When it comes to dog obedience, it’s not just about how smart the dog is. Some breeds can be incredibly intelligent, but they also might be free thinkers known for being stubborn. And that can make obedience hit or miss. The dog breeds that tend to excel at obedience have a good balance of intelligence, eagerness to please, and enthusiasm for learning. Although it can vary on the individual dog level, many of these dogs are highly motivated by positive reinforcement, such as treats. And some simply have strong work ethics that allow them to focus on training.
Here are 10 of the best dog breeds for obedience.
Even for breeds that excel at obedience, training still must be fun and frequent. Set your dog up for success by taking things slowly, minimizing the distractions, keeping the training sessions short, and using lots of praise and rewards.
A lot of the poodle’s popularity can be attributed to its elegant and refined look. But this breed is also quite intelligent and very eager to please. Poodles are typically devoted to their owners, and they love to learn. As long as you keep training fun for them, they can be experts at learning complex tricks. Their natural athleticism also means they can excel at dog sports, such as agility.
HEIGHT: Standard: 15 inches; miniature: 10 to 15 inches; toy: 10 inches and under
WEIGHT: Standard: 45 to 70 pounds; miniature: 15 to 18 pounds; toy: 5 to 9 pounds
PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS: Curly, dense single-layer coat; may be one of many solid colors, including white, black, gray, brown, and apricot
2. German Shepherd
The German shepherd is another highly intelligent dog that was bred to be responsive and obedient. Thus, it’s no surprise that German shepherds are often used by law enforcement and as service dogs. These dogs are very loyal and protective toward their families. And without proper training and socialization, this can turn into aggression toward strangers.
HEIGHT: 22 to 26 inches
WEIGHT: 60 to 100 pounds
PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS: Large, athletic build; double coat comprising a thick undercoat and a dense, slightly wavy or straight outer coat; tan and black or red and black coloring
3. Golden Retriever
Golden retrievers are popular family pets for good reason. They’re typically very affectionate, patient, and gentle, and they have an endearing enthusiasm for life. Goldens are known for being extremely eager to please. This, combined with their intelligence, means they’re very receptive to training. They also tend to be serious foodies and will do just about anything for a treat.
HEIGHT: 23 to 24 inches (male); 21.5 to 22.5 inches (female)
WEIGHT: 65 to 75 pounds (male); 55 to 65 pounds (female)
PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS: Medium-length double coat; light to dark gold; medium to large stature
4. Labrador Retriever
Labrador retrievers share a lot of characteristics with golden retrievers. They’re another breed that is often trained as a service dog because of their smarts, enthusiasm, and calm and gentle nature. Plus, they’re known for having outstanding retrieval skills. Like with goldens, food rewards also work wonders with Labs during training. Just make sure to keep portions under control as Labs are prone to obesity.
HEIGHT: 21 to 24 inches
WEIGHT: 55 to 80 pounds
PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS: Sturdy, athletic build; smooth, water-resistant double coat; otter-like tail
5. Border Collie
Border collies are often viewed as one of the smartest dog breeds. Their intelligence, combined with the fact that they are quick to learn and very in tune with their humans, make them extremely obedient dogs. They also have a strong work ethic and thrive when given a job to do. But while they can be easy to train, they need lots of mental enrichment to prevent boredom. Otherwise, they can develop problem behaviors, such as destroying household items.
HEIGHT: 18 to 22 inches
WEIGHT: 28 to 48 pounds
PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS: Rough or smooth medium-length double coat; body is slightly longer than it is tall; long head comes to a point at the nose with ears standing erect and tips curling over
Vizslas generally have incredible stamina, enthusiasm, loyalty, and intelligence. They tend to be eager to please, and they form very strong attachments to their owners, often being referred to as “Velcro dogs.” Vizslas need lots of exercise, and training is an excellent way for them to work out some energy. Dog sports are ideal for these canines to get both a mental and physical workout.
HEIGHT: 22 to 23 inches
WEIGHT: 45 to 50 pounds
PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS: Muscular and well proportioned; russet-colored short, smooth, dense coat
7. Manchester Terrier
While known for being smart, terriers in general are also often associated with being strong-willed and feisty. However, Manchester terriers are typically more responsive and trainable than your average terrier while not being any less intelligent. These dogs love being busy and having a job to do, which helps them focus during training. As long as you keep training sessions fun and challenging, their interest in mental challenges should overtake that trademark terrier stubbornness.
HEIGHT: Toy: 10 to 12 inches; standard: 15 to 16 inches
WEIGHT: Toy: Under 12 pounds; standard: 12 to 22 pounds
PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS: Smooth, glossy, short, dense coat; colors include black and tan or black with mahogany markings; powerful, compact, muscular body; naturally erect ears
8. English Springer Spaniel
If you’re looking for a dog that has boundless energy and enthusiasm and a real desire to please, the English springer spaniel might tick a lot of boxes. This busy and jovial breed has a constantly wagging tail and loves having a job to do. It also has excellent retrieval skills and an incredibly sensitive nose, which can be put to use in dog sports. These dogs are best suited for an active household where they’ll get plenty of exercise.
HEIGHT: 19 to 20 inches
WEIGHT: 40 to 53 pounds
PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS: Long ears; dense, medium-length coat with feathering; coloring includes black or liver with white markings (or the opposite) along with blue or liver roan and tricolor
The keeshond is generally smart, loyal, gentle, friendly, and easy to train. These dogs are very alert and curious, and while they typically have a calm demeanor, they’re constantly taking everything in. Plus, they have a lot of enthusiasm for trying new things and tend to excel when learning new dog sports thanks to their athleticism. But keeshonds were developed as watchdogs, so you might have to put in extra training to prevent alert barking from getting out of control.
HEIGHT: 17 to 18 inches
WEIGHT: 35 to 45 pounds
PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS: Almost fox-like in appearance; thick plumed tail; mask around the eyes that gives the impression of glasses; thick double coat; usually a mixture of gray, black, and cream with varied shading
The little Havanese is generally a friendly, adaptable, and smart dog breed. It is also known for being easier to train than many other small dog breeds, which overall can be a bit headstrong at times. The Havanese is typically very attentive and eager to please during training, especially when given lots of positive reinforcement. The breed also is a regular competitor in dog sports and obedience trials.
HEIGHT: 8.5 to 11.5 inches
WEIGHT: 7 to 13 pounds
PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS: May have one or two colors including black, silver, white, cream, tan, fawn, gold, sable, and red; coat can vary drastically from silky straight to very wavy with ringlets
Breeds to Avoid
If you want a dog that can learn and reliably perform complex tricks or tasks, then there are some dog breeds you might want to avoid. It’s not that these breeds are dumb. They just often have an independent, stubborn streak that can make training difficult. Such breeds include the Afghan hound, Pekingese, Basenji, Borzoi, and Shiba Inu.
RELATED: 10 of the Smartest Dog Breeds