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Dog Breeds That Are Easy (or Challenging) To Train

By Michele Welton, Dog Trainer, Breed Selection Consultant, Author of 15 Dog Books



Cartoon dog

The brilliant Miniature Pumpkinhead understands 18 languages and can do sums in his head! Move over, Albert Einstein!

Have you ever read any article about any breed of dog, where the article was written by people who love that breed, and the article said, "Our breed is sort of dumb and hard to train"?

Nope. You read the same thing in every article: "The Miniature Pumpkinhead is a highly intelligent breed, eager to please and easy to train."

Hmm. And hmm.

What is intelligence, anyway?

  • Learns quickly. Smart dogs catch on fast. You show them something a few times and they get it.
    Dog eyeing chess board

    I like to think that somewhere, here on earth or in another dimension, there is a dog as advanced as this one. :)

  • Good memory. Smart dogs remember what they've learned.
  • Curious. Smart dogs like to make things happen, to find out what things "do" when bumped or pushed or played with. Smart dogs have inquisitive minds.
  • Flexible & creative. Smart dogs don't get stuck trying the same thing over and over if it isn't working. Smart dogs keep trying new things and play "trial and error" until something works.
  • Keen observation. Smart dogs watch you. They observe your facial expressions, read your body language, and interpret your moods. If they see another dog do something that earns a reward, they may try it themselves to see if they get the same reward.

German Shepherd Dog with laptop

Should you WANT a highly intelligent dog?

That's an odd question, isn't it? Why would anyone NOT want a smart dog??

Well, because smart dogs can be difficult to live with.

Smart dogs get bored quickly. Smart dogs are always looking for mental stimulation, mental challenges, interesting things to do. They want to go for walks in new places, meet new people, play with new toys, learn new words, solve new puzzles.

Dog destroying upholstery

If you don't keep smart dogs busy, they will look for other ways to amuse themselves, i.e. destroying the furniture, or digging craters in the yard.

Smart dogs may also use their clever reasoning skills to do things you don't  want them to do – for example, figuring out how to open the back gate, or the cookie cabinet, or the fridge.

Intelligence and trainability aren't the same thing

Many owners overestimate their training skills and find themselves with a breed who is "too much dog" for them to handle.

So, you should not focus on high intellligence, but high TRAINABILITY.

Trainability is ease of training – whether a dog is easy or hard to train.

No matter how high or low their intelligence, dogs can be easy to train, difficult to train, or somewhere in between.

Now, breeders tend to get all huffy and defensive when their breed is labeled as difficult  to train. They'll announce, indignantly, that their breed can be trained successfully to the highest levels of obedience, and they'll rattle off the names of notable dogs in their breed who have achieved high scores.

Dog show winners on stage

And they're right. In experienced hands, every breed certainly CAN be well-trained to high levels.

BUT... with a novice at the other end of the leash,  some breeds are much more difficult to train than others. Maybe their breeders would prefer the word challenging  to train, instead of difficult?

What makes a dog easy or challenging to train?

Dogs that are challenging to train

Shiba Inu, hard to train

Shiba Inu: very challenging to train

  • May be stubborn, resistant, strong-willed... or simply independent, or easily distracted
  • May learn readily in their own area of expertise (herding sheep, hunting birds, chasing rabbits, pulling sleds), but outside of that specific field, they don't necessarily learn well. In fact, the working behaviors  hardwired into their genes can be a nuisance in a normal home environment.

Now, if you have experience "reading" a dog's body language and if you can commit to a program of Respect Training, you should consider these breeds. In the right hands, they can become good companions. Just don't overestimate your own abilities. And don't underestimate the breed.

Dogs that are easy to train...

are more likely to forgive mistakes made by inexperienced owners. These dogs quickly accept that training means learning new words and behaviors, and they're happy to participate in this activity with you.

When a dog respects you and is eager to please, training will go very well... even if a dog is only of average or below-average intelligence.

