It would be awesome if we could just snap our fingers to train our dogs, but until that magical, magnificent day happens, the next best thing is to learn which breeds are more likely to ace training. Stay tuned to this edition of Animal Facts to get the inside scoop on our list of breeds that are easiest to train.
Who says beauty and brains can’t coexist? Not the Papillon. This pup who takes its name from its uniquely shaped ears, which resemble butterfly wings, is a pretty, petite pooch that once graced the laps of European royalty. It’s said that Marie Antoinette even held her Papillon as she approached the guillotine on the day of her execution. A fact not worth losing your head over. The dog was spared, but Marie Antoinette…well, you know …
We can safely assume that the Papillon was the darling of duchesses, dukes, queens, kings and dauphines because of its “frou frou” looks, charm, and most of all, its exceptional intelligence—the breed ranks at number eight on the list of most intelligent dogs according to canine psychologist Stanley Coren’s book, “The Intelligence of Dogs.”
It’s a given that to be accepted in certain circles, one has to behave a certain way. So, the aristocracy no doubt valued the breed’s intelligence, because a smart dog is typically easy to train.
Although not above using their charm to manipulate their human pets, Papillons learn very quickly and most respond well to training, especially if there is praise or food involved. You’ll need to be firm, yet gentle, to get them to respect you, and stick to your guns if they mope when they don’t get their way.
Fun Fact: Not all Papillons have “butterfly” shaped ears. Some Papillons, referred to as Phalenes (which means night moth in French) have long, floppy ears.
9. Miniature Schnauzer
The Miniature Schnauzer can generally be described as bold, spunky, and playful. Like others in the Terrier group, their energy is boundless, they get bored easily, and their prey drive is off the charts. So proper training at an early age is a must.
One of the smartest dog breeds around, they are highly alert and eager to please— characteristics that make training a bit easier.
That said, they can also be stubborn and independent, and will even ignore you if they don’t want to do something. But, what do you expect from a dog with a moustache?
To train your buddy, you’ll have to firmly establish yourself as the authority figure and nip bad behavior in the bud. Be firm, but never harsh. If they see that they can get away with something, they’ll do it habitually. It’s best to begin training any dog as early as possible, before they get “set in their ways,” so begin training when your dog is a puppy.
8. Doberman Pinscher
Originally bred in Germany by Friedrich Louis Dobermann, the Doberman Pinscher is the quintessential protector of both persons and property. Dobermann, a tax collector, developed the breed to accompany him on his rounds. He carefully selected several elite guard dogs, like the Black and Tan Terrier, German Pinscher, and the Rottweiler to create the Dobie we know today—a no-nonsense guardian with a sleek, muscular appearance, and the fifth highest intelligence rating of all canines.
Dobies maintain a level of alertness not seen in other breeds, and are devoted to their humans, implicitly following their commands to the letter. That’s what makes them one of the most trainable dogs out there. Who would expect less from a dog developed to protect the tax man?
Like Mini Schnauzers, Dobies are extremely active, can be stubborn, and always need something to do, or else they’ll find something to do…and you may not like it. Training will not only mold your dog’s behavior, it will also keep them occupied, and your favorite pair of designer shoes intact.
The Rottweiler may be built like a bulldozer, but there’s lots of brain behind that brawn. Coren has listed the Rott as the 9th smartest dog breed in regards to trainability…and that’s a good thing, because its size and strength combined with its territorial instincts can make for a rather destructive loose cannon.
Rottweilers are big, burly, and intimidating, but they aim to please—well, they aim to please their owners, not so much the would-be intruder running through your yard screaming in fear. So, they have no problem following commands, and their intelligence and easygoing nature makes them extremely trainable.
But Rotties can also be stubborn, so be sure your personality is strong enough to handle one. This is a dog that is best suited to someone who is assertive, and can be firm and consistent when giving commands. If you let your Rottie take the lead, it will be more than happy to train you.
True to their working roots, this is a breed that needs something to do. Since they rank highly in obedience training, they often serve in the military, law enforcement, search and rescue and as customs inspectors. They are also frequently used as therapy and guide dogs.
Professional training and socialization is recommended for all Rottweilers, especially if you are a first time Rottie parent.
Don’t know how to train a dog? Here’s a rather insightful training course. Check it out,
6. Australian Shepherd
The Australian Shepherd is loyal, loving, playful, and of course, intelligent, but there’s one reason Aussies stand out from the other breeds on our list—they’re versatile.
