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 ListsPerhaps 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.
Age Makes a DifferenceThe 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.
Physical and Mental Health Can Affect Ease of TrainingA 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.