Maybe you’re thinking about becoming a first time dog owner. Maybe you already have a dog. (Or two. Or three.) Either way, you know that training a dog is a big responsibility. And you know that some dog breeds are easier to train than others. Continue reading to see which breeds can be easier to train and why that might be.
Why Training And Socialization Are Important
Puppy socialization can go a long way towards making sure your puppy grows up to be a well-adjusted, well-behaved adult dog. Exposing a dog to many different experiences as early as possible reduces the risk of behavioral problems later in life. Socialization classes can help dogs become comfortable not only around people but other dogs as well.1,2
Socialization doesn’t ensure obedience, though. That’s what obedience and command training are for. Even with adult dogs, command training for one hour a week can make a big difference in their behavior.3
It may sound like a lot of work, but the payoff is worth it. And some dog breeds are easier to train than others. Some are more intelligent; some are more eager to please; and some breeds are both.
Different Types Of Dog Breeds
The American Kennel Club (AKC) assigns each registered breed to one of seven groups:
- Herding dogs
- Toy dogs
- Sporting dogs
- Non-sporting dogs
- Working dogs
The AKC sorts breeds according to certain traits and functions.4 The breeds within each group may share a lot in common, but they can also vary widely. You might find large and small dogs within the same group, for example.
Every dog is special. But some breeds are more intelligent, more obedient, and more trainable than others. Here are some of the easiest dog breeds to train in each group.
All herding breeds share one deeply-ingrained instinct: They were bred to gather and protect livestock. Because of this, they have a strong drive to control the movements of other animals (and sometimes even their people).5,6
The German shepherd is a favorite breed of both police and the military.7 There’s a good reason for that. This large breed is strong, loyal, courageous, and confident. Eager to please, the German shepherd dog likes to work hard. It’s also very intelligent and able to learn many commands.
You may have seen them looking intimidating in movies and television, but don’t let that fool you. German shepherds are wonderful family dogs: loyal, energetic, and fun-loving.8 They become extremely bonded to their humans.
Like a lot of dogs, they respond best to consistent, reward-based training. And thanks to their energetic nature, it’s important to note that they need a lot of exercise.9
Thanks to popular culture, it’s easy to assume that German shepherd dogs are the breed most commonly used by military and police. But in truth, that honor goes to the Belgian Malinois, another herding dog.
For more than 100 years, the Belgian Malinois has been one of the most popular police dogs in America. They’re also favored by Navy SEALs, who equip them with night vision goggles and body armor. The Malinois is lighter than the German shepherd. This makes it a better candidate for tandem skydiving operations.10
Malinois dogs have a very strong herding instinct. They love chasing moving objects, so training is particularly important for them. Thankfully, this highly intelligent dog is up to the task.11
Thanks to Lassie, the collie has been an international superstar since the 1940s. But this medium-sized dog enjoyed a steady rise to prominence long before that. Collies were a favorite breed of the dog-loving Queen Victoria. And their ancestors arrived in the British Isles nearly 2,000 years before her reign.12
Maybe the queen loved these elegant dogs because she had nine children. Collies are great family dogs, with a natural fondness for kids. Social, loyal, and affectionate, collies are devoted to their families.
They’re also very smart. They love to train and learn. They’re one of the easiest breeds to housebreak. Because they are innately sensitive to their humans’ feelings, they respond best to positive training methods.13
A slightly smaller cousin of the collie, the border collie is one of the smartest dog breeds. In fact, the world’s smartest dog is a border collie. A border collie named Chaser learned the names of more than 1,000 objects (the average dog learns the names of about 165).
That might be a lofty goal for your border collie, but most dogs of this breed can still learn an impressive number of words and commands.14,15
All that brainpower can lead to a restless mind, though. Border collies need a lot of mental stimulation. Herding, obedience work, or agility training are ideal activities to keep them busy. And a busy border collie is a happy border collie.16
Terriers And Hounds
Terriers and hounds share one thing in common: they can be very strong-willed. This is especially true when it comes to performing the tasks for which they’ve been bred.17,18 Thankfully, there are breeds in both groups that are easily trainable.
Border terriers have a distinctive head shape (some say the breed has an “otter head”). They also have a distinctive temperament. They’re quieter and less hot-headed than many other terriers. They get along well not only with people but with other dogs as well.19,20
That doesn’t mean that border terriers don’t have minds of their own. While highly trainable, they can’t resist a good chase. It’s what they were bred for. For this reason, it’s important not to let them off-leash unless they’re in a securely fenced-in area.
When caught doing something wrong, border terriers are quick to show they’re sorry. They love to please people. But sometimes, they just can’t help themselves.21
The miniature schnauzer is another terrier with an unmistakable face. With its bushy beard and eyebrows, it looks like a wise sage. That’s not altogether inappropriate: the miniature schnauzer is a very intelligent dog. It’s also obedient and eager to please.
Because they’re so smart, miniature schnauzers can get bored easily. Like border collies, they need a lot of mental stimulation. If you’re thinking about getting a mini schnauzer, keep in mind that you’ll have to find ways to keep training fun.22 But there’s an upside to that: it can be more fun for you, too.
There are four basic types of sporting dogs:
Each of them has highly specialized instincts. But they are all well known for their likable and lively personalities. Sporting dogs, in general, are some of the easiest dog breeds to train.23
Labrador retrievers are highly trainable dogs with exceptionally stable temperaments. They are gentle, outgoing, and devoted dogs. They are great companions for people in need of mobility assistance.24
Their intelligence and eagerness to please make Labrador retrievers very easy to train. But they also have very high energy levels. Strong and athletic, it’s important to keep them physically active. Incorporating activities like swimming or fetching into their training can go a long way.25
English Springer Spaniel
Bred to work closely with humans, the English springer spaniel is one of the most polite breeds out there. They also get along well with other dogs.