Originally bred to herd livestock, Aussies have been used in a variety of capacities, including as search and rescue, therapy, and rodeo dogs. As a matter of fact, they’ve even been used to tend small animals such as rabbits, ducks, and geese.
Their problem solving skills and ability to adjust to any situation make them a dream to train, if you’ve got the right stuff. This breed is also very devoted to their humans, usually forming a close bond with one particular person, and if this individual is the one who trains them, an easy train will be even easier.
Like all working breeds the Australian Shepherd has to stay busy. It won’t take long for your Aussie to master housetraining or commands, so be prepared to give your pup a job to do, or to teach them a new trick. Your Aussie should ALWAYS be learning.
When considering a breed’s intelligence, the Poodle usually doesn’t show up on most folks’ short lists. But not only should they show up on your short list, they should be near the top of it.
Yes, the fancy pants pooch with the funny haircut not only has style, it also has smarts. Look at any list ranking dog intelligence, and this breed consistently breaks the top three. And as you’ve probably figured out by now, an intelligent dog is usually an exceptionally trainable dog.
Poodles are natural learners that pick up on tricks and commands quickly, and they don’t need much motivation or compensation. They can also be stubborn, and have an instinct for picking up on their people’s mood and mimicking the emotion, so showing frustration or impatience when your Poodle is being a little headstrong will only make the situation more tense.
Fun fact: In contrast with the “bougie” stereotype, Poodles were originally bred to get their paws dirty helping hunters by retrieving water fowl.
4. Golden Retriever
Due in part to its mild temperament, strong desire to please, and exceptional intelligence, the Golden Retriever is one of the easiest breeds to train.
The Goldie is a working breed (as are most of the breeds on our list) so they always need something to do, and as you’ve probably gathered by now, this is the type of dog that embraces the type of mental stimulation that training can provide. In recent years, the Golden Retriever has become the second popular service dog worldwide. The combination of intelligence, agility, patience, and docility are the “perfect storm” of qualities that are desired in an assistance, therapy, search and rescue, or emotional support animal—and it doesn’t hurt that they’re incredibly easy to train.
3. German Shepherd
Our list wouldn’t be complete without the “King of the K9 Unit”—the German Shepherd.
The second most popular breed in the U.S., German Shepherd Dogs are a working breed that work as hard as humans do. They’re known for their ability to follow instructions and complete tasks, which explains why the Shepherd is the most sought after breed worldwide for police, military, search and rescue, service, and scent detection work.
As is typical of working types, Shepherds are very bright, and simply see training as a job.
Their boldness, alertness, and ability to focus make them fantastic trainees—they go all in and take it all in.
Young German Shepherds are generally very eager to please their people and learn best when the relationship with their trainer is mutually respectful. Since your brilliant buddy already knows you’re no canine, there is no need to flex your “alpha dog” muscles. Just be firm (but never harsh), consistent, and use positive reinforcement as motivation. My rescued German Shepherd prefers a ball as compensation over treats.
2. Border Collie
The Border Collie is yet another working breed that makes training look like child’s play, but instead of telling you about their herding roots, how smart they are, or talking about their calm temperament, we’re going to cut to the chase to tell you what’s unique about them and why this characteristic makes them a cinch to train.
Tenacity. When you give a Border Collie something new to learn, they will not give up until they’ve learned it. Luckily, it won’t take them very long to pick up on most commands, but be prepared to go the distance if they need a little more time to master more complex requests.
Fun Fact: Border Collies have an uncanny ability to learn words from context.
1. Labrador Retriever
In high school, most kids were either smart or popular. Well, somebody forgot to tell that to the Labrador Retriever, because it ranks among the most intelligent dog breeds, and has also held the title of most popular dog breed in the U.S. for the past 29 years.
So why are Labs so popular, you ask? Well, in a nutshell, they’re calm, friendly, patient, eager to please and have a stellar work ethic—which makes them incredibly easy to train. These traits are also why they’re the most popular (there’s that word again) therapy and assistance dog in the world.
It won’t take much encouragement to train your Lab, a clicker, a few treats and a little praise should do the trick. You’d be hard-pressed to find a more loyal, trusting, easygoing breed willing to follow your lead and well…follow you…everywhere. A true “ride or die” partner, your Lab will do whatever it takes to “ride” so they’ll have no problem with house and obedience training, or learning tricks to make sure they ride shotgun.
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