We all want well-behaved dogs. All dogs are trainable and many “bad” dogs are a product of poor training rather than inherent naughtiness, but there are still some dogs that are much easier to train than others. There’s a reason that you often see Labradors working as guide dogs rather than Chow Chows.
So which dog breeds are easiest to train? We’ll tell you (and explain why)!
When we talk about dogs that are easy to train, what do we mean? Dogs that are easy to train often have several specific characteristics:
When we say that dogs like Shar Peis or Afghan Hounds are difficult to train, we generally mean that they aren’t easily motivated by food and they don’t seek out our human companionship.
Training dogs that aren’t particularly interested in food is much more difficult than training dogs that love all types of food.
It’s hard to “pay” an animal for good behavior if she doesn’t want what you’re offering.
If you’re working with an animal who is less interested in food, you’ll have to up your game as a trainer. It’s not impossible, but you might have to get creative using really tasty treats or even non-food rewards to motivate your animal.
If you’re struggling to train your dog, look at what you’re “paying” her with. In some cases, upgrading to a higher-quality, more drool-worthy treat can work wonders.
Even if your dog isn’t food motivated, this doesn’t mean that all hope is list. If she doesn’t love treats, don’t use them as a training reward and try a different incentive instead. I’ve trained dogs using tug, fetch, sleep, or freedom to chase a squirrel as rewards.
The bottom line is, if a zookeeper can train a giraffe or a hippo, you probably can train your dog.
Sometimes you’ve got to think outside the box or make things easier. When I’m training a new dog with a client, we often start with rewarding the dog for being near us and focusing on us.
These are easy wins for the dog, and gets her used to the work-and-reward system. Only then can we start training the dog new tricks or handy behaviors.
Since dog breeds are closely genetically related, there are certain trends within breeds for trainability. All dogs are individuals, but in general, certain breeds are easier to train than others.
That’s because ultra-trainable breeds originated from dogs that humans bred to be good at certain tasks, like listening to an owner’s commands to properly herd sheep.
Dogs that were bred for herding (like Australian shepherds) are often particularly easy to train, while dogs that were bred for running or tracking (like huskies or bloodhounds) can be more challenging.
As a herding breed, Aussies are also bred for working off-leash with their owners in challenging environments. This natural focus on owners and skill for problem-solving puts them at the top of the list.
Many Aussies will happily sit in exchange for a toy or treat. Having a variety of ways to reward your dog can make training easier!
Like other herding dogs, some Aussies can be nervous with new situations - but many are easily socialized to be confident with strangers. They're also high-energy dogs that can be problematic when not given a job, so make sure you understand what you're undertaking when you adopt an Aussie!
Known for being extremely intelligent and almost irritatingly attentive, Border Collies top trainability lists.
Many Border Collies naturally pay attention to their owner to with an eerie focus, making them seem like mind-reading geniuses.
My Border Collie, Barley, has successfully trained many people to throw him a ball instead of petting him. That’s how smart he is! Their trainability comes from their laser focus.
Their biggest weakness is that many Border Collies can be nervous of new people, places, and things.
Aside from that, it’s important to give a Border Collie a job to use their boundless energy and intelligence on - otherwise they’ll invent jobs for themselves, like separating feathers from pillows.
Yet another herding breed rounds out the top three!
Shetland Sheepdogs are small, sensitive herding dogs. They naturally focus on their owners and are quick to pick up new training games.
Many Shelties are so sensitive to their environment that they border on fearful of new things and require careful socialization. Their coat is not easy to care for either, so keep that in mind before bringing home your new Sheltie.
As the first non-herding breed on the list, Dobermans can be surprisingly smart and attentive.
Since Dobermans were originally bred for helping tax collectors do their jobs without getting kicked out of town, they’re naturally quite attentive and focused on their owners.
That said, Dobermans require careful training and socialization to ensure that they’re tolerant of strangers. They’re a favorite of dog trainers who enjoy quick wit and intense focus.
Labs have a gentle disposition and are naturally affable with strangers, making them the hands-down best choice for the average home and family (and the most popular breed in the U.S.).
Their intense food motivation stems from a genetic quirk that makes them not feel full even when they are.
As a duck hunting dog, a well-bred lab should be able to work off-leash with his owner in the water and on land and remain unperturbed by gunshots and strangers while hunting. Keep that in mind before bringing home a high energy dog.
If you aren’t a regular hunter, you’ll have to come up with other creative ways to keep your new Labrador well-exercised!
Anecdotally, trainers I’ve spoken to have noticed that more Goldens show concerning resource guarding behavior than other breeds. There’s a chance that there’s a genetic predisposition to this behavior problem in the breed, which is why they’re a step lower than Labs on this list.
As the smallest dog on the list, the Papillon is often overlooked. These little dogs are incredibly smart and trainable, with natural focus and sunny disposition.
Many dog trainers love training papillons for agility, since they’re a bit easier to live with than a high-strung herding dog. Their adorable face and tiny size certainly helps!
Dogs that are easy to train are often just dogs that are easy to motivate. While some dogs will happily work in exchange for a smile or a pat, there are other dogs that need a higher-caliber treat to do your bidding.
Ensure that you’re avoiding dog breeds that are known for being smart, but are also known for being extra high-strung or nervous of owners.
While Poodles and German Shepherds are both fun dogs that are quick learners, they didn’t make this list because so many of them are ultra-nervous and easily develop extra behavior problems.
Border Collies, Aussies, and Shelties can have this same problem if not bred, socialized, and trained correctly. However, I personally see far more Poodles and German Shepherds in animal shelters with truly debilitating anxiety than the herding breeds.
Before dashing out to your nearest Australian Shepherd Rescue, heed my warning.
Incredibly smart dogs are not necessarily easy to live with. Many of the smartest dogs on this list are easy to train, but also get bored easily. Bored dogs often make up games or anxiously destroy things. It’s a constant give and take between my Border Collie and me to ensure that he’s properly entertained so he doesn’t destroy my home.
If you’re not ready for lots of activity and heavy-duty training, skip the herding dogs on this list and opt for a retriever instead. Better yet, check out our list of best and worst dog breeds for first-time owners.
Think we missed an easy to train dog? Let us know! We want to hear about your training dream dog!
Kayla Fratt is an Associate Certified Dog Behavior Consultant through the IAABC and works as a professional dog trainer through the use of positive reinforcement methods. She also has experience working as a Behavior Technician at Denver Dumb Friends League rehabilitating fearful and reactive dogs.