Thus, trainability (ease of training) has much less to do with intelligence, and much more to do with how accepting a breed is of the training attempts of the average owner.

Breeds that are easy (or challenging!) to train

TINY DOGS

Long Coat Chihuahuas

Chihuahuas need to be treated like real dogs, not carried around like dolls. They should be praised and rewarded for good behavior, and corrected for bad behavior.

Most tiny breeds are challenging to train in the sense that you must walk a fine line being careful about their safety, yet requiring them to stand on their own four feet whenever possible. Spoiling  a tiny dog (by carrying him around like a baby or making excuses if he acts rudely) can turn him into a neurotic, nasty creature.

Most tiny breeds are also challenging to housebreak. Their miniaturized bladder means they need to go to the bathroom frequently, and often the urge comes on them quickly. If they're free to sneak behind a chair to "go", they quickly develop the bad habit of "going" in the house. See my housebreaking article.

The tiny breeds that are EASIEST to train are Papillons and Toy Poodles.

SMALL DOGS

Most challenging to train:

Chinese Crested Norwegian Lundehund
Italian Greyhound Schipperke
Lhasa Apso Welsh Terrier
Lakeland Terrier Xolo

EASIEST to train are Miniature Poodles and SOME  Jack Russells (JRTs can be brilliant, but as I explained earlier, intelligence isn't the same as trainability). A distant third is the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel.

Cavalier King Charles Spaniels

All the colors Cavaliers come in. This breed responds well to training, but does have serious health problems, needs regular coat care, and sheds a ton.

MIDSIZED DOGS

Most challenging to train:

Basenji Kerry Blue Terrier
Finnish Spitz Miniature Bull Terrier
German Pinscher Shiba Inu
Irish Terrier Staffordshire Bull Terrier

EASIEST to train – as long as their needs for exercise, mental stimulation, and calm leadership are met – are the Shetland Sheepdog (Sheltie), Lagotto Romagnolo, and Cocker Spaniels (American and English).

Shetland Sheepdogs, Shelties

Shetland Sheepdogs (Shelties) are typically sweet-natured and easy to train. The only common behavior issues are barking, hypersensitivity, and sometimes excessive shyness.

MEDIUM-SIZE DOGS

Most challenging to train:

  • Australian Cattle Dog – Highly intelligent, but also independent and strong-willed, this breed requires tons of exercise/activities and an experienced leader to bring out the best in him.
  • Border Collie – What?? Border Collies are one of the most intelligent breeds on earth... how can they be challenging to train? Here's how.
  • Standard Schnauzer – One of the smartest breeds, and one of the best problem-solvers, but also strong-willed and demanding, so needs an experienced leader.
  • Bull Terrier
  • Chow Chow
  • Pharaoh Hound
  • Siberian Husky

EASIEST to train – IF their exercise/stimulation needs are met – are the Australian Shepherd and English Shepherd. The two Springer Spaniels (Welsh and English) are also fairly easy to train.

Australian Shepherd, blue merle

Australian Shepherds are easy to train if you can provide enough exercise and interesting stuff to do. If you can't... forget it! Just move them onto the Challenging list and look for a breed that isn't so incredibly demanding of your time and energy.

LARGE DOGS AND GIANT DOGS

Every large/giant purebred was developed to be a working dog – to hunt or herd or guard or pull sleds, etc. As such, their trainability to do those jobs  is different than their trainability to be a companion/pet .

For example, it's not difficult to teach an Alaskan Malamute to pull a sled, a Clumber Spaniel to find pheasants, an Afghan Hound to chase after a mechanized lure, a Belgian Tervuren to herd sheep, or a Rottweiler to protect your home.

But what about teaching them to lie down, to come when called, to be calm indoors, to be polite with strangers and other dogs, to always defer to your judgement?  How easy (or difficult) is that to do, for the average owner? That's the kind of trainability I'm referring to in the following lists.

