Top 10 Easiest Dogs to Train · The Wildest

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Top 10 Easiest Dogs to Train

Spoiler: it’s not about the breed. But these pups are pretty brainy

by Chris Norris
14 December 2023
a dog held on a leash sits calmly
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Stereotypes cling to certain breeds like dog hair to a suede couch. No matter what the science says, some people think American Staffordshire Terriers are aggressive, Labradors are saint-like and Border Collies can be trained to speak English. More reasonable assumptions cling to dozens of other breeds, but there’s actually no innate quality that determines how easy or hard they are to train. “I have trained more than 25,000 dogs in my professional career,” says Stacy Alldredge, a certified dog trainer, behaviourist and founder of Who’s Walking Who, whose clients run the gamut of breed, age, disposition and temperament. “It’s not the breed but the dog’s confidence and openness to training.”

The confidence comes from several factors: adaptability to new things, ability to self-soothe, sufficient exercise, consistent food and water, clear motivation (toy, food, praise) and, not least, a skilful pet parent. Willingness depends less on keen intelligence than an interest in what humans want. This quality – what we’ll call ‘human interest’ – does tend to appear more in certain breeds and breed mixes. The dog with the most human interest? A rescue dog: food-motivated, eager to please, and – adopters will attest – grateful. That said, here are a few breeds who are generally considered quick studies.

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1. Border Collie

This working dog’s rep for intelligence keeps growing, thanks to verbose characters like Chaser. But as any school teacher knows, a brilliant kid is quite a handful: intense, quick-thinking, and hypersensitive to sound and touch. Training a Border Collie means managing extraordinary mental and physical energy – a hyperactive roommate bent on outsmarting you.

golden retriever
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2. Golden Retriever

Sure, there may be a Hannibal Lecter lurking in the Golden Retriever population, but this breed has just about the best all-around dog companion rep: well-rounded, easy-going in most situations, and super-eager to please.

German Shepherd
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3. German Shepherd

A herding dog apart, German Shepherds tend to be unusually driven and intelligent, quick to read signals and learn tasks, and extremely self-assured. They’re not so good at chilling. They need competent, confident pet parents, and training is not optional but a must.

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4. Poodle

Descended from the German Barbet and Hungarian Water Hound, this dog – named after the German word for ‘puddle’ – has a well-earnt rep for intelligence and hunting strength that belies the curly ’dos the breed is known for. Poodles and Poodle mixes are quick to learn but need training not to take the lead.

a corgi on a skateboard
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5. Corgi

Any dog who looks about 40 percent head must be kind of brainy, and with Welsh Corgis, the appearance does not deceive. Highly intelligent and food-motivated, they’re quick to learn but, like their most famous fan, Queen Elizabeth II, their independence can make them prone to lording over others.

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6. Papillon

Named for the French ‘butterfly’, this smart, lively dog with tricky hair can have the attitude you’d expect from someone often painted on the laps of noblewomen. The large and graceful ears do pick up instruction well, but as with many smaller dogs, Papillons need a firm pet parent to tame their Napoleonic tendency to dominate other dogs.

Australian Cattle Dog
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7. Australian Cattle Dog

Stalwart workers, these dogs are very faithful, and, like all of the above breeds, known for their intelligence. Their loyalty makes them good family dogs, but as with the German Shepherd and Border Collie, their smarts, energy and independence demand consistent boundaries from their parents. It’s best if they join your family early on and grow up alongside your kids, or come into the family when your children are on the older side – later primary school age or older.


8. Rottweiler

Comfortably one of the top 10 most intelligent breeds, the Rottweiler learns quickly and has the history of a praetorian guard. Descended from the Roman Mastiff, who herded cattle throughout Europe, their strength and protectiveness later made them favourites of German police. Darkly handsome looks aside, they’re no more aggressive than any other dog, but their size and strength make training essential, even if it’s relatively easy.

pitbull terrier
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9. American Pit Bull Terrier

Pure love bombs of affection, American Staffordshire Terriers, American Pit Bull Terriers, and mixes such as Labrabulls and Pitadors tend to be whip-smart and determined. They used to be dubbed ‘nanny dogs’ for watching over their pet parent’s kids. In recent years, the breed’s smarts and loyalty have led police departments to train rescue ‘Staffy’ mixes for years of faithful service.

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10. Husky

Spitz family dogs (including Huskies, Malamutes, Akitas and Japanese Spitzs) were selectively bred for hunting, herding and pulling sleds. Be aware of their incredibly heavy coat and high energy levels before you run out and get one. These dogs might be YouTube sensations for ‘singing’ and ‘talking’ adorably, but they have also been known to chew straight through doors and walls while their pet parents are at work.

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Chris Norris

Chris Norris is a writer, reporter, author, and longtime companion to West Highland terrier Gus, recently departed but intensely loved. Chris Norris is has written for The New Yorker, New York Magazine, The New York Times Magazine, Rolling Stone, GQ, Details, and NPR’s “All Things Considered.” He lives in New York City with his wife and 10-year-old son. 

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