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Dog breeds and training: What to know before picking up your new pup

Woman with a young Labrador dog on a dog training field

So, you’re thinking about getting a dog. Your lifestyle, time commitment, and living situation are all factors to consider when adopting and successfully training any dog. An Aussie in a New York City apartment might not be successful no matter how much training you do. You should set both of you up for success by considering your new dog’s temperament and your lifestyle. How’s a prospective dog parent to decide when it comes to their perfect breed match? 

Table of contents 

What categorizes a dog as trainable? 

Regarding specific traits that make a dog or breed “trainable,” it depends on what you want your pup to do. Generally, the most trainable dogs are intelligent. They also have both a desire to please their people and the energy to follow commands and meet expectations. Just because one dog naturally plays fetch doesn’t mean they guard livestock.  

Most trainable dog breeds 

Breeds that fall into the herding, sporting, and working groups are typically the most easily trained dogs, as they work closely with humans. Some of the most trainable dog breeds include: 

  • Border Collies – These incredibly intelligent dogs were initially bred and trained to help farmers herd livestock. They’re high-energy, loyal, and obedient. They’re more than happy to go to any length to make their owner happy and get the job done. These pups have a natural drive to herd and chase regardless of whether or not they live on a farm. Pair this with their exceptional ability to follow instructions, and it’s no wonder why Border Collies excel as agility competitors.  
  • German Shepherds – German Shepherds are natural-born working dogs. These dogs were traditionally bred to both guard and assist shepherds in herding animals. They are well-suited to a variety of responsibilities. German Shepherds are active, accustomed to working closely with and getting guidance from humans, and have a strong protective instinct. This makes the breed a popular choice for military, police, and other security service. 
     
  • Golden Retrievers – One of the most popular breeds in the US, Golden Retrievers are highly intelligent and eager to please. Originally bred as hunting dogs tasked with retrieving birds, they’re gentle and used to working closely with people. Goldens commonly serve as therapy, emotional support, and service dogs. They are also highly food motivated, making getting their attention for training fairly straightforward. 
     
  • Pembroke Welsh Corgis – These small dogs have big personalities and were traditionally bred as herding dogs. Their short stature allowed them to nip at the heels of large livestock to keep them moving in formation. They are accustomed to taking directives from humans. They’re also naturally affectionate, so they want to work and make you happy.  
     
  • Labrador Retrievers – Labs love both people and food, so getting these pups motivated to do what you want shouldn’t be too challenging. Traditionally trained as working dogs to assist fishermen, they love the water and working with people. Labs are both gentle and strong, making them excellent service dogs for a variety of fields—search and rescue, therapy, and emotional and physical support. 
     
  • Australian Cattle Dogs – Another dog from the herding group, these dogs are born workers. Cattle dogs are highly intelligent and very active, so they excel at hunting, chasing, and herding. Generally, these pups want nothing more than a job to do and were built for physical demands of harsh Australian cattle lands, so they’re up for anything.  
  • Standard Poodles – Poodles are some of the most intelligent dogs out there. Contrary to some of their reputations as glamorous, high society pets, Poodles were originally trained as duck retrieving dogs and are very athletic. Their people-pleasing attitude makes them willing trainees. 

No dog is perfect 

Even trainable dogs have their own challenges, however. In order to effectively perform their job of herding large amounts of massive livestock, herding dogs are known to be naturally bossy and often have big personalities. This requires you, as the owner, to take on a true leadership role in your relationship. 

Working breeds are also extremely active and job-oriented—and will get bored and mischievous if not given a task. Exercise and mental stimulation must be a priority. High energy levels can also make it difficult for some dogs to concentrate on training, commands, and tasks. What’s more, breeds traditionally bred as guard dogs have the potential to be overprotective and even aggressive. Proper training is crucial. 

What makes a dog difficult to train? 

Trainability varies greatly depending on the individual dog. It’s clear why some instinctual, breed-specific traits can help make dogs easy to train. But other traits that impact trainability are less obvious. For example, a dog can be traditionally bred for work, but if they are used to working independently rather than with humans, they may not respond well to formal training and taking commands from their people. 

