6 Puppies That Are Easiest (and 6 That Are Hardest) to Train
Some pups are eager to please and happy to learn, while others are bossy and stubborn. Learn which breeds are at the head of the class—and which ones need lots of patience and treats.
What to know when it’s time to train your puppy
Not every pet owner cares if her pup can take a bow or shake hands, but most of us want our furry friends to learn basic commands. We’d rather have them sit instead of jumping up on visitors and come when we call while they’re off-leash at the park, for example.
Luckily, most puppies are eager to please, and the American Kennel Club (AKC) says training can begin when they’re about eight weeks old. Some breeds seem easier to train than others, although what’s “easy” and what’s “hard” are relative, says Mary R. Burch, PhD, an AKC Family Dog Director. Burch, who is also a certified applied animal behaviorist, says labeling a breed “difficult” can imply it’s not smart, which isn’t the case. Most breeds were simply developed to do certain jobs, like herding or guarding, she explains, so “difficult” doesn’t mean “dumb.” In fact, many dogs are as smart as a two-year-old human—and that’s just one of 30 facts about dogs that will surprise you.
Easiest to train: Border collies
Bred to be bright and energetic, Border Collies take their name from “collie,” a Scottish word for sheepdogs, and from the border region of Scotland, the country where the breed was developed. These agile, intelligent dogs are practically athletes when it comes to herding. According to the AKC, onlookers at one of the first sheepdog trials, held in Wales in 1873, were amazed by the pups’ ability to follow hand signals and whistles to gather sheep into pens.
Regardless of breed, training your pup takes time, consistency, and patience (and plenty of treats!), says Rob R. Jackson, CEO and co-founder of Healthy Paws Pet Insurance. “If you’ve recently brought home a puppy, start with three core training basics that will teach your puppy how to behave appropriately,” he says. He recommends focusing on potty training, commands like “sit” and “stay,” and socializing, so your pup gets used to new people and situations and other animals. Check out the ways dogs are smarter than you think.
Can be hard to train: Afghan hounds
Afghan hounds seem to carry themselves in a dignified, regal, and aloof manner, and Burch says the pups, which belong to the AKC Hound group, are sensitive and affectionate. They’re intelligent but independent, and according to the AKC, their aristocratic personalities mean they’re not the breed for everyone. Pet owners should know that members of this loving, loyal breed are free thinkers, and you need to be creative and use positive training techniques to gain and hold their interest. Because they have a strong hunting instinct, Afghan hounds tend to chase what they see as prey, even if it’s a neighbor’s cat, so be cautious when you’re out walking your pup or meeting a new animal. Be ready to put in both time and effort with these long-haired beauties, suggests the AKC. Avoid these 13 puppy training mistakes you’ll regret later.
Easiest to train: German shepherds
Guide dogs for the blind, service dogs, watchdogs, and herding dogs: German shepherds are easy to train for work and family life, Burch says, and they’re one of the world’s most popular breeds. Because they have a strong protective instinct, it’s important to train them early, so they don’t perceive a threat where there isn’t one. How do you start with your pup? “Pet parents should work to train their dog in short bursts of time—about five to ten minutes—a few times a day,” Jackson says. “Marathon sessions aren’t good for puppies, as their attention spans are too short, plus, puppies’ growing bodies need lots of rest and sleep, so give them regular breaks. Training before mealtimes and offering treats can be productive, too, as food is a big motivator.” Some researchers say female puppies are easier to train than males, and male and female dogs are different in other ways, too.
Can be hard to train: Basenjis
The Basenji is a small dog from Africa that hunts by sight and scent. A member of the Hound group, it’s intelligent, smart, and poised, Burch says, but be aware that these pups quickly lose interest in things, which makes them challenging to train. Like Afghan hounds, Basenjis, according to the AKC, are independent and aloof. Because there aren’t a lot of them around, at least in the United States, they’ve been called a “cult breed.” These fastidious canines like to clean themselves all over, like felines, so they’re often described as “catlike.” They can be standoffish and should be allowed to make the first move when meeting strangers or other animals, so don’t expect them to immediately make friends in new situations. Letting pups approach each other too fast is one of the mistakes every dog owner makes.
Easiest to train: Papillons
With their perky, fringed, butterfly-shaped ears, Papillons, which is French for “butterfly,” belong to the AKC Toy group. They’re “intelligent, self-assured, playful, affectionate, and happy,” says Burch. They’re also excellent at learning tricks and obedience work. While these tiny pups may seem fragile, they’re go-getters that love to exercise and play. The AKC says you can train Papillon pups to do almost anything, and these lively, popular pets thrive on mental stimulation and work. Try training them to participate in dog sports, such as agility courses with hurdles to jump and poles to weave through, or teaching them to do fun tricks. Find out 15 secrets dog trainers won’t tell you for free.
