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Choosing the Right Dog Breed

Michael Chill
Animal Services Dog Training

One of the most common complaints among dog trainers is that many clients choose breeds of dogs whose innate behavior and temperament are totally inappropriate for their lifestyles. In fact, many people don't even consider behavior or temperament when choosing dogs at all. "He has such beautiful blue eyes," or "He looked just like a bear in the pet store window," or even, "The one on that TV is show just so cute!" are typical of some of the many reasons people offer when asked why they chose their dogs.

People are under the impression that any dog, regardless of breed, can be trained to fit any circumstance or situation, and they discount the fact that breeds carry with them myriad traits and behavioral tendencies that cannot be "trained out of them." Even the late Barbara Woodhouse, in the epilogue of "Dog Training My Way" states that, when asked which breed someone should choose, she advises "choose whatever dog you fancy, for it will be the one you fancy that is the easiest for you to train." She couldn't have been more wrong.

When was the last time someone saw a seeing-eye Chow? Or a police K-9 force of Golden retrievers? Or a Malamute herding sheep? The answer is never, of course. And that's not because trainers don't choose to train these particular dogs for those jobs. It is the very real fact that these breeds cannot do those jobs! Genetically, these dogs have behavioral and temperament traits that make them unable to respond to certain types of training, no matter how hard someone tries. And, yes, there are the wonderful exceptions to every rule, but as much as we can predict the size, shape and coat of a Chow, we can also predict that practically none would be able to meet the requirements of a seeing -eye dog.

Many breed characteristics may actually be assets when one considers the original purpose of the breed. The indefatigable energy of a Labrador, the protectiveness of a Doberman pinscher, even the nipping of a Border collie are really talents that have been selectively bred for generations, but can cause frustration for many of these dogs' owners. Other traits, such as the submissive urinating of Cocker spaniels or the excessive shyness of Shetland sheepdogs are obviously not actively encourage, but nonetheless, come with the contract, so to speak. So, doing research about a particular breed has always been the rallying cry of trainers and behaviorists, hoping that clients could, therefore, avoid certain problems.

However, there are problems with that well intentioned, but inadequate suggestion.

Very simply, the books describing the various breeds are written by breeders and other enthusiasts who rarely write bluntly of a breeds' shortcomings. And, even when they do, the statements are couched in euphemisms, much like reading the promotional material of a particular car. Only those who can read between the lines of car magazines understand that the term "high performance" really means 11 miles to the gallon of gas; with dogs, it is much the same.

Take the phrase "loves exercise" or the slightly more honest "needs exercise." That statement would be much more effective if there was an accompanying photograph of the destruction done to the home of the owner of a bored and under-exercised Weimaraner, for example. Or the term, "independent;" in "dogspeak" that simply means that he will not come when called.

This isn't meant to stereotype all dogs into rigid categories and to imply that nothing can be done to train dogs or alter their behaviors. Being informed and prepared, however, will certainly help in avoiding the pitfalls or at the very least offer some consolation. Explaining to a Bichon owner that they should expect housebreaking mistakes until 6 to 8 months of age is certainly not welcome news, but at least makes them aware that this is typical and that there may be nothing wrong with either what they are doing or their dogs. Furthermore, a young couple would be well advised to avoid certain breeds known to be problems around children, should they plan on having kids in the future.

So, where is the best source of information when considering adopting a specific breed of dog? Purebred rescuers, lists of whom may be found on the web, through the AKC, and at many animal shelters. Many of these rescuers also show and breed dogs as well, and possess an incredible amount of knowledge of their breeds of choice; there is no one more knowledgeable, more objective, or more dedicated to these dogs than a rescue person. There is also no one more willing to educate and discourage someone from adopting a dog than they are; there is no reason to place a dog in a home, knowing that that same dog will be returned due to incompatibilities with the needs of the home.


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Copyright ©2012 Michael Chill, Animal Services Dog Training.

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