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Easiest Dogs To Train | Most Trainable Dogs

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easiest dogs to train

Looking For The Easiest Dogs To Train? Then Look No Further!

If you’re thinking of welcoming a new furry friend into your family, you might be considering qualities to look for in your new dog.  

It would definitely be smart for you to research the easiest dogs to train, no matter the type of dog you are typically attracted to.

Humans have been living alongside canine companions for centuries, and our motivation for canine companionship varies.  

However, whether you’re interested in a pet pooch as a new friend in a quiet home, a playmate for your children, or as a way of getting into a new hobby or exercise and socialization, there’s one quality you should really take some time to learn about: trainability.

 

Easiest Dogs To Train

Border Collie Australian Shepherd Labrador Retriever
Poodle Golden Retriever Siberian Husky
German Shepherd Doberman Pinscher Papillon
Labradoodle Alaskan Malamute Cocker Spaniel

We’re going to look at these breeds in more detail below, and find out what makes each of them, and others, the easiest dogs to train.

As you can imagine, there are a lot of factors that influence a dog’s tractability – or willingness to comply, pay attention, and learn new skills.

Highly tractable dogs are easily trainable dogs.

Learning more about what qualities make the easiest dogs to train will hopefully help you in your selection process.

What Qualities Make for the Easiest Dogs to Train?

First and foremost: motivation.

Motivation is what compels a dog to respond well to training, whether it’s earning tasty treats or getting to play a round of fetch. 

The most easily trained dogs are those that are highly motivated.

Second on the list is that intangible, indescribable quality that some dogs possess that causes them to be enthusiastic and reactive to human gestures and interaction.

In the book, The Genius of Dogs by Brian Hare and Vanessa Woods, the authors discuss hundreds of scientific studies related to dog behavior.

They conclude that, “Dogs have evolved skills to read our communicative signals.”

Those signals and a dog’s ability to read them is what makes our world of dog training possible!

That being said, there are definitely individual dogs who are more enthusiastic to work with humans than others.

Some dogs I’ve encountered are more interested in interacting with other dogs and their environment more than with us humans.

I’ll never forget one student I had who owned a Chow Chow dog that had zero interest in anything we had to offer him.

This dog spent the entire lesson meandering around the property, occasionally sniffing at something before plopping down for a nap.   

All while his pet parent and I waved bacon, cheese, and squeaky toys at him.

We dashed around in circles to initiate chase and even brought in other dogs to ramp up his enthusiasm for what we were doing.

After 3 lessons that all went this way, we gave up on this pooch’s future in canine college.

The moral of the story is that not all dogs share the same interest in learning and interacting with their humans.

For a dog to be trainable, that’s a pretty important quality to have.

Factors that Will Adversely Affect Even the Easiest Dogs to Train

Even the most trainable dogs can have off days or distractions that weaken their training concentration.  

It might be a temporary setback, or it could be a permanent change in their temperament.

Teething

4–6 month old pups are teething.  

Their gums are sore, and their instinct to chew voraciously kicks into high drive to help with the teething process.

These pups tend to be easily distracted from training sessions.

Adolescence

Canine adolescence has many similarities to human adolescence.

Dogs experience changing hormones that can cause major distractions from their usual routine.

Seeking out new smells, chasing other dogs for interaction, and a more urgent need to mark and urinate are all factors that can interfere with training sessions.  

Illness or Injury

If you had a broken arm or were battling the flu, you probably wouldn’t feel up to going to school or work for a few days, right?

The same goes for your pooch.

Don’t bother fighting with Fido over a training session – he won’t be very motivated.  

Additionally, a dog with poor eyesight or hearing can’t pick up on your visual or audio cues.

(Deaf dogs can be taught with hand signals, though!)  

Dogs with painful conformation problems will be less likely to want to sit, lie down, and climb.

You get the idea, right?

The Senior Years

As dogs age, their physicality may deteriorate in a way similar to those mentioned above that will adversely affect their ability to learn.

