Your wish, their command: highly trainable dog breeds

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For dog lovers, it’s the ideal tableau: a cozy fireside, your faithful companion lying contentedly at your feet while you read a book. Or perhaps you envision walking your perfectly heeled dog past a thousand flighty squirrels and scurrying rabbits without a leash.

You may see yourself as someone who can bring your dog to join you for brunch at an outdoor café, without fear of a snout or paw in your lox plate. At any rate, those of us who have dogs know that we want dogs that will be well behaved and respond to key commands. But there are a number of factors that come into play in achieving dog companionship nirvana.

The most important–and perhaps the most overlooked–is the choice of breed. Many people choose a dog based on looks, on size or on fate (“When I saw her, I knew she was the one.”). And while there’s nothing wrong with that, understanding the behavioral characteristics of specific breeds can be a good place to start in your search for a new four-legged friend. By knowing the particular traits of certain breeds and matching them with your particular desires and training style, you just might be able to make that leash-free run through the squirrel gauntlet come true. Here are a few dog breeds that have stellar reputations for trainability.

Border collie
Born to: Herd livestock
Idea of a good time: Agility training
Energy Level: Fitness instructor (high)
Smarts: Nobel Prize in physics
Emotional Intelligence: Affectionate
The border collie pops up on list after list of the smartest dog breeds, almost always at the very top. What makes this dog highly trainable are, of course, those wicked smarts, but be prepared to devote some time and energy to keep this whiz kid from getting bored. Because they were originally bred as herding dogs, border collies come with energy to match their intelligence, and keeping them engaged on both fronts is the key to a well-trained dog.

Born to: Retrieve game from water
Idea of a good time: Walking, running, swimming
Energy Level: Jogging buddy (medium)
Smarts: Double PhD
Emotional Intelligence: Proud
Although poodles are more often associated with aesthetics than intelligence, the standard poodle possesses the latter in spades. Another chart-topper among the smartest dog breeds, the poodle couples smarts with an air of distinction and pride that will be the key motivator in this dog’s training. Your poodle companion will want to reflect well on you and vice versa.

German shepherd
Born to: Herd sheep
Idea of a good time: Modern-day schutzhund training
Energy Level: Jogging buddy
Smarts: PhD
Emotional Intelligence: Loyal, courageous
There’s a reason German shepherds often end up with careers in the military and on police forces; their combination of smarts, courage and loyalty gives them the ideal temperament for the duty to protect and serve. Once you’ve gained the love of a German shepherd, its loyalty to you will be a key motivator in this dog’s training; pleasing you will be crucial to this canine companion. German shepherds come ready to work, though, so be sure to seek out shared activities that will challenge your furry friend both mentally and physically.

Golden retriever
Born to: Retrieve hunting game
Idea of a good time: Walking, fetching, swimming, as long as it’s on the daily list
Energy Level: Jogging buddy
Smarts: Master’s degree
Emotional Intelligence: Devoted, friendly
The golden retriever’s intelligence and suitability for training often get buried under its iconic Everydog image. In reality, though, this pooch is anything but ordinary. Originally bred for its ability to retrieve hunting game without damaging the prize, this dog’s smarts are instinctive; appeal to those, make training fun and versatile, and you’ve got one great dog.

Doberman pinscher
Born to: Protect
Idea of a good time: Running, fetching–anything to keep up that muscular physique
Energy Level: Fitness instructor
Smarts: Bachelor’s degree
Emotional Intelligence: Alert, loyal
Of all the dogs on the “smart dog” list, the Doberman has perhaps the most fascinating history. Originally bred in Germany at the end of the 19th century to protect a reviled tax collector, the Doberman has over the years become known for its strength, speed, intelligence, loyalty and, when necessary, ferocity. With the proper training, this dog’s alert nature will make for a well-behaved, eager-to-learn companion.
While every dog has traits that make it a fun, lovable and well-behaved pet, knowing the temperament of a particular breed can help you decide which dog would make the best companion for you. Whether it’s a high-energy nuclear physicist or a cuddly pal who knows how to work the room at a party, you’re bound to find a good match that can be trained to be a great friend. HLM

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