog owner, you might relish the challenge of a breed known for its sensitivity or stubbornness. Most people want the relationship to be a bit easier than that. We have an idea of what the perfect dog may be, but when we deal with living, breathing beings, there is no “perfect.” For the sake of you and your pup, start with a breed likely to respond to training in the way you hope.
We generally consider a breed’s reputation for intelligence when labeling a dog trainable. Sometimes, just like instinct can override training, intelligence can make a dog harder to train. A dog can learn quickly, but without a desire and willingness to learn and perform, that intelligence doesn’t mean much. There’s some debate about the precise definition of “biddable,” but most agree it describes a dog’s cheerful willingness to do as asked. Biddable is synonymous with trainable for many people wanting a dog who functions well within their family.
Some forms of training are universal for house pets. If a dog lives in your house, you’ll need to potty train him. Most experts recommend crate training your pup to provide him a place safe from harm and keep him out of trouble. You must leash train any dog, even if he is a livestock guardian who doesn’t leave his herd, because every dog may have to travel, and there are always emergencies where your dog must be on a leash. Depending on the situation, your dog’s immediate response to basic obedience commands can mean the difference between life and death.
Most Trainable Breeds
The easiest dogs to train for most households have a blend of intelligence and eagerness to please. The American Kennel Club suggests that breeds from the Sporting Group, Herding Group, and the Working Group tend to be more trainable because people created the breeds to work alongside their handlers. At the same time, the hounds and terriers may present more of a challenge. The following breeds rank highly for trainability.
Labrador Retrievers’ eagerness to please their human partner makes them one of the most easily trained breeds. Be he a hunting partner, family pet, or service dog, the breed has a long history of working side by side with people. Labs are biddable dogs. They are praise motivated, and while they may not learn as quickly as some other breeds, they learn happily and willingly.
Their intelligence, pleasant nature, and desire to please make them excel in fields as diverse as a hunting companion, guide dog, search-and-rescue work, therapy work, and narcotics detection. Labs tend to like everyone, so their training holds in different situations.
Like the Labrador Retriever, the Golden Retriever lives to please its owner. Their retriever instinct makes them naturally biddable dogs. They look to their owner for direction. Inherently obedient, the Goldens’ devotion to their family is part of what makes them so trainable, and their intelligence and ability to learn commands are the other. They’re unlikely to be distracted by jumping into protective mode, which is one less distraction from their training.
German Shepherds go to great lengths to please their owners. Their intelligence, loyalty, and obedience make them very trainable. Trainers initially developed Schutzhund for GSDs, and although many breeds work well for Schutzhund, the German Shepherd excels. Intelligent and trainable, he is highly biddable and eager to work with his handler. His balanced temperament and his willingness to forgive handler mistakes is a bonus.
Well known as one of the most intelligent and trainable breeds, Poodles have a trainability that depends less on instinct to perform a job and more on their ability to learn. Poodles may not be as eager-to-please as the Lab and the Golden, but their water dog past means they are very much in tune with their person’s wishes. The popularity of circus “trick dog” shows was one of the driving forces behind breeding smaller versions of the Poodle because the clever, highly trainable dogs were perfect entertainers.
Pembroke Welsh Corgi
Corgis are herding dogs, which means they are more independent than the retriever group. While highly trainable due to their intelligence, Corgis are less biddable than Retrievers because they think for themselves as a good herding dog should. Although Corgis learn desirable behaviors quickly, they just as quickly learn how to circumvent authority. Corgis are independent thinkers; even if they quickly grasp what you want them to do, there’s no guarantee they’ll do it. They pair best with an experienced owner committed who understands the breed.
Australian Cattle Dog
Another member of the herding group, the Australian Cattle Dog, is also an independent thinker, as cattle dogs tend to be. Heelers’ drive to herd is so strong it may supersede his training not to nip at heels. Task-oriented training can help give them an outlet for their energy, but the ability to make quick decisions on their own as they must when working a herd can make them a challenge for a trainer unfamiliar with heeling dogs. Their owners should be consistent, strong, and positive trainers. They respond best to positive reinforcements like clickers and food rewards.
English Springer Spaniel
Many say that Labradors are easier to train than English Springer Spaniels. There might be some truth in this, but the reality is that a Springer Spaniel does more than only retrieve in the field, so one can expect they’ll require more extensive training. Training takes longer and requires an experienced handler, but once a Springer Spaniel learns his job, he’s got it for life.
The tiny Papillon, named for the French word for butterfly, is eager to please and intelligent. These pups learn tricks quickly and will delight the owner who wants such an interactive, entertaining companion. Their owner must show patience when potty training them as puppies because they typically take longer than a large breed dog. Indoor accidents may surprise an owner unfamiliar with them.
Shetland Sheepdogs’ sensitivity makes them exceptionally attentive and responsive. For the right individual, they can be easy to train. Shelties’ quick reflexes can be mistaken for over-reactivity when they are simply ill-suited to a loud, overly stimulating environment. They thrive with a trainer who uses a calm voice and a light hand during training. Verbal corrections may be sufficient. Praise and positive reinforcement maximize their trainability.
Doberman Pinschers are renowned for being brave watchdogs, but they’re also intelligent and highly trainable as long as you start the process early on. Their size and strength make early socialization a must. Dobies learn easily and respond quickly, but they are powerful dogs and can become difficult to manage if not raised properly.
Border Collies are the most widely used herding dogs in many countries. Their AKC breed description goes so far as suggesting they have the “uncanny ability to reason.” This same ability to make a decision based on multiple factors makes the Border Collie able to decide to move the herd when out of range of his Shepherd. This independent streak is necessary for a good herding dog but may frustrate his owner if he ignores his commands.
The Miniature Schnauzer‘s outgoing personality makes it popular with children, and their trainability makes them great family pets. “This breed figures things out quickly, but they don’t like to repeat what they already know,” says John Constantine-Amodei, a longtime Miniature Schnauzer breeder who is the judges’ education chair for the American Miniature Schnauzer Club. “That’s why it’s best to train in short, five to ten-minute sessions.”
Although we attempt to categorize dogs neatly as easy or hard to train, the reality is more complex. Biddability can be at least as crucial as overall trainability for most dog owners. Just because a dog learns tricks easily doesn’t mean he’ll be the quickest pup to avoid accidents in the house. The breed that crates and house trains most easily may not learn how to walk nicely on a leash as fast.
Bringing a puppy home as a new family member should never be a snap decision. Decide what you will expect of your pup and what you don’t think you can live with. Recognize that within breeds, there’s still individual variation. Socialize and begin basic obedience commands as soon as your new pup is housebroken and crate trained. Train with praise and rewards, and be patient as your new best friend learns his way. You’ll be his whole world, and all the work you do with him early will ensure success for the long haul.