By no fault of their own, some dogs are also easily distracted. Without the proper motivation and reward system in place, this can make paying attention, learning, and completing tasks particularly challenging. Energy levels also play a fairly significant role in trainability. Low energy can render a dog “lazy” and unmotivated to listen, while too much energy can make concentration and staying out of trouble difficult. 

A final key consideration when determining trainability is a dog or breed’s propensity for aggressive behavior. For example, breeds that were originally trained for protection and fighting, such as Doberman Pinschers and Akitas, can be more likely to have dominant tendencies that are now considered unfavorable for companion pets.  

Difficult dog breeds to train 

Generally, dogs that fall into the hound and terrier families are considered more difficult to train. This is due to their strong sense of independence, tendency to get distracted, and vocal nature. Some of these breeds include: 

  • Beagles – Originally bred as rabbit hunting dogs that traveled in packs, Beagles are curious by nature and used to working independently from humans. They’re known to be very smart and have a great sense of smell, so the temptation to follow their noses rather than the instructions of their people usually wins. While they make excellent family dogs, Beagles march to the beat of their own drum. 
     
  • Basset Hounds – These goofy-looking pups are renowned for their stubbornness. Similar to other hounds bred for tracking the scents of rabbits and deer, Basset Hounds have impeccably powerful noses and can get carried away following a scent.  
     
  • Siberian Huskies – Huskies are notorious escape artists. Bred for their steadfast endurance, these dogs love to run and are quite independent, meaning they should always be kept on leash or in a secured enclosure. While they’re loving and gentle, sledding across wild expanses of frozen tundra is their comfort zone and they aren’t known to eagerly seek the approval of their people. 
     
  • Bloodhounds – These large canines are one-track minded when it comes to following a scent. This renders them easily distracted if they sniff out anything interesting. Bloodhounds are also known to be independent and stubborn. 
     
  • Bulldogs – If Bulldogs’ personality is known for two things, it’s stubbornness and laziness. These lovable, chunky pups can be difficult to motivate, as their low energy levels make them more likely to want to stay on the couch than follow your commands. Originally bred as bullbaiting dogs, Bulldogs are brave and have powerful jaws—early and dedicated training is a must in order to avoid any potentially dangerous accidents. 

Training is about you, too 

It’s not just your dog who determines how easily or difficultly they will be trained. So much of a successful relationship between you and your pup is impacted by the choices you make, starting from Day One. You want this match to be a perfect one, so it’s important prospective dog parents do everything they can to set their family up for success. 

When choosing the breed of puppy you want, you should take into account how your home and life can accommodate a dog. Important factors to consider include yard size, lifestyle, activity level, whether there are children or other pets in the household, and your experience raising and training puppies. Known escape artists and very active dogs, Huskies, for example, may not be the best fit for a family with young children if you do not have the time and resources to properly exercise and train them. The chaos of little kids and unlimited trips through the front door presents a lot of opportunities for a Husky to bolt down the street.  

When adopting a new furry family member from a shelter, it’s common for pet parents to get excited about initial impressions and bring home the first pooch they get a tail wag from. Making sure you have a good match takes more than that, however. Get input from shelter staff about available pups, meet for an extended period in a private, quiet room, and make sure they get to know every member of the family before going home. 

Training is about you, too. Even the most experienced puppy parents can benefit from brushing up their pet ownership skills by enrolling in a puppy class. Not only will your new dog learn some basic behavior and obedience skills, but you’ll also be trained on how to communicate in a way your pup understands and responds to. Learn from the professionals! 

Bottom line 

There’s no secret formula or golden rule for what dogs or breeds are more or less trainable than others. Almost every dog can be trained with the proper techniques, and these techniques will depend heavily on your individual dog. It’s helpful to take into account your pup’s personality, preferences and motivations, and breed. What’s just as important, however, is you and your dedication to ensuring a successful relationship with your pup. Whether they’re natural herders, notably lazy, or highly food motivated, you should lean into what helps you both get the most out of your training sessions. 

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