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Are you considering your first dog, or perhaps a new dog, and dreaming of a superbly obedient dog who pays attention without distraction and eagerly obeys every command? People often want to know which breed of dog will naturally be the most obedient; but Any dog will be obedient if you educate yourself, use these tools, and invest 5-15 minutes everyday in training. A dog can be genetically inclined to be attentive and/or to wish to please its owner, but all dogs must be educated as to what "obedient" is before they can act that way. If your definition of a trainable dog is one that lives to please, then the following dog breeds might be a good fit. But if you have patience and are willing to train a dog with a mind of it's own, any dog can become extremely obedient.
Every breed of dog has at least a few dogs showing in advanced levels of obedience at dog shows and every breed has dogs being given to rescues because they "just can't be trained to behave". Remember that the difference is almost never the dog's ability to learn, it is usually an owner's impatience, inconsistency, lack of respect, or unwillingness to invest time. Personality plays just as much or more of a role in obedience trainability as breeding.
Attention Span: All puppies will have short attention spans, but this can be easily gauged in shelter dogs and rescues by spending a few minutes interacting with the dog, both in a quiet place and in an area with many distractions. Is the dog's attention mostly on your or his surroundings? A dog with a longer attention span will learn faster and easier.
Willingness to Please: Does the dog or puppy want to be near you? Does he choose you over playing with toys? When given basic commands he should know does he always behave, or purposely ignore or do the opposite? Dogs who want to be near you and please you will be the most obedient dogs with minimal training.
Intelligence: Intelligence is a double edged sword that produces dogs that learn quickly, but also get bored easily. The smarter your dog, the more important it is that you train the dog. One quick way to test a dog's intelligence is to engage them in playing with a toy, then place the toy just out of reach under a sofa or behind curtains. A dog who problem solves by going behind the curtain or laying down and reaching a paw under the sofa is generally much more intelligent than the dog that gives up as soon as the toy is out of sight.
A note to readers considering a new dog: Like people, individual dogs have aptitudes for different things and litter mates can have significant difference in intelligences. When you purchase a puppy you gamble on these things- even if the parents are obedience champions. Adopting an adult dog from a shelter or breed rescue gives you the opportunity to evaluate the dog's attention span, willingness to please, and intelligence before you ever make a commitment- and can shorten your obedience training time by months!
Patience: It can be difficult to have the patience to work with an easily distracted, slow to learn puppy, but patience is always rewarded in dog training. Don't expect your dog to be a star overnight- and don't use shortcuts like shock collars or even choke chains unless the dogs behavior gives you no other choice (We love round martingale collars for a training collar that is gentle but effective).
Consistency: Dogs learn through repetition, you will need to practice the same thing in the same way over and over and over. Never change your command or your expectation of how they respond to a set command - (teach a slightly different behavior by assigning a completely new name). It's okay to take time off from intense training, but take little opportunities every day to reinforce one thing the dogs knows or has mostly learned.
Respect: Respect is central to dog training. If you want the respect of your dog, respect them back. This means no hitting, no excessive harsh corrections, and no taking your training frustrations out on your dog!
Time: Owning a dog is a time investment to be considered thoroughly before getting a dog. Do you have time in your day to invest in your dog? Dogs are pack animals and in a home, they adopt people as their pack. A dog who doesn't have a person spending time with them playing, petting, or hanging out is a lonely dog who may be disobedient and difficult to handle because of the stress of being alone. To accelerate obedience training, most dogs need about 5-10 minutes of focused training at least 3-4 times a week. Dogs forget easily when training is not reinforced over time, so it's very important to spend the time to teach, reinforce, and remind.