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Dog and owner characteristics predict training success


Teaching owners how to train their dogs is an important part of maintaining the health and safety of dogs and people. Yet we do not know what behavioral characteristics of dogs and their owners are relevant to dog training or if owner cognitive abilities play a role in training success. The aim of this study is to determine which characteristics of both dogs and owners predict success in completing the American Kennel Club Canine Good Citizen training program. Before the first session of a dog training course, owners completed surveys evaluating the behavior and cognition of their dog and themselves. Additionally, we collected the dogs’ initial training levels via behavioral tasks. We then examined what factors predicted whether the dogs passed the Canine Good Citizen test after the class ended. In terms of dog characteristics, we found that, while dog age, sex and neuter status did not predict success, owner-rated levels of disobedience did predict completion of the program. In terms of owner characteristics, owners who scored higher on cognitive measures were more likely to have their dogs complete the program. Finally, dog–owner characteristics such as the time spent training predicted success. Thus, characteristics of the dogs, owners, and how they interact seem to predict training success. These findings suggest that there are some owner, dog, and dog–owner characteristics that can facilitate or hinder dog training.

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All data files, data analysis scripts, and supplementary materials (surveys, tables, figures) are available at


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This research was funded by a University of Nebraska-Lincoln College of Arts and Sciences Partnership Seed Grant. We would like to thank Kylie Hughes, Elise Thayer, Toria Biancalana, and McKenna Yohe for collecting saliva samples, Tierney Lorenz for her expertise on dog saliva collection, Jessica Calvi and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Salivary Bioscience Laboratory for assaying saliva samples, and Billy Lim for comments on an early draft.


This research was funded by a University of Nebraska-Lincoln College of Arts and Sciences Partnership Seed Grant.

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Authors and Affiliations



The authors made the following contributions. JRS: Conceptualization, Data Curation, Formal Analysis, Funding Acquisition, Investigation, Methodology, Project Administration, Resources, Software, Supervision, Visualization, Writing—Original Draft Preparation, Writing—Review and Editing; LMW: Formal Analysis, Investigation, Methodology, Writing—Original Draft Preparation, Writing—Review and Editing; MB: Investigation, Methodology, Writing—Review and Editing; JM: Conceptualization, Resources, Writing—Review and Editing.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Jeffrey R. Stevens.

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Conflict of interest

JRS and his dog completed one of the Prairie Skies Dog Training courses in this study starting with the second class session. He did not complete any of the surveys or behavioral tasks, so he has no data included in this analysis. JRS received donations for research and outreach activities from Prairie Skies Dog Training (owned by JM), Arnie’s Pet Food Store, Green Spot, Kenl Inn, Nature’s Logic, Nature’s Variety, Nebraska Animal Medical Center, Norland Pure, Pepsi, Raising Cane’s, Sirius Veterinary Orthopedic Center, Smarty Dog Training, Stubbs Chiropractic, and private donors. JM is the owner of Prairie Skies Dog Training and received payments for training services from the participants in this study.

Ethics approval

All procedures were conducted in an ethical and responsible manner, in full compliance with all relevant codes of experimentation and legislation and were approved by the UNL Internal Review Board (protocol # 17922) and Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (protocol # 1621).

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All participants offered consent to participate, and they acknowledged that de-identified data could be published publicly.

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Stevens, J.R., Wolff, L.M., Bosworth, M. et al. Dog and owner characteristics predict training success. Anim Cogn 24, 219–230 (2021).

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  • Canine Good Citizen test
  • Dog
  • Obedience
  • Training