They’re eager to please, but English springer spaniels are also very energetic and curious about their environments. It’s important to train them well, so that you, the dog owner, are in control at all times.
As long as your approach is gentle, English springer spaniels love training. It means you’re paying attention to them, and they do crave attention. They can be miserable when left alone for long periods, so it’s important to make sure you can commit to them.26 When you do, they’ll reward you with affection.
Flat-coated retrievers are highly trainable thanks to their intelligence and eagerness to please. It’s important to remember that they are very sensitive dogs (as are many dogs as eager to please as they are). They respond best to gentle training methods.
Depending on your taste for youthful hijinks, that can sometimes be a challenge. Flat-coated retrievers are four-legged Peter Pans. They seem to retain their puppyish nature well into their later years. They require a lot of outdoor activity to keep their sense of mischief under control.27
Spaniels have been used for hunting for centuries, but it wasn’t until the 19th century that the cocker spaniel received recognition as its own breed. The breed’s star really rose in 1955, with Disney’s Lady and the Tramp. With the long, silky coat her breed is famous for, Lady was a quintessentially elegant cocker spaniel.
Cocker spaniels are small and compact. They’re great for people who love sporting breeds but don’t have the room for a larger dog. They are very outgoing, with a merry disposition, and are great with kids. They are also great service dogs.28
Cocker spaniels are real people-pleasers who love hearing the phrase “good dog.” As such, they are very responsive to a disapproving tone of voice. Just a little bit of gentle correction can go a long way.29
Working dogs were bred to assist humans with difficult, labor-intensive tasks. Because of their protective instincts and large size, it’s important to train them well.30
Bernese Mountain Dog
Bernese mountain dogs possess a special combination of brains and brawn. The breed originated in Switzerland, where their strength and hardiness made them great farmworkers.
They’re also open-hearted, gentle giants. They get along with everyone but often attach more closely to one lucky human in their family. Because they are so sensitive, it’s easy to hurt their feelings. These sweet dogs are very obedient, but when training them, remember that they need a lot of tenderness.31
Rottweilers are a misunderstood breed. Many people associate them with a kind of macho aggressiveness. It’s easy to understand why. They were bred to be guard dogs, and they have strong territorial instincts. By the 1900s, they became popular as police dogs and personal guard dogs.
They are strong. They’re powerful. They’re alert. But when properly trained and socialized, they are approachable, loving dogs. How you treat your Rottweiler makes all the difference in their temperament.32 They respond well to consistent, fair, and firm training, though it’s important not to be too rough with them.33
Doberman pinschers are incredibly versatile working dogs. They served with the U.S. Marine Corps during World War II. There, they would lead patrols through the jungles of the South Pacific, guard marines while they slept, and sniff out hidden enemy forces.
With their sleek, severe appearance, you would never mistake a Doberman for a Bernese. Like its fellow working dog, though, the Doberman is a solid combination of brains and brawn. They are highly intelligent and incredibly strong.
They are also very determined. While they learn easily, they also need plenty of daily exercise.34 They respond quickly to training, but they can become unmanageably restless without it.35
Non-Sporting And Toy Dogs
Non-sporting dogs are a diverse group. There are vast differences in size, appearance, and personality between them.36 Toy dogs, on the other hand, are much easier to define. They are, as their name suggests, small in size, and very affectionate.37
Don’t be fooled by their depictions in cartoons as standoffish snobs. Poodles are smart, athletic dogs. Thanks to their intelligence, they are easily trained. Thanks to their strength and agility, they excel in canine sports.
They may not be sporting dogs, but poodles can compete with many other dog breeds in many tasks. They are great trackers. They are also great water-retrievers. (Their name comes from the German word for “to splash in the water”).
A people-oriented breed, poodles also make great service dogs. As long as you keep their routines consistent and positive, they respond well to training.38,39
With faultless manners and a coat that resembles a tuxedo, the Boston terrier has earned the nickname “The American Gentleman.” The breed is so quintessentially American, in fact, that in 1976 it became the official bicentennial dog of the United States.
They are very intelligent dogs. Not only are they eager to please, but Boston terriers are quick to pick up all kinds of tricks. They have a tiny streak of terrier stubbornness, but it’s nothing you can’t overcome with consistent training.40
Their keen awareness also makes them very sensitive. When training them, be sure to use a gentle tone. And when disciplining them, always follow your corrections with warmth, praise, and the occasional treat.41
The papillon’s name comes from the French word for “butterfly,” thanks to its wing-shaped ears. Like the Boston terrier, it can learn all kinds of tricks: it’s both intelligent and eager to please.
While many small dogs can take a little longer to potty train than larger dogs, the papillon tends to make the process easier. If you’re looking for a small dog who can pick things up quickly (so you can pick up after them a little less), the papillon may be the dog for you.42
Training Isn’t Just Good For You; It’s Good For Your Dog
No matter what kind of dog you have, training is important. It’s not just about convenience for you as a dog parent. Training actually helps your dog have a happier, healthier life.
Lifelong training helps dogs retain cognitive and physical function well into old age. And they perform better on cognitive tasks throughout their lifetimes. Well-trained dogs exhibit better sustained attention as well as improved problem-solving abilities.43
With some of the easiest dog breeds to train, you can get a head start on habits that will improve your dog’s quality of life. And, as any dog parents know, a happier dog makes for a happier you.