Most Trainable Dogs: Characteristics to Look For

Healthy

For the aforementioned reasons.

Energetic

An energetic animal is easier to train than a lethargic one.

Trust me on this – I’ve trained sloths and I’ve trained puppies.

Take a wild guess which training sessions went better.

Food-motivated

Dogs that are highly motivated by food are easy to treat-train than those who just don’t seem to have an interest in snacks.

Young puppies make great treat-trainees, due to their voracious appetite!

Toy-motivated

If your dog goes absolutely crazy for a round of fetch, a noisy squeaky toy, or some tug-of-war, you potentially have a great pupil on your hands.

Rewarding a new trick with a session of playing with their favorite toy is a great way to train a dog.

In fact, detection dogs such as Search & Rescue canines, airport security dogs, and even the explosive detection dogs in the military are trained using toy rewards.  

These organizations look for dogs of any breed that love to retrieve or tug on a toy.

easiest dogs to train

Easiest Dog Breeds to Train

All right, so now we come to the inevitable question on your mind:

What breeds are the easiest dogs to train?

You’ve been reading all this fabulous information about tractability in dogs just to get to this part, right?

You’re hoping there’s a quick fix.

A cheat sheet of easy to train dog breeds.  

A direct route to going out and buying a well-bred dog that’s guaranteed to be easy to potty train.  

Or to sit quietly in the corner of the room while you watch TV.

Or to fetch a drink from the refrigerator to entertain party guests.

(A colleague of mine did that, by the way. It was a Labrador Retriever, if you are interested.)

I’ll give you the short answer:  

Working breeds that were artificially selected over generations to be energetic and cooperative with humans have been shown in some studies to pick up on human gestures better than non-working breeds.

On the other hand, some studies couldn’t find any significant difference in behavior or trainability across different breed types.

And finally, there are over 1000 breeds recognized today.

Less than a quarter of those are represented in research in breed comparisons.   

So we obviously don’t know nearly enough to make broad statements about breed comparisons.

That being said, let’s look at some of those working dogs whose sole existence is owed to working alongside humans.

Even the AKC description of the breed group includes the phrase, “quick to learn,” making these some of the most easily trained dog breeds.

Huskies, Malamutes, Akitas, and other members of the spitz family of dogs

Spitz dogs were selectively bred for hunting, herding, and pulling sleds.

Be aware of their incredibly heavy coat and high energy levels before you run out and get one.

These dogs might be a YouTube sensation for “singing” and “talking” adorably, but they have also been known to chew straight through doors and walls while their owners are at work.  

Doberman Pinschers

Described by the American Kennel Club as loyal, alert, and possessing a keen intelligence, these sleek guard dogs are also known to be fearless, which can translate into “stubborn” if not guided in training appropriately.

Golden Retrievers, Labrador Retrievers, and other retrievers

Generally considered to be the most well-rounded dogs as far as their temperament, easy-going nature with other dogs, and an eagerness to please humans, retrievers also require a lot of exercise due to their high energy levels and desire to work.

Australian Shepherds, Border Collies, and other herding dogs

“In general, these intelligent dogs make excellent companions and respond beautifully to training exercises,” according to the American Kennel Club.  

Be aware that these super energetic and clever dogs can outsmart and confound even the most experienced trainers.

However, if you manage training and demands for exercise well, these dogs can take the gold medal in a wide range of training competitions.

German Shepherds

Although German Shepherd dogs are part of the herding category as well, I’ve included them separately due to my experience that they have a unique temperament from the other common herding dogs.  

These dogs are notorious for being picky about food, so treat-training isn’t always the best route to take with them.

Instead, tug-of-war and good old-fashioned cuddles from their pet parents can be excellent motivators for these bright students.

They’re also notorious for hip and joint problems due to poor breeding.

So do your research on the breeders and talk to a vet about how to watch out for common symptoms.

Poodles

You may not picture these prissy pooches as “wickedly smart,” but that’s exactly how they are described.

Even as a child growing up in a dog show home, I learned early on that Poodles are one of the most intelligent breeds across a versatile range of activities.

