What classifies a dog breed as trainable? It all depends on what you want to teach him to do. If you want a dog to follow a cold trail to find a lost child, the Bloodhound is your ideal dog. However, he’s not anxious to herd sheep or jump through a hoop. The main difference between an intelligent dog and a trainable one is the latter wants to please you. A simply smart dog just doesn’t care that much.
Physical agility is also part of the mix. Even if a Bulldog were a mental giant at sheepherding and could plot out in his head exactly which moves were the best, he couldn’t actually perform the work. The following list showcases dogs who have demonstrated the ability to perform a wide variety of tasks.
#1: German Shepherd Dog
This extraordinary dog is number one on our list. While perhaps lacking the sheer brilliance and problem-solving ability of the Border Collie or cleverness of the Poodle, the German Shepherd Dog has no peer in versatility. No other breed is a herding dog, drug dog, attack dog, guide dog for the blind, and movie star. Where is the Poodle or Border Collie equivalent of Rin Tin Tin? You don’t see Poodles herding sheep or Border Collies guarding military installations. The German Shepherd is a shining star, combining steadiness of temper, firmness of purpose, and unswerving loyalty.
While Poodles seem to hide their brains behind a mass of curls, this charming overachiever regularly walks off with ribbons in agility and obedience. (The Border Collie can’t match him in obedience, and the Golden Retriever falls way behind in agility.) In addition, he’s a true family dog who is at home wherever he goes. Poodles may not be renowned for chasing bad guys or running after sheep, but he’s very much at home right by your side.
#3: Border Collie
No list of hotshot dogs can omit the Border Collie. It takes a massive amount of intelligence and training, as well as incredible agility, to herd sheep, and the Border is the world’s premier sheepdog. Now that shepherds are in rather short supply, the Border Collie has turned his eye toward excelling at agility, obedience, and other all-around smart cookie activities.
#4: Doberman Pinscher
Doberman Pinschers were first developed as protection for tax collectors, and they retain their protective instincts and intuitive sense about who is a friend and who is not. This is a serious yet sensitive and intelligent dog who wants to please his owner. That makes them very trainable.
#5: Labrador Retriever
America’s favorite breed is understandably one of the most trainable. Adept at obedience and anything to do with water, this friendly family member really excels at his ancestral duty: retrieving ducks. Retrieving is a complex job (it’s more than fetch) that requires many weeks of training before a dog can even begin. At breed field trials the world over, it’s the Labrador who comes away with the top scores.
#6: Golden Retriever
The charming Golden is another retriever, and we’ve ranked him just below the Labrador. Although he’s better at pure obedience work, the Golden lags a bit in real world field trialing and hunting events. But for everyday smarts and excellent social skills, we’d put the Golden on top.
This most brilliant of the toy dogs is superb at agility, general tricks, obedience, and all-around good social behaviors. He is also especially adept at training his owners. The Papillon is the perfect breed for people who are looking for a smart, easily trained dog in a small package.
The Rottweiler is another one of the German I-Can-Do-Anything-You-Need-Just-Ask! breeds. Perhaps less sensitive and more stolid than the Doberman Pinscher, the Rottweiler nonetheless has an additional skill: herding. This is such a powerful dog that he needs to be highly trainable, and he is.
#9: Shetland Sheepdog
All sheepdogs are smart and highly trainable. But Shelties seem more attached to their owners than to their jobs, and that gives them a big edge over most other herding breeds. Eager to please, the Sheltie can happily handle any job you give him.
#10: Australian Shepherd
Another herding breed rounds out our top ten. This shouldn’t be surprising since herding requires a large number of problem-solving skills combined with the ability to listen to and obey the handler. Aussies consistently win at high levels in obedience, agility, and all kinds of games.
More Easily Trained Breeds: Australian Cattle Dog, Belgian Malinois, Border Terrier, Collie,
Flat-Coated Retriever, and Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever.
Don’t Hold Your Breath: These dogs are not unintelligent! They are simply independent breeds that were bred to form their own judgment over yours. The following are some dogs who are rather resistant to traditional training. In fact, you may have to get downright creative with them. And bring food. Affenpinscher, Afghan Hound, American Foxhound, Basenji, Basset Hound, Beagle, Black and Tan Coonhound, Bloodhound, Borzoi, Bulldog, Chow Chow, Lhasa Apso, Mastiff, and Pekingese.
Diane Morgan is a pet care expert in Williamsport, Maryland, who has authored numerous books on dog care and nutrition, and has also written many dog breed and horse books.