Which Dogs Are Good to Train?
A question from the Dog Trainer's Facebook page: Are some dog breeds better to train than others?
This is such an interesting question! We often think about dogs in terms of their breeds, and the answer my Facebook interrogator was looking for would have involved a list of breeds. (I know this because he later asked about German Shepherd Dogs specifically.) And even from dog trainers – sometimes, I’ll admit, including me – you’ll hear a lot of blather about Breed X behaves in Y fashion, whereas Breed Z is just always R.
Here’s my take: Yes, some behaviors seem to cluster in certain breeds or groups of breeds. For example, terriers as a group were developed to hunt rats and suchlike, working independently and tenaciously. And even now that most of them live as pets, terriers often seem more persistent than average, more volatile than average, and more “out there”-focused than human-focused. On the other hand, my experience of certain other breeds – Havanese, say; Border Collies and their mixes; Pit Bulls and their mixes -- is that generally they have a strong social interest in people and tend to respond readily to our cues. But I’ve met aloof Havanese, cuddly terriers, and chilly, unresponsive Pits.
So a dog’s breed won’t answer the question of whether he’s “good to train.” Instead, refocus: “Good to train” for what? If you want to train a dog to ignore squirrels, you may have a tougher time with most terriers, and you will have a tougher time with any dog, terrier or not, who lights up like a Christmas tree and starts yodeling as soon as he spots anything small and furry.
If you want to teach a dog to fetch, one of the retrievers or their mixes might be a good bet – but not if you happen to have a retriever who couldn’t care less about having anything in his mouth. And they’re not as uncommon as you might think!
If what you’re looking for is a well-mannered pet, a confident, friendly, physically healthy dog who loves food, play, and being scratched on the chest makes an excellent starting point for “good to train.”
Confident, because anxiety gets in the way of learning. Friendly, because suspicion of strangers constitutes a serious behavior problem in a pet dog, and one that often requires careful lifelong work to diminish. Healthy, because physical discomfort and distress get in the way of learning just as anxiety does. And in love with food, play, and chest scratches (or butt scratches, or scratches under the chin and behind the ears …) because those are the easiest, most convenient rewards to use in training. So a dog who loves any or all of them will always be easier to teach than a dog whose motivators are hard to find.
Dog Silhouettes photo from Shutterstock.