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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
June 25, 2021
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 (a.k.a. “pit bulls”) are aggressive, Labradors are saintlike, 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, behaviorist, founder of Who’s Walking Who, and 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 skillful owner. 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 breed with the most human interest? Not a breed at all, but 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.

Border Collie
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1. Border Collie

This working dog’s rep for intelligence keeps growing, thanks to verbose characters like Chaser here. But as any schoolteacher knows, a brilliant kid is quite a handful: intense, quick-thinking, 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
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, easygoing in most situations, super eager to please.

German Shepherd
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 owners and training is not optional but a must.

poodle
Poodle
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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-earned 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
Corgi
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5. Corgi

Any dog who looks about 40% 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.

papillon
Papillon
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6. Papillon

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

Australian Cattle Dog
Australian Cattle Dog
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7. Australian Cattle Dog

Stalwart workers, very faithful, and, like all the above, known for intelligence. But as with the German Shepherd and Border Collie, their smarts, energy, and independence demand consistent boundaries from owners, things a trainer can guide you towards but not provide you with.

rottweiler
Rottweiler
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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 favorites of German police. Darkly handsome looks aside, they’re no more aggressive than any other dog, but their size and strength make it essential that they do get trained, even if it’s relatively easy.

pitbull terrier
American Pit Bull 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. Before they earned a bad rep — no thanks to a lot of misinformation and media spin — they were dubbed “nanny dogs” for watching over their owners’ kids. In recent years, the breed’s smarts and loyalty have led police departments to train rescue “Staffy” mixes for years of faithful service.

husky
Husky
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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 owners are at work.  

chris norris bio photo

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 MagazineRolling Stone, GQ, Details, and NPR’s “All Things Considered.” He lives in New York City with his wife and 10-year-old son.