Should all breeds of dogs be treated the same? In a world where the argument about Pit Bulls and Rottweilers continues, we are here to tell you that breed does matter, but maybe not in the way you think.
I've worked with over a thousand dogs in the last eight years of my career. Our facility trains dogs of all sizes, ages, breeds, and behaviors. We do not discriminate based on breed. In fact, our staff has a large variety of breeds ranging from Frenchies to Goldens, Rottweilers, Shepherds, and Shorthairs. We love them all!
With that being said, it isn't always as simple as "a dog is a dog." Viewing all breeds the same means lumping every dog into one category, which isn't the case. There's the sporting group, the herding group, the terrier group, and more. Dogs are different, and our training sometimes needs to differ based on that specific dog's genetic predisposition.
Dogs were bred with a purpose. The Labrador Retriever was bred to retrieve the bird. The Border Collie was bred to herd the livestock. The Rat Terrier was bred to hunt vermin. The Rottweiler was bred to work and guard. These dogs were bred with a purpose. You cannot take the genetics out of a dog.
When the Lab doesn’t hunt, he may be more inclined to chase after the bird that just flew from the yard. The Border Collie may herd the cat or nip at your children’s feet. The Rat Terrier might chase every chipmunk in the yard up a tree. And the Rottweiler? He might bark and rattle the house when a stranger comes to the door. This is valuable information to you as a dog owner and as your dog's trainer.
Corgi owners. Don’t panic. No sheep purchasing necessary.
Let’s back up. I own Golden Retrievers. I love my Goldens. I have three young children all under the age of six, and Goldens have been an excellent choice for our family, but we don't hunt. Here’s what we notice though. Our dogs love to carry things around in their mouths. Shoes, socks, baby toys. It doesn’t matter. It takes work to train them not to put things in their mouths. I’m fighting genetics. My dogs were bred to retrieve a bird with their mouths.
So what do we do? We don’t hunt, and we don’t plan to to start anytime soon, yet we still own Goldens. Lots and lots of Goldens. So how do we make this work for our family? At the end of the day, here’s what it boils down to:
1. We accept that our dogs were bred to hunt and that they may be more orally fixated and have higher prey drive. They likely will chew, carrying things around, and chase animals.
2. We start teaching them impulsive control revolving around the characteristics that match their breed . A drop-it and leave-it are going to be essential. A solid recall off of moving objects, animals, etc. might save my dog’s life someday.
3. We give our dogs jobs that provide them outlets that correlate to their genetic predisposition. We don’t hunt, so therefore our dogs learn to pick up the sticks in the yard. Less behavior issues, less chewing, cleaner yard, and happy dogs.
But what about the exceptions? There will always be exceptions. Every dog has his or her own unique personality. There is no guarantee that your German Shorthair will point or that your Aussie will round up your sheep. There will always be the dog that is the exception, and we just have to accept this.
Then there are the other factors. The classic "nature vs. nurture" argument. Behavior can be a product of the environment. How was the dog raised? How long have the habits have been ingrained? Does the dog have physical limitations? Nature vs. nurture in dog behavior... future blog post to come.
But this isn't about the exceptions; this is about making an informed decision. Can you train your high energy Malinois to be calm? You sure can! Will it be harder to teach your Malinois to relax than your Pug? Yes, it will be. The amount of work this takes is due to your dog's genetics. The genetics you cannot make magically disappear through training.
Your dog was bred for a purpose.
If you prefer to live an active lifestyle and want to take your dog on lots of adventures and hike across the country, it would best suit you not to choose a “couch potato” breed. No bulldogs for you my running friends! On the flip side, if your family wants a lazy dog, please reconsider that stunning Australian Shepherd puppy you’ve been eyeing. Pick a breed that matches your lifestyle, and both you and your dog will be happier in the long run.
Whether you're in the market for a new furry family member, or you are using this information to identify behaviors in your current dog, let's work from where you are at! Set your dog (and your human family) up for success by doing the following:
Identify Behaviors: Make sure you understand what your dog was bred to do and then identify behaviors the dog may be prone to based on the breed.
Train: Start training your dog skills that will help mitigate or ease any behavior issues he or she may be prone to. Think about a solid recall, a leave-it command, learning to relax and having an off-switch (high energy breeds), a drop command, etc.
Provide an Outlet: Give your dog a job that matches his breed. Mental stimulation (training) is good for all breeds and will help keep your canine from finding his own "job," such as shredding the couch. Teach your Golden to carry the groceries. Let your Corgi use his genius mind to work on a food puzzle. Provide what your dog genetically needs.
So does your dog’s breed matter? Yes, it does. Do we love them all the same either way? We absolutely do! Pick your breed, understand your breed, and enjoy your breed!
Need more ideas on how to train your dog in a way that matches his breed? Be sure to join our HDT Online Membership to gain complete access to our online classes, community interaction feature, discussion forum, exclusive blog, and more!
About The Author: Megan is the owner and lead trainer of Havana Dog Training. She has been training canines for over 8 years and specializes in behavior modification, foundational work, and working with families and young children.