How to Determine the “Trainability” of Your Dog

Dogs are a lot like humans; every person has gifts and talents that make them shine in some areas, but maybe don’t do as well in other areas. This is how people determine their chosen professions. For example, if you want to be an astronomer but are lacking in mathmatical skills, you’re going to have a problem. If you’d like to be a musician but have no knowledge of musical genres and theory, don’t plan on being the next American Idol. The very same is true with dogs. Depending upon your dog’s breed, she may take to training very easily, or she may not ever get what you’re trying (unsuccessfully) to teach her.

The American Kennel Club divides pure-bred dogs into individual groups based upon their inbred talents - what they were bred specifically to do. For example, the Herding Group consists of dogs who were carefully bred over centuries to herd cattle, sheep and fowl. The Toy Group - small “lap dogs,” - were bred as companion dogs. Thus, when you would like your dog to perform certain tasks, it’s essential to do your homework and find out whether your dog’s breed is capable of performing certain tasks and also your dog’s degree of ease of training.

Consider this example: the Standard Poodle is one of the smartest pure-bred dogs. They are very easy to train, depending upon what you want your Poodle to do. Poodles are not herders or hunting dogs. But they are often used as utility dogs and search and rescue dogs. Don’t let a Poodle’s exotic grooming appearance fool you; these are very smart dogs despire their somewhat frivolent appearance in the show ring at Westminster. In contrast, the Chihuahau is a high-energy and affectionate little dog, but does not typically respond well to training. Despite their small size, these are very independent little dogs!

When you purchase a pure-bred dog, make sure you’re buying the dog breed that is capable of doing what you want her to do. No amount of training will successfully teach your Alaskan Malamute to be a seisure-detection dog; this is simply not in their nature. In contrast, your Standard Poodle, Labrador or Golden Retriver can fully meet every requirement as a guide dog for the blind. Bloodhounds, with their exceptional sense of smell, are perfect drug or bomb detection dogs. German Shepherds and Rottweilers are superb protection dogs, but don’t expect them to become strictly companion dogs.

When in doubt, consult the AKC’s web site or several dog breed books available through Remember that if your dog does not respond to the type of training you have in mind, this doesn’t mean your dog is stupid. It means that you are asking her to do something that, because of centuries of human breeding techniques, she is incapable of doing.

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