EASIEST to train – as long as their needs for physical exercise, mental stimulation, and calm leadership are met – are the Golden Retriever, Labrador Retriever, and Standard Poodle.

Golden Retriever on beach

The Golden Retriever is one of the finest family dogs in the world. Willing to learn, cheerful, demonstrative, trustworthy with everyone, and forgiving of mistakes made by inexperienced owners. The two major drawbacks? Health issues and heavy shedding.

The most challenging large/giant breeds to train:

  • Great Pyrenees with sheep

    Great Pyrenees

    Livestock guardians (Anatolian Shepherd, Great Pyrenees, Komondor, Kuvasz, Tibetan Mastiff) – Bred to guard flocks, alone in the mountains, they keep watch and make their own decisions about friends and foes and appropriate actions. It is difficult to get these strong-willed, self-reliant dogs to turn decision-making over to you.
  • Greyhound running

    Greyhound

    Sighthounds (Afghan Hound, Ibizan, Greyhound, Saluki, Scottish Deerhound) – These tall, slim, long-legged dogs have fairly rigid preferences. They want to race at warp speed after anything that runs, zoom a dozen laps around the yard, then snooze on the sofa. These independent, easily distracted breeds don't see the point in learning or following commands.
  • Catahoula Leopard Dog

    Catahoula Leopard Dog

    Big-game hounds (Coonhounds, Bloodhound, Catahoula Leopard Dog) – These determined hunting dogs have powerful noses and powerful drives to follow scent trails and track and corner prey animals. They're not interested in learning "useless" commands like Heel or Sit.

Large/giant breeds that can have different temperaments

In some breeds, different breeding lines produce very different temperaments and trainability. Show lines are focused on appearance and a more mellow temperament, while working lines produce more determined dogs with higher energy and a more intense, assertive temperament.

In these breeds, I would say that the dogs from show lines will have moderate trainability, while the dogs from working lines will have easy to moderate to challenging trainability.

Three German Shepherds sitting

German Shepherds can look and act quite differently depending on whether they're from show lines or working lines. Personally I prefer working lines, as I find show lines to be caricatures of what German Shepherds should look like and act like.

Large/giant breeds whose trainability varies from easy to moderate to challenging, based on show vs. working lines:

Airedale Cane Corso
American Bulldog Doberman Pinscher
Beauceron Dogo Argentino
Belgian Shepherd German Shepherd
Bouvier des Flandres Giant Schnauzer
Boxer Rottweiler
Bullmastiff
Black brindle Boxer

Black brindle Boxer. "Fetch, Jazz!"

Once you have your dog, you might enjoy my downloadable ebook, Test Your Dog's IQ . It's a free bonus book when you purchase any of my training or health books.

Michele Welton with BuffyAbout the author: Michele Welton has over 40 years of experience as a Dog Trainer, Dog Breed Consultant, and founder of three Dog Training Centers. An expert researcher and author of 15 books about dogs, she loves helping people choose, train, and care for their dogs.


To help you train and care for your dog

dog training videos Dog training videos. Sometimes it's easier to train your puppy (or adult dog) when you can see the correct training techniques in action.

The problem is that most dog training videos on the internet are worthless, because they use the wrong training method. I recommend these dog training videos that are based on respect and leadership.

book coverRespect Training For Puppies: 30 seconds to a calm, polite, well-behaved puppy. For puppies 2 to 18 months old. Your puppy will learn the 21 skills that all family dogs need to know.
If your dog is over 18 months, you'll want book coverRespect Training For Adult Dogs: 30 seconds to a calm, polite, well-behaved dog. Again your dog will learn the 21 skills that all family dogs need to know.
book coverTeach Your Dog 100 English Words is a unique Vocabulary and Respect Training Program that will teach your adult dog to listen to you and do what you say.
book cover11 Things You Must Do Right To Keep Your Dog Healthy and Happy helps your dog live a longer, healthier life.
book coverDog Quest: Find The Dog Of Your Dreams will help you find a good-tempered, healthy family companion.