Usually, when we ask if a dog is smart, we really want to know how trainable he is. Although intelligence is a major component in a dog’s ability to learn, each breed has its own distinct personality, instinctive drives, and genetic heritage, which will affect trainability. For example, some breeds were developed to work cooperatively with human partners, and others were developed to work independently.
Another factor is distractibility. Is the dog able to concentrate on what you are teaching or are other elements in the environment pulling his focus? Breeds such as the Bloodhound are ruled by their noses. An interesting smell will win out over training almost every time. Of course, training methods have an impact, too. If you engage and excite your dog, use rewards that he thinks are worth working for, and make training a fun time for bonding, any breed can learn and enjoy doing it.
However, there is no doubt that some breeds are more easily trained than others. Members from the Herding Group, Sporting Group, and the Working Group all tend to be more trainable, and the hounds and terriers are usually lower on the list. According to Dr. Stanley Coren, renowned dog researcher, here are some of the most trainable breeds.
- Border Collie – These dogs are whip-smart workaholics. They learn remarkably fast, and you might find them looking at you as if to say, “Is that all you wanted?” Sharpen your skills to keep up with this highly trainable breed.
- Poodle – Don’t let the fancy fur coat fool you, this breed is intelligent, keen to work, and eager to please. Toy, miniature, or standard, these dogs will happily learn whatever you choose to teach.
- German Shepherd Dog – There is good reason this large and powerful breed is often used for police and military work. They are tireless workers and want nothing more than to please their handlers.
- Golden Retrievers – Consistently near the top of the most popular breeds list, this beautiful and friendly dog is also very trainable and eager to please. They can be silly and fun, but don’t underestimate their brainpower.
- Doberman Pinscher – Another common police and military breed, the commanding Doberman is a fearless and loyal companion. They are enthusiastic workers and are renowned for their ability to learn and retain their training.
- Shetland Sheepdog – This gorgeous herding breed is playful, affectionate with family, and loves to learn new behaviors. They make excellent competitors in dog sports such as agility or obedience trials.
- Labrador Retriever – Another extremely popular dog, this gentle and versatile hunting breed is also a fast learner. Their outgoing nature and eager-to-please personality make them a preferred breed for service work.
- Papillon – Named for their butterfly-like ears, this alert toy breed is eager to please his humans. These active dogs are curious, quick studies, and enjoy learning new things.
- Rottweiler – An imposing breed, the large Rottweiler is a natural protector that thrives when he has a job to do. That means that not only is the Rottweiler extremely trainable, but training is essential to his happiness.
- Australian Cattle Dog – This is a determined and highly active breed. More of an independent thinker than some other dogs on this list, they are tireless workers that need a job to do. Training can help give this intelligent breed a sense of purpose.
- Pembroke Welsh Corgi – This low-set and active dog is surprisingly powerful for his small size. This is a breed that responds wonderfully to training and is an enthusiastic dog sport competitor.
- Miniature Schnauzer – These relatively small dogs are playful and keen to please their owners. Fearless and stocky, this breed has a different origin from many of the other members of the Terrier Group, giving them a higher trainability rating than other terriers.
- English Springer Spaniel – Built to hunt all day, this energetic breed works hard in the field but is playful at home. Their soulful expression hides a quick mind and a desire to please.
Remember, even if your dog is not on the above list, almost every dog can be trained. You just might need more patience with some breeds than others. And sometimes, the "most trainable" dogs present their own challenges. For example, they can learn bad behaviors just as quickly as good ones. Celebrate what makes your breed special, even if that isn’t trainability, and find the techniques that help your dog learn at his best.