Are Some Dogs Easier to Train Than Others?

When people meet Bashir, my Australian Shepherd, often the first thing they say is, “Oh, he’s so handsome. I understand this breed is so easy to train!”

Bashir was easy to train as a young dog and even more so now that he’s older, but I wonder why so many people focus solely on the breed when determining whether a dog is easy to train or not. I have seen many Aussies who were like Bashir and were easy to train, but I’ve also met Aussies who were difficult. Breed does make a difference but there are many other factors that can have just as much effect on training.

Easy to Train Breed Lists

Perhaps people get so focused on breeds because there is such a prevalence of lists that identify traits by breed. There are lists online showing which breeds are the calmest, the most protective, and the ones who bark the most. Plus there are many that list the breeds that are easier to train than others. Animal Planet’s list for easy to train dogs includes Australian Cattle Dog, Australian Shepherd, Border Collie, Corgi, Doberman Pinscher, German Shepherd, Golden Retriever, and Labrador Retriever. Pet 360 lists the following breeds: Bernese Mountain Dog, Border Collie, Havanese, Shetland Sheepdog, Brussels Griffon, German Shepherd, Standard Poodle, and Norwich Terrier, among others. As you can see, there is some overlap on these two lists (which are just two of many) as well as some differences.

Most of these lists will have Border Collies, German Shepherds, Doberman Pinschers, Australian Shepherds, and Australian Cattle Dogs as these dogs tend to pay attention to their owner and are willing to comply with their owner’s requests. If you’re thinking about acquiring a dog from a particular breed and are concerned about trainability, look at the breed’s present and ancestral occupation as that will give you an indication as to whether the breed was designed to work for people or to think independently. A dog bred to work independently, such as a livestock guardian dog like a Great Pyrenees, will not be as immediately compliant as a dog bred to take direction from people, like a Doberman Pinscher.

©istockphoto/happyborder

©istockphoto/happyborder

Age Makes a Difference

The dog’s age during training makes a huge difference as to how easy the training will be. When a 10- to 12-week old puppy is introduced to training, it can be a huge success or a disaster. It all depends on the training regime itself and the owner’s expectations. For example, a training program that takes into account the puppy’s short attention span will be more successful than one that requires the puppy to be focused for longer than he’s capable of doing at his age. Training will be easy with a puppy of any breed who is taught according to his abilities, rewarded well for his successes, and helped to succeed as much as possible.

Puppies also have concentration problems when they’re teething, usually between 4 1/2 and 5 months of age. They are still trainable but a wise trainer will ease up on her expectations of the puppy until his mouth feels better.

Adolescence can also make training tougher. Most puppies tend to slide into that teenage stage anywhere between 9 and 14 months of age. Although old enough to concentrate and past the teething stage, these puppies are transitioning from puppyhood to adulthood, and just like human teenagers, some will have a harder time than others. This doesn’t mean teenage dogs shouldn’t be trained though. Even if it might be difficult, teenagers need guidance during this time of their lives; just keep in mind the training might not always be easy.

Adult dogs, from early adulthood through old age, are usually easy to train. This is especially true for dogs who were introduced to training early in their lives. If they have learned how to learn, and know the joys of training with their owner, then that will remain through their lifetime.

©istockphoto/Alona Rjabceva

©istockphoto/Alona Rjabceva

Physical and Mental Health Can Affect Ease of Training

A dog who is physically and mentally healthy will be able to learn and retain what he’s learned. However, a dog who has some challenges, either physical or mental, may not be as open to training. It’s tough to learn if you aren’t feeling 100 percent. Any ailment, from an injury to a disease, will distract the dog from learning.

When injured, training should be suspended until the dog is healed. However, if recuperation is going to take a while, some fun, easy training such as trick training might help occupy the dog’s mind and keep him from getting bored as he heals. Just make sure to choose a trick or activity that won’t disturb his injury.

A dog who is sick doesn’t need any training until he’s recovered. Not only will the training be difficult when he’s sick but because he’s not at his best and the training is hard right now, it could cause him to dislike training altogether. This will cause problems in the future.

A dog with mental health issues, such as separation anxiety or fear, may find training tough too. Training should be undertaken only under the guidance of a behaviorist who can evaluate the dog’s problems and who will guide the dog and owner through the process.

Extremely happy dog

©istockphoto/Lunja

The Owner Makes the Biggest Difference

The person holding the other end of the leash has the biggest impact as to whether any training program is going to be easy or incredibly difficult. Yes, the dog’s breed plays a part, as does his age and his overall health, but the person who is asking the dog to do something is the most important part of the partnership.

To create a successful partnership with your dog, learn as much as you can about his breed or mixture of breeds. Breeders are good sources of information and many will convey realistic information and not just say, “Oh, this is the best breed in the world!” Talk to dog trainers about the breed, too, and ask what works well for most dogs and what doesn’t work.

Do some reading about dogs in general, too, because all dogs have more in common with each other than they have differences. What makes dogs tick? How do they relate to people? What jobs have dogs been trained to perform? Obviously, since you’re reading this blog, you’ve already got a start on your reading and we’ll continue to provide more brain food for you in the future but keep exploring.

Trainers Are Always a Good Idea

It’s also important to find a good dog trainer in your community to help you. Talk to friends, neighbors, and people walking down the street with a well-behaved dog and find out where they went for training. Ask your veterinarian. If one trainer’s name keeps popping up, that’s a good recommendation. If this is your first dog or the first dog you’ve tried to train, tell the trainer that so she knows that you’ll need a little more help than an experienced dog owner would need. Don’t be shy; let her help you.

Let the trainer guide you through the training process but also let her help you with your expectations for your dog. Tell her what rules you’d like established in the house, for walking the dog, for traveling with the dog or any canine sports you might like to explore.

With this help, your dog might well be the easiest dog in the world to train.

Dog training requires consistency, persistence and patience. In addition, you need a sense of humor and an appreciation for your canine partner. If you have these characteristics, then you and your dog won’t have any trouble training each other.

Meet the Author: Liz Palika

Liz Palika is a Certified Dog Trainer, Certified Animal Behavior Consultant, and the co-owner of Kindred Spirits Dog Training in Vista, CA. Liz is also an award-winning author and writer specializing in pets. She writes about cats, cat behavior and health, dogs, dog behavior and health, living with pets, and pet nutrition. Liz’s works have been recognized with many awards, but her most recent book, “Idiot’s Guides: Dog Training” (Penguin Books, 2014) recently won the Best Nonfiction book category in the San Diego Book Writing competition. Liz shares her home with two dogs; Bashir, an Australian Shepherd, and Bones, an English Shepherd. Three cats, Spock, Scottie, and Kirk, provide motivation for her articles about cats. And yes, she is a Star Trek fan. For more information go to www.kindredspiritsk9.com and www.lizpalika.com.

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