They’re also very people-friendly.

Labradoodles

Not recognized yet as a standard breed by the AKC, Labradoodles were born out of the desire for a low-shedding, people-friendly, highly-tractable dog to use as guide dogs.  

Since it’s a young breed, there are still big variations in physical nature and temperament from litter to litter.

However, in my personal experience as a trainer, I haven’t met a Labradoodle that wasn’t quick to learn!

For the full list of breeds included in the working, herding, and sporting dog categories, click here.

easiest dogs to train

Easiest Small Dogs to Train

Having gone through that list, you might be feeling a bit disappointed that the dogs I mentioned are all larger sized breeds.

But if you’ve got your heart set on a lap-sized pooch who is tractable and smart, here are a few easy to train small dogs.

Miniature and Toy Poodles

The Poodle we spoke so highly of earlier in the article actually exists in three sizes: standard, miniature, and toy.  

The smaller varieties supposedly retain all of the intelligence of the Standard Poodle.

Although some behavioral differences have emerged.

Grooming will be important if you go for a Poodle (of any size!)

Their unique fur can collect all manner of irritants, especially around the eyes.

Papillon

These tiny companion dogs are praised amongst owners and trainers for being one of the most easy to train small dog breeds.

But if regular brushing and trips to the groomer aren’t on your agenda, then you should pass on the Pap.

Cavalier King Charles Spaniel and other toy spaniels

That’s a big name for a small pup.

A true toy-sized breed, the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel has long been associated as a lapdog to European royalty.

They are bred from hunting dogs and crossed with smaller, less energetic breeds.

These pups have the eagerness to please and quickness to learn.

That makes them another one of the small dog breeds that are easy to train.  

Unfortunately, this breed is notorious for eye and heart conditions.

Do your research before settling on one of these little guys!

Cocker Spaniels

These are the smallest of the sporting dogs, so they have been bred for their enthusiasm for learning.

They are energetic and highly motivated as well.

Ear and skin infections are common.

But kennel clubs have a long history of monitoring genetic health issues for this breed.

What if I want to rescue a dog?

Now, if you’ve scanned past the trainable dog breeds lists because you’re more interested in adopting or rescuing a dog, this is the part where I remind you not to get too caught up in breed characteristics.  

Brian Hare, in The Genius of Dogs, summarizes:

“While working dogs might be more skilled at using human gestures as a result of either training or human selection for this skill, all dogs are skilled at using human gestures.

Even shelter dogs and breeds not intentionally bred by humans are skilled at using human gestures.”

So what is the easiest dog to train?  

My recommendation to you is to take breed characteristics with a grain of salt.  

When considering a puppy, play with him, walk him, and offer him a few treats.

See if you can observe any of the characteristics of easy to train dogs that we listed in this article.

There’s never a guarantee when it comes to animals or humans.

Be sure that the pet you choose is one you’re willing to love and care for.

No matter what behavioral quirks or health issues come up along the way.   

Sure, we all want a smart dog, but you may end up struggling to train your pooch.

You can always hire a trainer or brush up on your training skills with the other articles on this site!

Liz London is a certified dog trainer through the Certifying Council of Professional Dog Trainers (CPDT-KA) & the Karen Pryor Academy (Dog Trainer Foundations Certification) with regular continuing education courses from the top animal trainers from all over the world, including Michele Pouliot, director of training for the Guide Dogs for the Blind.  She has trained zoo animals, search & rescue canines, gundogs, and helped people raise happy, healthy, and well-behaved canine companions for over ten years.

Sources

The Genius of Dogs, Brian Hare & Vanessa Woods. Plume, 2013.

Does perceived trainability of dog (Canis lupus familiaris) breeds reflect differences in learning or differences in physical ability?  William S.Helton. Behavioral Processes, March 2010.

Behavioral differences among breeds of domestic dogs (Canis lupus familiaris): Current status of the science. Lindsay R.Mehrkam Clive D.L.Wynne. Applied Animal Behavior Science, June 2014.



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