Can be hard to train: Basset hounds
Basset hounds are known for their ability to follow scents, coming in a close second in that department behind bloodhounds. The pups are friendly, sensitive, affectionate, and even-tempered, Burch says, but they can also be stubborn and independent. Once they begin following a trail, they persist, which made the adult dogs popular with aristocratic hunters in France and Belgium, where the breed was developed. But that also means that Bassets can be deliberate and reluctant to change what they’re doing when you want them to. At home, the pups make wonderful family pets, and they’re willing to make friends with almost anyone—so don’t plan on training them as guard dogs. Their droopy faces may look sad, but don’t judge their feelings by their expression; there are more reliable signs that your dog may be depressed.
Easiest to train: Labrador retrievers
America’s most popular dog is the Labrador retriever, according to the AKC. In fact, Burch says they’ve won AKC National Obedience Championships for the past several years, which shows they’re both eager to please and easy to train. Lab pups have personality and then some, as they’re friendly, sociable, and playful. However, Jackson says, “It’s important to remember that puppies are curious by nature and can easily get into all sorts of mischief—such as swallowing things they shouldn’t, like a Lab pup who swallowed its mom’s socks.” That kind of behavior is more than annoying—it can be life-threatening. The AKC recommends training your pup to “leave it,” which means ignoring something you don’t want him to pick up. Labs are the most popular breed across the country—check out the most popular breed in your state.
Can be hard to train: Bloodhounds
You might think bloodhounds, canines that excel at tracking missing people, would be easy for law enforcement officers—and maybe even average pet owners—to train. But like Basset hounds, bloodhounds can be stubborn, Burch says. Once they’re on a scent, it can be tough to distract them from whatever they’re pursuing. On the positive side, once a bloodhound is on the trail, he’ll resist giving up until the very end. Just don’t give up on your training, either, Jackson says. If consistency and patience don’t get results, he adds, “it’s normal for a pet parent to seek professional help. If [you’re] struggling to decide when it’s time to resort to the pros, veterinarians and professional pet trainers are always there to help.” When your bloodhound pup responds nicely to training, reward him with treats or snacks, but careful not to overdo it; that can lead to obesity. You’re sure to fall in love with bloodhound pups, one of the cutest dog breeds.
Easiest to train: Golden retrievers
Golden retrievers are in the AKC’s Sporting dog group, and these happy, friendly pups are intelligent and obedient. They also make great service and therapy dogs, Burch says. Originally bred to fetch downed waterfowl for hunters, they’re wonderful family dogs. Because they’re loving and want to please, they respond well to verbal praise and playtime. “Positive reinforcement, sometimes known as reward-based training or force-free dog training, is widely recognized as the most effective and humane form of dog training,” Jackson says. “It improves the bond between parent and pet while reinforcing the desired behavior.” Try training your Golden pup with snacks or treats and affectionate ear scratches and belly rubs. “Any of these rewards reinforces a positive behavior,” Jackson says. Your dog understands more than you may think. In fact, there are some astonishing things your dog knows about you.
Can be hard to train: Chihuahuas
Burch calls Chihuahuas charming, sassy, confident, and intelligent, but these tiny pups have personalities that can be bigger than the owners who carry them around in purses. While adult Chihuahuas seldom weigh more than six pounds, they can act big-dog bossy. Expect to put up with some attitude from these adorable canines—but make training fun, and offer lots of tasty treats, and they’ll learn their lessons quickly, say AKC experts. After all, Chihuahuas are among the cutest small dog breeds.
Easiest to train: Border terriers
Happy, affectionate Border Terriers like to work, says Burch: “They’re good-tempered, affectionate, and easy to train.” She adds that they’re also great at Earthdog events, non-competitive tests designed to show your dog’s hunting abilities when it comes to following an underground scent, entering a dark tunnel or den, and digging in. The AKC recommends training your Border Terrier pup for Earthdog events by setting up a simple maze of cardboard boxes in your backyard. If your pup takes to training happily, “it’s something to be celebrated!” says Jackson. “This means your training is effective, and your puppy is having fun and enjoying pleasing you.” Of course, it’s fine if your goal is simply to walk your pup on a leash without pulling or to heel off-leash, he adds. Learn about dog-training myths so you can truly enjoy teaching your pup.
Can be hard to train: Borzois
Also called Russian wolfhounds, Borzois are intelligent, calm, and agreeable canines, Burch says. Like Afghan hounds, these beauties are elegant, aristocratic-looking, and graceful, and like Basenjis, they have a catlike manner. They’re also stubborn and independent, and AKC experts say you’ll need to be patient and consistent, and hang onto your sense of humor, to train them. They’ll take advantage of a dropped leash—or an unleashed walk—to follow their hunting instinct when they spot a squirrel or another dog and quickly give chase. The Borzoi Club of America advises keeping training sessions with your pup playful, upbeat, and fun, so she’ll be happy, and being patient and kind if she’s scared by new sights and sounds. They don’t recommend sending a Borzoi away for training. Instead, they urge pet owners to bond with their pups.
As Jackson says, “a lot of progress in training depends on the time a pet parent puts into working with their pup—which is why many pet parents are reminded that getting a puppy is hard work! In the end, it’s always worth it—for both parties involved.” Read on to find out the best low-maintenance dogs for busy people.